Borrowed Landscape: Making more of the humble laneway

Your front facade might be about putting your best foot forward, but in many parts of Sydney, the rear lane is where it’s at. Once the sole domain of the night cart man and garbage trucks, Creative Director of Secret Gardens Matt Cantwell says the back lane is packed with potential. This is especially true in areas where land is at a premium.

“Historically they’ve been neglected, only good for rubbish collection,” says Matt. “But now they are areas of high use and there needs to be as much emphasis on how the back of your house and garden presents to the street as there is for the front facade.”

Often the back lane provides access to the rear garage or roller door leading onto a courtyard. This can mean they become more of a community hub than the official front entrance.

“The back lane is where people bring their prams in, where kids learn to ride their bikes and it’s often where you are more likely to bump into neighbours,” Matt says. “It’s a more relaxed atmosphere and you are more inclined to have a conversation. Out the front often people don’t have time to stop.”

With a little planning and forethought, the back lane can be just as beautiful as the front facade, albeit with its own personality. Matt says there’s scope for everything from street art through to lush planting schemes to create an inviting back entrance that still provides the necessary security.

“You have to remember that it is still a common space so you need to be considerate of the neighbours in some ways,” he says. “We’ve done things like incorporating a planter (on the roof of the garage) to cascade down over the opening of the garage door so that it feels like you are exiting through a cave. It’s about piecing together the structural elements like the garage with the garden.”

Selective planting like creeping fig and Boston ivy to cover bare masonry walls along with facilities like a space efficient timber clad sliding gate are a great way to create an inviting and stylish rear entryway. Matt says there’s even an opportunity to ‘borrow’ space from the laneway to extend your outdoor living. While many still prefer the off street parking that rear lane access can offer, he says it’s worth contemplating whether it needs to be a full garage.

“A lot of people feel like they want a secure garage but often we talk them into a carport so that they can have an outdoor room attached to the laneway,” he says. “It’s a clever way to expand the backyard but in an urban environment with maximum use from the space. You open a sliding gate and it becomes a space for activity for the kids and chairs and wine for the adults.”

The addition of a tree large enough to provide canopy over the laneway can be a game changer in terms of creating a welcoming community atmosphere.

“If you have a reasonably good sized tree that will span over the laneway and will provide shade, it will encourage people to use the space,” he says. “It can also create privacy from the neighbours.”

  • If you’re thinking of adding planters, make sure you’re not obstructing the lane in any way. Often rear lanes are throughways for garbage collection and emergency vehicles.
  • Speak to your neighbours about your plans. Laneways can be great places to espalier fruit trees, start a community art project or just provide some recreational space for the kids.
  • For some, entry via the back lane makes more sense for deliveries and guests. Think about going with oversized house numbers on the gate or roller door and even some lighting for easy identification.
  • Consider swapping out your garage for a carport for a more flexible space suitable for semi private outdoor entertaining.


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