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How to Make Service Areas More Than Just Serviceable

It helps to think outside the square when it comes to utility areas of the garden, to make them as attractive as they are useful

(Article reproduced from Houzz’s editorial ideabook with thanks to Carol Bucknell for including our Kitchen Garden)

We all have them, these ugly ducklings of garden design – they are, of course, the service areas. These are the places you use to store your rubbish bins, garden tools, outdoor furniture and children’s toys, as well as working areas such as kitchen gardens, potting sheds, washing lines and compost bins. It all sounds a bit ugly, I hear you saying. Well, it doesn’t have to be.

Out of sight
Where possible, garden designers prefer to hide service areas where they can’t be seen from living areas, both indoors and out. The most common method of doing this is to use some form of screen, either built or planted. Integrating the screen with existing built features or plants is important; use the same or similar materials or plant species, and make sure heights are also in harmony.

Screens don’t have to be very high or very solid to disguise an area, particularly for smaller gardens. In this tiny Sydney garden by Outhouse Design, laser-cut Corten steel panels screen a small area that could be used to store garden tools, bins or compost. Often a semi-transparent screen of trellis or bamboo can be very effective too, and its lightness won’t add unnecessary ‘weight’ to the garden as a whole. Similarly, keep hedges trimmed so that they form only a very thin screen rather than a solid mass of foliage that can waste a lot of valuable space.

Child’s play
Making your garden child friendly doesn’t necessarily mean it should look like a theme park. Screen the more obtrusive play structures, and integrate others into existing features. Building a raised sandpit likes this one by Sustainable Garden Design in Perth keeps sand where it should be, and if you integrate it with the deck or terrace it can be turned into a herb garden, formal pond or simply filled in later when the kids have grown older.


There are often leftover areas in a garden that can be used for storage. That narrow space between the fence and the house or garage, for instance, can be used to store tools, bikes or toys. A canopy structure attached to the building (check with council first) will provide protection from the elements.

Or you can build small storage compartments onto the walls of the house, fence or garage. Unused space under the deck or terrace can also be used for storage. If light levels allow, potted herbs and salad greens can be grown in narrow side yards. Fix shelves to the side of the house to raise pots towards the sun.

Bin it
Shaded areas on the south side of the house that are not suitable for outdoor living or planting are ideal for creating an amenity or service area. Keep in mind issues such as easy access from the house for clotheslines, rubbish, wood and compost bins. But don’t position bins too close to windows, as flies and smells can be a nuisance in summer. It’s also not a good look to have your smalls flapping on the washing line in full view of your living area or deck.

TIP: If there’s space in the garden, it makes sense from both a practical and aesthetic point of view to position as many working and storage areas as you can together in one zone.

One-stop shed
If you want to keep lawn mowers, garden tools, bikes and toys in one place, a shed is often the best option. If possible, sheds should be positioned unobtrusively in a corner of garden that is not visible from deck or living spaces.

Size is important with sheds. Don’t go overboard and buy a huge shed that will dominate the garden, unless you really need to. Many purpose-built sheds these days are quite attractive. If constructed in timber, brick, concrete or galvanised metal, they can be easily be painted to integrate with the colour of your fence or the house like this one is.

Avoid using bright colours as this will only draw attention to the shed. Sheds can also be softened with planting around the base or you can train climbing plants to grow up their walls.

A well-designed building like this doesn’t need to be hidden away. Why not make it a focal point instead?

Multi-purpose seating
Built-in seating around the deck or terrace can double as storage for outdoor cushions, pool equipment, gas bottles and toys. This is a good solution for very small gardens, courtyards or roof terraces.

Going potty
Don’t you just love the way this garden owner has made a feature out of the potting area? Rather than tuck yours out of sight, consider using attractive benches, baskets, screens and other features to make the potting area the main event rather than a side show. After all it’s where you spend a lot of time if you’re a dedicated gardener.

Kitchen gardens
Likewise with kitchen gardens. These were once banished to the back of the garden, but with properties much smaller today we often have to site them in full view of the house and outdoor living areas. Turn that problem into a solution by making them as pretty as you can.

Potage gardens edged with low hedges and incorporating raised beds made of timber, brick or stone add an interesting structural dimension to the garden (as well as keeping the soil warmer and making them easier to maintain). Hedging gives more definition and hides bare soil when vegetables are not in season, as well as keeping scruffy plants from view.

Many gardeners often interplant vegetables with flowering herbs like rosemary and chives to make them look more attractive. Companion plants such as calendula, marigold and nasturtium that will deter insects have the same effect. You can also integrate vegetables and herbs into ornamental garden beds, particularly those with lovely colours or forms such as artichoke, purple sage and coloured beets.

Article by (and with thanks to): Carol Bucknell Houzz New Zealand Contributor.