I have decided to do a mini series on the more tricky bits I have in my garden and what I am doing about them. That way I won’t be able to ignore them any longer!
At the front of our house we have several mature trees: sycamore, elm and a couple of beeches. The garden then slopes down to the house. This means the top border under the trees is exceptionally dry and shady. The front lawn is a wonderful example of a mossy bank and is usually covered in leaves, twigs, beech nuts or elm seedlings depending on the time of year.
I have tried at various times over the years to get plants to grow, but have often given up as it seemed that nothing would take. However as I gradually gained experience I learnt about plants that would grow in such conditions. The top garden is slowly beginning to take shape, mostly with foliage of different shades and forms. I couldn’t just ignore an area where it is possible to fit more plants, could I?
This top corner is finally becoming a garden. At the back I have transplanted some small holly seedlings I found growing elsewhere. Hopefully they will grow large enough to make a nice hedge at the back. The little Azalea was also moved from elsewhere. It has rather inconsequential green flowers and so didn’t merit a place in my main border. It is perfect here and I am so pleased at how well it transplanted. You can also see a very small Sarcococca hookeriana ‘Humilis’ at the far right. It is so small that you might miss it, in fact it hasn’t grown much since I put it in a few years ago, but at least it is still alive! The RHS site says it will grow in full shade and is even tolerant of dry shade and neglect! It seemed a perfect plant for this place, so hopefully it will suddenly take off.
The eagle-eyed amongst you may also spot some Brunnera ‘Jack Frost’ from Angie of Angie’s Garden Diaries and some Euphorbia. The Euphorbia is probably one of the oldest plants in my garden having been given it by a friend when we first moved in nearly thirty years ago. I have no idea which type it is, but it has spread throughout the front garden and even some of the lawn and looks lovely in the spring with its fresh green leaves.
At the right of the top garden is a mature beech tree. A self-seeded holly is growing right up against the trunk and provides some lovely greenery at its base. There are also some small broom plants a bit further round. I bought a couple of these plants many years ago and now they just keep producing offspring. Each plant never lasts more than a few years before they get too old and leggy, but there are always more coming along. The exciting thing is that you never know what colour they will be, yellow, red or some combination. You also never know where they will turn up!
Further to the left of the corner bed is an old tree trunk which I have filled with soil and it is now home to a lovely Hypericum patulum ‘Hidcote’. Its yellow flowers really brighten up the top border in spring, while in winter it provides more greenery in the area.
Moving further to the left, I have a variegated Vinca and a Hebe called Francis, which is struggling a bit, but I have cut it back hoping it will bush out once it gets established. I have also planted a few bits of variegated ivy from the back garden. Again it seems to be taking a while to get going, but once it does I am hoping it will cover the fence.
In this type of area you can’t afford to be fussy and you should accept whatever nature gives you for free. I have left a bit of privet and some berberis that have seeded themselves and in the front have planted some horizontal cotoneaster and some geraniums that have come from bargain benches and plant sales respectively. I did spend some good money on an Osmanthus delavayi as I was assured it would produce arching stems of white flowers even in these conditions. It is doing quite well and does indeed flower.
As far as bulbs go, I failed miserably with Tulips and Daffodils, even little ones, but had good success with Erythronium ‘Pagoda’, which are not always easy to grow. I also have naturalised snowdrops growing at the base of the trees. I think they have been in the garden longer than I have.
More recently I have planted rooted pieces of Dogwood and Epimedium, so time will tell how they will get on.
These are the lessons I have learnt over the years:
- Prepare your ground as best you can, digging in compost and leaf mould to improve the dry impoverished soil.
- Look up which plants are likely to survive in dry, shady conditions – there are actually quite a lot.
- Don’t buy any large plants for this area as you won’t find it easy to dig holes large enough between the roots. Small plants will soon grow and will better establish themselves amongst the tree roots. They are also cheaper in case they don’t make it.
- Be prepared to water in the summer; it is especially important to keep any new plants well watered until they settle in.
- Consider mulching with something like leaf bark to prevent evaporation of water, but it is best to wait until the ground is wet before you cover it. I have recently covered the area with wood chippings from a beech tree bough that we needed to remove. I am not sure whether the chippings will stay in place without any sort of edge, but I would rather keep it natural looking for now.
Do you have any similar dry, shady areas? What plants have you had success with?