If kitchens and lounge rooms look onto a sad side passage or boundary fence, Marc Worner points out it’s an opportunity to transform the landscape into a usable and aesthetically pleasing extension to your customers’ living area.
The side passage of any home is usually used for the garbage bins, storage, that future project on ‘the list’, the kids’ pushies and summertime toys such as canoes and paddleboards. We rarely venture there because we have no need, and quite frankly, it’s an eyesore.
However, you could do what landscapers do best; transform the landscape into a usable and aesthetically pleasing extension to your customers’ living area and a colourful addition to their garden.
First, we need to consider access, usage, storage, aspect (sun movement and prevailing breeze), privacy, security and, most importantly. our customer’s budget.
Customers can sometimes 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 the different budgets so you don’t waste your valuable time and effort preparing a quote that will receive a cursory glance and be binned. If customers realise they’ll get a practical result from a previously underutilised space, and it’s aesthetically appealing for a given amount, you can always add value during the job with variations to the contract.
Next we need to work out the productquality 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 gross profit margins can be adjusted accordingly.
Ask the owners about use.
There’s no point creating a garden of delights if it’s where the owner works on trailbikes or repairs mowers.
When we calculate access, we need to remember 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 width to access the rear yard.
TIP: On narrow or poor-access sites, it saves time to get bulk materials such as pebbles and sand delivered in bags of a manageable weight.
Creating a landscape in a side passage gives 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 blueboard walls and textured paint in front of the side boundary fence could give the required look while retaining good access.
If space is at a premium, think about installing strained wire with climbers up a side boundary fence. Green walls or water features are not as simple but can have a soothing effect, especially when viewed from bedrooms or a kitchen.
Maybe it’s a slatted timber wall that becomes a feature – even if it does hide the garbage bins.
TIP: When using an airless spray-gun, depending on the type of paint, dilute with water or thinning agent to stop the gun lines from clogging.
Side passages are often 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 the owners free up some space in their garden shed by storing it down the side passage, and to that end, you’ll build them a roofed area with, say, clear polycarbonate roof sheeting. Pushbikes could be wallmounted while being protected from the weather. In the case of a builder or a brickie, it’s often tools of trade and excess materials being stored and constantly accessed.
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 the pergola with ornamental flowering climbers over it you build for them.
Pergolas attached to the house over windows can provide an interesting light-andshade experience along the path as well as privacy and protection for exposed windows. 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.
Aspect plays a crucial role in the outcome. Is it a shady, south-facing passage? Or is north-facing and sunny all day? 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’s 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.
Privacy has become a major consideration with small building blocks.
If a neighbour’s windows look down onto a side passage, is it practical to screen off their view using one of the ready-made artistic screens in timber or metal?
Is there enough room with the right aspect to grow a tall and slender hedge while considering the level of maintenance? Perhaps an artist could be engaged to paint a trompe du jour on the fence or we could espalier a citrus tree along it for that Mediterranean or French look – provided it’s a sunny position.
Security will be more or less of an issue depending on the side passage use, whether there will be any valuables stored, the suburb, and the owners’ wishes. It may be an 1800mm-high metal gate will be needed 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 safe and secure ground beneath our feet and it needs to be practical for the owner’s use. Options abound. We can concrete it, pave it, partially pave it with interspersing ground covers between pavers, lay pebbles or artificial turf, spread recycled concrete aggregate or deck over it.
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, and yellowish, 2mm–3mm diameter that will quickly spread over the surface and allow light pedestrian traffic.
If you install artificial turf, make sure you have properly prepared the ground so it’s perfectly smooth. Slight slopes are okay, and make sure to slope it away from the residential building.
Given sufficient room and budget, think about building a small deck in real or composite timbers to achieve a level change which always adds interest to what was otherwise a dull space. It may even increase living space.
The major hardware chains provide cost-effective real timber and are within easy access in most suburbs across the country.
TIP: lay your planks diagonally to create the appearance of greater width.
Will the side passage design be high- or low-maintenance? Some landscapers have a maintenance arm to their business and promote it with various terms and contract types. Whatever you design and construct down a side passage, be assured it will add value to your customers’ home and their enjoyment of it.