Exterior Worlds
Landscape Design
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How to Add Movement and Interest to Narrow Spaces

By definition, a narrow space is any part of a Houston landscape that is longer than it is wide that stretches between two points on the landscape. The mathematical proportions of such an area typically approximates to a 5 to 1 ratio. However, there is not an absolute, and the exact dimensions are not the challenge here.

The main challenge lays in the fact any narrow space, no matter how “wide”, is still one that is too small to be used for any of the traditional elements of landscaping. Most developers simply give up on them and leave them alone hoping no one will notice they are there.

Exterior Worlds does not give up on these areas. We make it part of our mission to transform these erstwhile eyesores into special points of interest on the Houston landscape.

Narrow spaces such as the ones we are describing in this article can be found in either residential or commercial environments. While any business or home on the Houston landscape may harbor at least one such narrow space, these landscaping challenges are far more common in urban parts of town than the more spread out parts of the west and surrounding Houston suburbs.


In commercial office parks, a narrow space might lie between two office buildings, or between a building and an atrium. This can present a real problem for office park management, because while the atrium itself appears superb, the space surrounding it appears drab and wasted. We have to do something to it to make it more presentable to visitors and employees alike.

In a residential area, you will often see them between a house and some other outdoor structure. Sometimes they even occur between a home and a stone wall that surrounds the back yard. In these settings they are a particular eyesore, because while the rest of the yard looks great, these linear spaces are simply sitting there with nothing in them, creating emptiness in the midst of a diversity of forms.

We also invariably find narrow spaces anytime we are working near a townhome. By nature, townhomes are taller than they are wide, and they are usually built on lots that are small to begin with. Many are surrounded by stone walls with mini-garages. Some are even side-by-side with other townhomes.

Whenever we work around adjacent structures like this, we are normally dealing with a stretch of ground between them that is fallow from a vegetation perspective and very challenging to work with from the standpoint of deliberate forms.

However, without some very creative design techniques, these narrow spaces found in both residential and commercial Houston landscapes are typically unusable areas from a developmental perspective.

Hardscapes are important elements of the type of creative design we are talking about here. In areas where the ground lies partly covered in shadow for much of the day, and where planting a garden may prove impractical, there are other things we can do to turn an otherwise drab narrow space into a point of interest. One favorite method of doing this is to build a curved walkway through the area.

This breaks up its linear narrowness. This can then be further magnified by adding gravel or texture patterns to either side of the walkway. When done correctly, this not only breaks up linearity, but it also adds a feeling of dynamic movement.

This is not all we can do with narrow spaces. Other creative forms can also be constructed that can turn any tight squeeze into a veritable keynote of the Houston landscape. Two of these forms are custom wall planters and custom trellises both provide excellent support for the existing linearity of the space. In many businesses and schools, just a few scenes that depict or reflect the surrounding Houston landscape can be painted on a wall in the form of a mural.

This works exceptionally well for Italian style homes. Italian homes are typically very tall houses, and many in neighborhoods like the Heights are built on narrow lots. Simply by adding the images of a Mediterranean hillside, or of climbing ivy, we can create a scene that looks more like a window to the Houston landscape than a solid wall.

Custom gardens backed by mirrors can also be planted that will magnify the actual amount of vegetation and make the whole area look much more abundant in greenery than it actually is.