Designing a Townhouse Garden

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Townhouse gardens present special challenges that require specific design responses. For all intents and purposes, the typical townhouse garden site is a rectangular box with an open top. Walls or fences commonly enclose the “box” on three sides while the house itself forms the fourth side. This creates a space that is inward and self-focused. Views and contact with the nearby environment are limited as is the size.

Moreover, townhouse gardens often lack privacy. Although it is enclosed with solid walls or fences, nearby neighbours can often see into the garden space from upper-story windows. Hence designing a townhouse garden is like no other residential project. It requires one to think more like an interior designer or architect, only with a different palette of materials. Here are some tips to help you go about it.

Subspaces

A townhouse garden site should be divided into subspaces to provide spatial and visual interest. This is typically a necessity to relieve the monotony created by the existing simplicity of the box-like space. Spatial subdivision can be created by a combination of techniques.

You can start by organizing the site for different outdoor uses. Functions such as entertaining, sitting, eating and reading that can fit within the garden area should each be given their own space.  Such spaces should than be defined by use of plant materials, walls/fences, or even low earth mounds,

On the ground, different pavement materials can be employed to give each space its own character and identity. Grade changes between individual spaces also help to subtly separate spaces. Collectively, these techniques create multiple subspaces within the framework of the perimeter garden walls, just as furniture, room dividers, house plants, rugs, and so on do in interior rooms.

Perception of Spatial Size

Every effort should be made to increase the perceived size of the townhouse garden site. One way to achieve this is through the use of forced perspective. This is done by progressively converging the edges of spaces as they extend farther away from the house. This will give a greater sense of depth and distance to the spaces as viewed from inside or near the house.  A similar approach is to make the spaces located near the house comparatively large while making other spaces progressively smaller farther away from the house.

Material colours and textures can likewise establish forced perspective by contrasting materials that are coarse textured and/or bright coloured near the house with materials that are fine textured and/or light hued at the back end of the garden area.

Overhead Planes

Overhead planes should be strategically located throughout a townhouse garden in coordination with the other elements of the design. This is critical especially where privacy is an issue.

A tree canopy, pergola, canvas awning, or other covering should be located over frequently used spaces in a townhouse garden to screen upper-story views and provide a ceiling. They also create shade and make the outdoor rooms more comfortable.

Perimeter Walls/Fences

The existing walls or fences that surround a townhouse garden should be utilized for various purposes. Like interior walls, these vertical planes should be taken advantage of to enhance the quality of the different garden spaces.

You can hang plants in shelves or hooks or plant climbers to grow over the walls. These approaches have the additional benefit of softening the surrounding vertical planes and making their presence less obvious.

The Author is a Landscape Architect

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