The side passage of any home is usually an ugly area used for garbage bins, storage, that future project, the kids’ pushies and our summertime toys such as canoes and paddleboards.
We rarely venture around there because we have no need and quite frankly, it’s an eyesore. However, you could do what we landscapers do best and that is transform this landscape into a usable and aesthetically pleasing extension to your customers’ living area and a colourful addition to their garden.
We need to carefully consider access, usage, storage, aspect (sun movement and prevailing breeze), privacy, security and most importantly: our customer’s budget.
Customers can have unrealistic expectations when it comes to what they can achieve for a set amount of money. Explain at your first meeting what outcomes can be achieved with different budgets, so you don’t waste your valuable time and effort preparing a quote that will receive a cursory glance and binned. If customers realise they will receive a practical result from a previously underutilised space and it is aesthetically appealing for a given amount, you can always add value during the job with variations to contract.
Next, we need to work out the product quality option: high end, middle of the road or budget. There are various factors that will influence this decision for any project. Landscapers need to remember that gross profit margins can be adjusted accordingly.
Ask the owners about usage. There’s no point creating a garden of delights if it’s where the owner works on trail bikes or repairs mowers.
When we calculate access we need to remember that in the future it may be necessary to get at least the size of a builder’s barrow down the side passage, so it needs to be kept clear for this distance to access the rear yard
TIP: On narrow or poor access sites it is time saving to get bulk materials such as pebbles and sand delivered in manageable weight bags.
Creating a landscape in a side passage gives us the opportunity to dress up the building’s walls with paint, sculptures and hanging baskets, even green walls, along the way. Perhaps the installation of stand-alone blue board walls and textured paint in front of the boundary fence could give us our required look, whilst retaining good access.
TIP: When using an airless spray-gun, depending on the type of paint, dilute with water or thinning agent to stop the lines from clogging.
If space is at a premium, think about installing strained wire with climbers up a boundary fence. Green walls or water features are not as simple but can have a soothing effect, especially when viewed from bedrooms. Maybe it’s a slatted timber wall that becomes a feature, even if it does hide the garbage bins.
Some side passages are used to store objects and just about every household has a garden shed. In that shed is a lawnmower and some garden equipment but also a mountain of stored bric-a-brac kept “just in case”. Oddly though, owners are always looking to clear excess treasured keepsakes out of their garden shed. Here is an opportunity to suggest that the owners free up some space in their garden shed by storing it down the side passage and you will build them a roofed area with polycarbonate roof sheeting. Push bikes could be wall mounted whilst being protected from the weather.
In the case of a builder or a brickie for instance, it’s often tools of trade and excess materials being stored and accessed constantly.
Perhaps it becomes a place to sit in quiet serenity on a bespoke narrow stone or timber bench you create, or it becomes a space for the owners to enjoy breakfast with others on the weekend under their pergola you build them with ornamental flowering climbers over it.
TIP: Climbing plants on a pergola will create a softening effect if the space is too narrow for other plants. The Espalier technique also works wonders.
Pergolas attached to the house over windows can provide an interesting light and shade experience along the path as well as privacy and protection for exposed windows.
Aspect plays a crucial role in the outcome. Is it a shady south-facing passage or sunny all day facing north?
A shady walkway is ideal to create a cool summer oasis lined with ferns of various heights with different subtle shades of green and various leaf sizes and patterns.
A sunny side passage can provide a great opportunity to build a kitchen garden for your customers.
West facing passages may get a blast of hot sun in the late afternoon if there is no shade from the house.
Is there a prevailing breeze down the side passage that resembles arctic winds or a gentle sea breeze?
Aspect always determines plant choice. No matter what the aspect, the addition of an outdoor gym and shower could be a winning suggestion. A specialist supplier of outdoor showers with leading edge designs is: www.rainware.com.au
Privacy has become a major consideration for small building blocks with the neighbour’s house windows looking down onto side passages. Is it practical to screen off their view using one of the ready- made artistic screens in timber or metal? A well-known award-winning company in the landscape industry that supplies metal screens and sculptures to all Australian states is Lump Studio: www.lump.com.au/range/
Is there enough room with the right aspect to grow a tall and slender hedge whilst considering the level of maintenance?
We spend many hours in our kitchens and lounge rooms and if they look onto a sad side passage and blank boundary fence it’s an opportunity to create visually appealing views. Perhaps we could engage an artist to paint a tromp du jour onto the boundary fence or we could espalier a citrus tree along it for that Mediterranean or French look; provided it’s a sunny position. Australia’s leading supplier of espalier trees is Fleming’s in Melbourne http://www. flemings.com.au/products/pick-of-the-crop/ pruning-maintenance/espalier-fruit/
Security will be more or less of an issue depending on the side passage usage, whether there will be any valuables stored, the suburb and the owners’ wishes. It may be that you will need to hang an 1800mm high metal gate at the building’s end secured by deadlocks, or a cottage garden timber gate with a D latch or a standard pool gate? Is the installation of security cameras needed? Will ground surfaces need a makeover?
Whatever option is chosen we need to secure ground beneath our feet for safety and it needs to be practical for the owner’s usage. We can concrete it, pave it, partially pave it with interspersing ground covers between pavers, lay pebbles or artificial turf.
TIP: The measurement of a comfortable step for paver spacing is approximately 700mm apart.
There are several ground cover plants like Dichondras, with flowers in white, greenish or yellowish, 2-3mm diameter that will quickly spread over the surface and allow light pedestrian traffic.
If you install artificial turf, make sure that you have properly prepared the ground so that it is perfectly smooth. Slight slopes are OK but make sure to slope it away from the residential building. Ask this national synthetic turf supplier for a quote for your next project: www.tigerturf.com/au/
Given sufficient room and budget, think about building a small deck in real or composite timbers to achieve a level change, which adds some interest to what otherwise was a dull space. One leading national supplier of composite timber is: www.britedecking.com.au/composite-decking-products, which provide samples on request in different colours. The major hardware chains provide cost-effective real timber and are within easy access in most suburbs across the country. Decking also has the advantage of increasing living space. For instance, if you installed French doors leading onto a timber deck you could hang an outdoor movie screen off the pergola you erected and instantly the home has an outdoor movie theatre. State of Origin nights are covered!
TIP: Lay your planks diagonally to create the appearance of greater width.
Is your design high or low maintenance? Always consider this aspect when designing a landscape. Some landscapers have a maintenance arm to their business and promote it with various terms and contract types. In this case, it would make sense to quote an irrigation system as a value-add item because it encourages plant growth and hence more work.
Whatever you design and construct down a side passage be assured that it will add value to your customer’s home and their enjoyment of it.