Narrow Backyard Design

Due to increasing urban density, many of us are facing a design dilemma of how to address the problem of narrow spaces and narrow backyards in particular.


This garden is situated in a newly developed suburb on the outskirts of Sydney. Being a greenfield development, the backyard was truly a blank canvas to work with. Limited space and tall fences made this backyard feel somewhat boxed-in. In addition, the developer didn’t pay enough attention to proper level grading, so we had some remedial work cut out for us.

The new landscaping couldn’t conflict with the conditions of the existing Development Approval, so the new work had to classify as Exempt Development. This meant that hardscape areas could have been increased by only a very little. 

The patio under the roof was rather small and trying to fit any decent-sized seating here would make it feel restricted. Therefore, the seating went further inside the garden and borrowed from the already existing concrete pad under the clothesline to limit the need for adding further hardscape. 

As you might expect, narrow backyards don’t offer many views. Hence, a cosy feeling and healthy greenery are all the more important. To achieve this, I have chosen a range of native and exotic species which grow fast and are easy to maintain. 

When it comes to narrow backyards, instead of attention-grabbing features, it’s better to make the material and surfaces more consistent. Go for simple lines and matching colours! Choose plants that will have the right size once matured and if possible, use some repetition. Most importantly, choose species that tolerate the conditions in your garden.

To create the desired effect I have also chosen some bamboo and bamboo-like plants. If using bamboo, go for clamping species rather than so-called running species. The latter have vigorous underground stems called rhizomes, which can spread meters from the original plant and start growing new canes. They can even end up in your neighbour’s garden. 

If you live in a Temperate climate like in Sydney, but are looking for plants to evoke a tropical atmosphere in your garden, Try some of these plants below:

Planting palette suitable for narrow backyard to achieve tropical look even in Temperate Climate. Showing Native Frangipani (Hymenosporum flavum), Ble Sky Vine (Thunbergia grandiflora), Variegated Shell Ginger (Alpinia zerumbet 'Variegata'), Jade Godess Bamboo (Bambusa boniopsis), Yellow Shrimp Plant (Justicia brandegeana 'Lutea'), Lady palm (Rhapis excelsa), Cast iron Plant (Aspidistra elatior), Tiger Grass (Thysanoleana maxima), Korean Box (Buxus microphylla var. koreana)
Plants for narrow backyard – Tropical look in Temperate Climate
Common NameBotanical Name
Native Frangipani Hymenosporum flavum
Blue Sky Vine Thunbergia grandiflora
Variegated Shell Ginger Alpinia zerumbet ‘Variegata’
Jade Godess Bamboo Bambusa boniopsis
Yellow Shrimp PlantJusticia brandegeana ‘Lutea’
Lady PalmRhapis excelsa
Cast Iron Plant Aspidistra elatior
Tiger Grass Thysanolaena maxima
Korean BoxBuxus microphylla var. koreana

How to cover Colorbond fence?

Metal fences like Colorbond are inexpensive and very durable. However, the lack of interesting texture can make them look dull in some situations. For this reason, I would recommend covering them with greenery. On this project, I chose to cover the Colorbond fence with an exotic plant called Clock Wine. This vine is very rigorous and can be overwhelming, but its rich foliage makes it work for this space.

I have found this video which I would like to share with you. In my opinion, it’s a simple and effective design solution for a narrow backyard! Simply drive self-cutting screws directly into the steel frame and wrap the wire around the screws. If you object to drilling into the steel panels because of rust concerns, you could seal the opening with paint and use small bolts with nuts and washers instead.

Just one suggestion: consider painting the wire with a brush or small roller to match the colour of your fence. This way it will recede to the background and you won’t even notice it. 

Designer: Rado Zezulak

Member of the Australian Institute of Landscape Designers and Managers (AILDM)

Elizabeth Bay, NSW 2011

(by appointment)

ABN: 89579468404
Licence #: 339210C