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There’s nothing worse than having a beautifully maintained garden that you absolutely love, but to access it you have to walk through a dreary alley with no character or style. Or maybe you don’t have a garden space, but just a paved courtyard with no life to it.

A lot of houses have these unloved nooks or alleyways that bring down the look of the whole home.

Now, for me, there’s no such thing as dead space – there’s only potential. And I want to show you a few ways you can turn those unloved areas into inviting features of the garden.

One good example of this is the awkward alley that runs down the side of the kitchen on many Victorian terraced houses. It’s been the bane of many gardeners and homemakers for over a century.

This alley will inevitable only get good light for a small portion of the day, and it often ends up just as a dreary place to keep the bins and other garden odds and ends that haven’t made it to the shed.

However, even if you don’t have this particular house design, you may have a side passage, a courtyard, or a nook next to your shed which gets little use and wants a makeover.



So here’s some of my favourite garden alley ideas to bring new life to your dead space. I’m going to look at lighting, wall and fence decoration, plants that thrive in shady spots, and some extra features to add a dose of character.

Between a fence and a hard place

Now for the fence, the floor and the wall. There are tonnes of great options you could put to use here, but I’ll just look at a few.

Hanging baskets with cascading plants like lobelias are wonderful on either side.

Along the house wall you could use some garden shelving to display plants and ornaments.

Climbers are a great option along the fence side, and there are plenty to choose from. Even some basic ivy looks great, as long as you keep it in check. Plus a trellis can add a lot of style to your fence in itself.

Another great way to inject some character to your alley is adding a layer of bamboo fencing against your existing fence, either with vines/climbers or just bare.

Finally, get rid of the boring grey slabs or concrete and get some bright, colourful gravel down instead. Many wouldn’t even think of pulling their slabs up, but it’s amazing what a difference flooring makes to the feel and style of a space.

A few shady characters

Nothing will warm up a space and bring it to life like life itself. Whether you have a little border running along the fence, or you are using baskets and containers, adding plants will change the entire atmosphere of your alley.

So what plants love a shady patch to grow in? Here’s a few that will thrive in your alley and brighten it up beautifully:


Fuchsias are sturdy little beasts that can survive in semi-shade positions, and hardy varieties will come back year after year for fabulous colour.


Ferns are used to shady forest floors and are made for this sort of environment. They make a stunning foliage addition to fill any space.

Coral Bells

Coral Bells, or Heuchera, are one of my favourite options, and there is a stunning range to choose from. Great in borders or in containers.

Coleus and Begonias

For rich and vibrant foliage, often with variegated leaves, these two beauties are a superb choice.

Do keep in mind though that they are not the hardiest of plants, and won’t survive the winter outside.

The easiest option for these is to grow them in containers and bring them inside before the frost hits.

Let there be light

Adding lights is one of the best ways to turn your dingy alley into an enchanting passageway. Let’s look at a few illuminating options.

Before you start you need to decide on whether you want to drill a hole to run them on mains power, or whether you want battery or solar powered devices. Mains powered are the most reliable but will require more initial work for the installation.

My favourite option is to use string lights with good sized bulbs back and forth in a zig-zag pattern above the alley. You can use multi-coloured bulbs or just a nice warm yellow throughout – either looks great.

A couple of simple lantern-style lights on the wall are also a great way to dispel the darkness.

Another lovely choice is to use cascading fairy lights, sometimes called icicle lights at Christmas. You can run these along the fence, and then you can also see them from the kitchen while you’re washing up.

But of course one of the most relaxing and inviting lighting options will always be candles. Whether you use some lovely lanterns, or you make your own using old jars and twine, you can never go wrong with candles.

Fabulous features

Now to bring the whole project home. It’s the finishing touches that really give the space a soul of its own, so here are a few ideas that will do the job beautifully.


This one isn’t a small job, and you have to be conscious of how much light you are willing to lose, but a pergola that can hold baskets, climbers and lights will give an enchanting finish to a passageway like nothing else.


Most people think that a bench should go in a nice sunny spot in the garden, but adding one to the alley not only looks wonderfully quaint, it also makes it an inviting place. It tells you that this is a space to be used and enjoyed.

Water Features

The alleyway is the perfect place for a little water feature. That lovely gurgling sound as you step out of the back door is like a wave of tranquillity.

So remember, there’s no such thing as dead space. There is only unused space, and unused space equals potential.

Now, get out there and make sure that every part of your garden is as beautiful as it can be!

For more garden planting ideas, check out my blog:

Or check out my Pinterest board for more ideas:

pots and planters
Pots and planters
Pinterest Board

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