[AD] A Narrow Backyard Dry Garden – The Reveal

10th August 2021
Looking down onto a terraced narrow backyard dry garden with a small built-in seating are made from recycled railway sleepers.

[Advertisement] This post in partnership with Hayloft includes product provided by a number of additional brands for the purpose of this post.*

To say it has taken forever to complete this transformation would be an understatement – who knew British summer time could be so full of rain?! I’ve had to get used to abandoning painting and planting at the sight of foreboding clouds. Let’s just say interiors are far easier to predict! But I digress. Our DIY dry garden project is finished, complete with a mini seating area, freshly painted white walls and repurposed raised bed with young drought-loving plants. 

If you saw my plans for this eco-friendly small garden design, you’ll see how I wanted to give this narrow backyard some real purpose. I wanted to create a haven for bees and birds with contrasting leaf shapes and texture. And taking into account my not-so-professional gardening skills, the aim was to find a happy medium somewhere between Beth Chatto’s Essex dry garden with minimal watering and the dreamy swathes of Oudolf Field in Somerset. I hear you laughing at my lofty plans, but stay with me…

A selection of drought-tolerant hardy perennials as plugs and young plants from Hayloft online nursery.

Right Plant, Right Place.

In stepped the brilliant team at Hayloft to help me choose the right plants from their online garden nursery. Their site was a life saver in lockdown when garden centres were closed! Started in 1993 from her kitchen table in Worcestershire, founder Yvonne grew a successful mail order plant business alongside her friend Harriet whilst raising their children. Today, Hayloft’s female strong horticultural team specialises in a huge range of quirky and unusual plants grown on site. Most of Hayloft’s plants are delivered as plugs or young plants in recyclable packaging, meaning they’ll grow into your desired space gradually. And frankly, I love the journey of watching something I’ve nurtured grow over time.

A row of Gaura 'White Dove' plant plugs styled on a cotton dropcloth, grown by Hayloft nurseries.

The bed I’ve used is made from repurposed railway sleepers and sits in a South-West facing part along the side of the house. It gets full sun for the best part of the day and is well-sheltered, making it the perfect spot for sun worshiping, drought loving plants. These will thrive on very little water and love a light, well draining soil. Once settled, I won’t be watering this border much at all, save for rainfall and they’ll spread fairly quickly with a good metre or so of height. Imagine if you will (for now) tall spires of flowers for bees and sculptural seed heads to continue visual interest into winter. And of course, we picked out white flowering plants to connect with the main part of the garden: 

  • Acanthus Spinosus
  • Echinops ‘Arctic Glow’
  • Penstemon ‘White Bedder’
  • Thalictrum Splendide White
  • Pennisetum ‘Advena Sky Rocket’  
  • Gaura ‘White Dove’ 
  • Geranium Plenum Album 
  • Agapanthus ‘Albus’

Our Narrow Backyard Dry Garden

A modern-rustic small backyard dry garden styled with a linen cushions, braided jute cushions and French style mattress.

And here it is – the finished look! No more stacks of pots or tarp covered bikes. Instead, a cozy outdoor nook to enjoy in the warmer months and a much better view from the kitchen window!

I stitched together four striped cotton seat pads from H&M Home to create a larger French mattress cushion as the square deck was quite awkward to buy anything ready made. Natural linen and jute cushions bring everything back to nature and it’s wonderful to be able to take a break here just stepping out of my studio door.

A stack of washed linen cushions in natural tones from Linen Tales on top of a braided jute cushion from Original Home.
Thalictrum Splendide White as a young plant in a dry garden mulched with crushed whelk shells.

You might have noticed that instead of gravel (great for locking moisture into the soil and popular with gravel gardens) I’ve used crushed shells for mulch. Shell on Earth are a brilliant company from Wales making use of a by-product of the seafood processing industry. It doesn’t smell or attract flies and even keeps the slugs and snails away. I also mixed crushed shells into the bed before planting with some extra compost and course sand for free draining soil.

Looking down into a modern-rustic raised dry garden styled with linen cushions for seating and Fermob portable outdoor lights.

I’ve reused the large rocks that were here previously which I think look better as additional landscaping against the shingle. And as the planting has already had time to settle in, they’ve grown considerably from when they arrived as plugs. We kept the honeysuckle as we love the smell when it blooms in summer and it also provides some screening from the neighbours. Once the jasmine is a little taller, I’ll train it up towards the trellis and keep everything crossed for some seriously heady scent!

Young Guara 'White Dove' and Acanthus Spinosus plants in a small contemporary dry garden in a narrow backyard.
Portable garden light with a cactus green handle designed by Fermob sitting among drought-tolerant plants in a small dry garden.
A contemporary terracotta garden pot by Berg pots planted with cotton grass and sitting on a dry garden mulched with crushed shells.

Portable outdoor lights by Fermob in ‘cactus green’ give us extra time to enjoy the garden at night and I love the warm and cosy feel they bring. Whilst some of our neighbours have really gone to town on garden lights, I’m aware of the detrimental effects they can have on local wildlife, so the fact we can bring them indoors with us when we’re done feels like the better option.

Can’t wait to see how this garden grows and changes over the years – I’ll have to post an update next spring!

The Fermob Mooon table lamp lighting up a contemporary, eco-friendly dry garden in a raised bed made from railway sleepers.

Concrete block walls painted in Sandtex Ultra Smooth Masonry paint in ‘Chalk Hill’, Wickes.  

Grid trellis, Wickes, painted with Cuprinol ‘Garden Shades’ in Daisy White.

Striped beige cotton seat pads (sewn to make a larger square) H&M Home.

White flowering hardy perennials as listed above, provided by Hayloft.*

Shell on Earth crushed shell mulch

Braided jute cushion, Original Home at Heal’s.*

Washed linen cushion covers in ‘natural’ and ‘nutmeg’, Linen Tales.*

Soft beige linen waffle throw, Linen Tales.*

‘Hoff’ pot by Berg, The Future Kept (with Cotton Tail grass from Hayloft)

Fermob Mooon table lamp, at Heal’s*

Fermob Balad portable lamp, at Heal’s*

*these items are pr products.

Our narrow backyard dry garden planted in a raised bed, lit at night with warm and inviting Fermob outdoor lamps.

Photography & styling © Tiffany Grant-Riley