Garden Styles: The House-Side Passage

The house-side passage is often wasted, and becomes a dreary ‘no go’ area. All to often the house-side passage is a forgotten space, a dreary corridor that becomes a dumping ground for any unwanted objects. It is rarely seen as part of the overall garden, simply a way between back and front or to the side door. Yet the potential can be considerable, particularly if the gap between the house and boundary is a reasonable one. Windows often look into the house-side passage, sometimes from the kitchen and sometimes from a living room, making the provision of a well thought-out scheme all the more important.

The design for a house-side passage shown opposite suits a typical space: it is just over 3m (10ft) wide and 9m (30ft) long, shady, and with a boundary formed by a high brick wall. A living room window looks straight at the wall, and the passage must accommodate dustbins. The design shows how the area can be exploited to become both more visually appealing and inviting.

If the area of house-side passage is dark, choose a pale colored precast concrete slab to reflect the maximum amount of light, and laid it in a staggered bond to help draw the area apart and create as much visual width as possible. The slabs should be interspersed with courses of brick, to link the garden to the house.

As a focal point opposite the living room window use a simple bowl and spout that can be fed by a small submersible pump. To satisfy the practical requirements of the space, the bins are neatly housed in a purpose-built store, the top of which is a plant container.

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Overhead beams span between the high wall and the house, playing host to climbing plants to help to soften the architecture to either side, and creating a sense of a vista. Planting softens and surrounds the pathway, while the pot and statuary add a personal touch.

A house-side passage can be a most ill-favored spot; yet it offers many opportunities for planting, since, particularly in a town, such a space will be sheltered and reasonably frost-free.

The planting scheme for the house-side passage is designed to look its best during the late winter months, a time when the area might oppress most, and yet also a season offering plenty of scented plants. The fragrance from the pot-grown sarcococca, the Mahonia japonica, and the winter jasmine growing on the far overhead beam are all chosen to make the job of filling the dustbins more agreeable.

Climbers are certain to be important plants in the house-side passage. Various forms of clematis twine around the overhead beams, bringing cheerful flowers for later in the year; ivies, chosen for their ornamental potential, provide an evergreen background; there is a honeysuckle for summer scent, and a climbing hydrangea.

Winter-flowering pansies make a feature of the water bowl, to be followed in summer by the bluish-white bells of codonopsis; the pansies should be replaced by impatiens as they finish flowering. Violas with a frost-tender bergenia demonstrate how in such a sheltered spot plants can be grown that might not otherwise survive.

The planting trough over the the dustbins needs adequate drainage, and plants that do not have deep, quasting roots. It is planted here with lamium, polystichum, and a teaming of pulmonaria with anemones. In this unusual site, the plants will need regular attention.

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Turning a gloomy space into an attractive one cannot be done without a little labor, so bulbs may need replacing; shade-tolerant bedding may need to be introduced; and the garrya will need to be clipped over after flowering. The soil, assumed to be moist, acid and fertile, is nevertheless confined to narrow beds and will therefore need enriching every year, particularly around the climbers.

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