SHADY GARDENS don't have a great reputation. All too often they come across as dark, dank and uninviting – not exactly three words to set your horticultural pulse racing. The good news is a shady space can quite easily be turned into a welcoming oasis with some careful design choices and a bit of smart planting.
In this layout I’ve removed the grass, which will never thrive in shade, and instead created a central seating and dining area. After all, on a scorching hot day, escaping to the shade for lunch can be the ideal option and, at dusk, shade-loving flowers often give the best colours and scent.
< THE PROBLEMS
- Lawn won’t grow in the dry shade below thirsty trees
- Garden is overlooked by neighbours
- Only shade-loving evergreens are thriving
- Fences look bare and garden feels boxed in
- Nowhere to sit and nothing to look at
1. FOCUS ON THE CENTRE The circular shape of the seating area helps distract the eye from the square fences and turns focus towards the centre rather than the edge of the garden.
2. BOUNCE THE LIGHT Small, pale-coloured ‘setts’ are perfect to make the circle – these small units can create curves without needing to be cut to shape, which saves both money and effort. They also give a solid edge, which retains the limestone chippings laid inside. These chippings are a great choice in shady sites for two reasons: first, they’re pale in tone, which means they reflect back a large amount of light, helping to brighten the area; second, the chippings create a textured surface, which means you won't face the slip-hazard problems you find with stone and wood in shade.
3. BUY WIPE-DOWN FURNITURE The pale-coloured metal table and chairs echo the shape of the terrace itself, throw back the light and, as a material, are easier to wipe down than wood which is important because you’ll find any furniture will 'green' in shade if you leave it out for weeks at a time.
4. ECHO THE CIRCLE The curves of the circle are also found in the low box hedging that hugs it in sections, as well as being echoed in the box balls dotted through the borders. This shade-tolerant plant is great for providing a kind of ‘green architecture’ that gives shape and interest to a garden even in the dead of winter.
5. MAKE FENCES 'DISAPPEAR' Clothing the fences in climbers hides the square boundaries as well as maximising planting space. Swathes of ivy can be effective but will often creep into beds and swamp other plants. Instead you could plant a more flower-focused combination of honeysuckles and clematis - you can even find one or two roses that will tolerate shade such as Rosa ‘New Dawn’.
BEST PLANTS FOR A SHADY GARDEN
Digitalis purpurea f. albiflora
Majestic spires and a plant that will happily self-sow its own replacements. Grow in a humus rich soil for flowers June to July. H1.8m (6ft) S60cm (24in)
Convallaria majalis (lily of the valley)
This is a delicate and highly scented plant for around edges of paths and patios. Prefers leafy, humus-rich soil but perfectly happy in shade. Flowers May. Also available in pink. H and S25cm (10in)
Lamium maculatum ‘Beacon Silver’
Pretty pink deadnettle ideal for quick-spreading ground cover, light-reflecting leaves. Prefers moist but well drained soil and flowers May to July. H15cm (6in) S60cm (24in)
Mahonia media ‘Charity’
Tall and handsome plant with holly type leaves and yellow winter flowers. Prefers fertile humus rich or well drained soil. Flowers November to March. Eventual H5m (16ft) S4m (13ft)
Viburnum opulus ‘Roseum’
The aptly named snowball tree has huge clusters of white flowers as well as berries to follow. Plant in a fertile moist but well drained soil for snowball flowers in May and June. H and S4m (13ft)
Small-leaved, slow-growing evergreen shrub ideal for topiary and low hedges. H and S5m (16ft) - trim annually to keep size
Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’
Delicate, forget-me-not style flowers above leaves splashed with white. Prefers humus rich, moist but well drained soil. Flowers April to May. H40cm (16in) S60cm (24in)
Attractive herbaceous perennial with 'corrugated' blue-grey leaves. Pale lilac flowers July and August. Protect from slugs!! H1m (3ft 3in) S1.2m (4ft)
Large evergreen fern for a shady, well drained border. Cut back old foliage in January. New fronds unfurl in April. H1.2m (4ft) S90cm (35in)
Polygonatum hybridum (Solomon’s seal)
Arching stems of flowers add a graceful note to beds. Prefers fertile humus rich soil conditions and flowers May to June. H1.5m (5ft) S30cm (12in)
Geranium phaeum ‘Album’
White version of the dusky cranesbill holds up graceful flowers above weed-smothering leaves. Plant in fertile well drained soil. Flowers May to June. H80cm (31in) S60cm (24in)
EVER SINCE PLUTO DUG UP Mickey Mouse’s backyard to bury his bone, dogs have made gardeners nervous, but thankfully things are beginning to change. The Dog's Trust was awarded a Gold medal for its dog-friendly show garden at Hampton Court this year. The garden showed how an outdoor space can be a place for man's best friend to enjoy and yet remain a beautiful retreat for its owner too. Admittedly, dogs still aren't allowed at the show itself, but it's a move in the right direction!
There has also been a trend in recent years to develop therapeutic gardens for dogs, with Mayhew Animal Home and Bath Cats and Dogs Home both creating spaces specifically to combat dog stress. Of course, even the happiest dogs need somewhere to relax, breathe fresh air and enjoy a little one-on-one exercise... Here's our design solution.
< THE PROBLEMS
• Very few areas of interest for a dog
• Conifers dominate
• Overlooked by neighbouring properties
• Long thin shape drags eye to the end
THE SOLUTION: Divide the garden into sections
Create interest by dividing the long garden into three equal parts. It makes sense for the area closest the house to remain as a suntrap patio for entertaining, using gravel instead of the dated pavers to create a Mediterranean feel. The middle area is given over to a square of neat lawn, kennel and storage bench, with the area at the far end dedicated to doggy fun – with rough grass, sandpit and bamboo hoop activity tunnel.
1. Add some shade Even in our insipid summers, dogs can all too easily overheat so make sure they have lots of shady spots to stretch out in. Here three deciduous trees cast dappled shade in summer, while a covered kennel in the shadier side of the garden offers scope to escape the heat.
2. Bring in water A simple bubble fountain set among the gravel garden plants provides a natural sound that’s as calming for dogs as it is for us. It’s also a source of water for thirsty dogs as well as a fun play feature to entertain bored hounds.
3. Create calming sounds Soothing natural sounds are created by wooden wind chimes located in the tree - a cheap and easy way to create a calming environment for dogs.
4. Use paw-friendly materials Grass and pale coloured gravel are less likely to overheat on hot days and have paw-friendly textures. If yellow urine patches are a problem on your lawn, try adding an anti-scorch product such as Dog Rocks to a large jug of water and use it to fill your dog's water bowl.
6. Make space for digging If your dog likes to excavate, why not provide a dedicated digging space and praise your dog when they use it? Sandpits work well and offer a soft texture for dogs to explore. They’re perfect places to hide occasional treats for your dog to find, too.
7 Add tunnels to explore A curving low tunnel created from bamboo hoops (or willow stems) creates an exciting path and hiding place for dogs; the natural material blends well with the garden.
8. Plant tough shrubs and perennials Invest in some robust flowering shrubs and tough groundcover plants that will withstand a rampaging beast! See our plant list overleaf for plants they can safely sniff and nibble. Tough perennials include Agastache Blackadder, Salvia nemorosa ‘Caradonna’ and eryngium as well as one or two grasses (miscanthus and pennisetum) and some scented but tough shrubs – lavender, rosemary and thyme
9. Keep toys to hand An outdoor storage bench give dogs a place to perch whilst at the same time providing space to keep a range of toys so playthings can be swapped in and out to stop canine boredom.
10. Let them bask on a double deck kennel A sun deck on top of the kennel with an access ramp will give your dog exercise as well as a higher spot to survey their space.
DAWN'S TOP 10 PLANTS FOR DOGS
1. Nepeta racemosa ‘Walker's Low’ Catnip can stimulate playfulness in dogs as well as cats and makes a great front of border plant. H60cm S50cm
2. Chamaemelum nobile The scent of chamomile is good for dogs suffering from anxiety or skin and stomach upsets. It is best planted in pots to prevent trampling. H30cm S45cm
3. Humulus lupulus ‘Aureus’ Golden hops is a vigorous climber to grow over large garden structures and is said to have a calming plant on hyperactive and stressed dogs H and S6m
4. Lavandula angustifolia As well as being tough enough to withstand canine attention, lavender is supposed to encourage scar tissue regeneration and reduce anxiety in dogs. H60cm S75cm
5. Mimulus guttatus This marginal pond plant is used as a remedy for animals that are nervous, timid and shy. H30cm S1.2m
6. Petroselinum crispum Parsley acts as a good breath freshener for dogs as well as a useful kitchen herb. H80cm S60cm
7. Thymus serpyllum ‘Pink Chintz’ Thyme is a healing plant enjoyed by dogs but also a tough groundcover plant for sun. H25cm S35cm
8. Calendula officinalis Marigold is often selected by animals in distress and is a useful self-sower for filling in gaps. H50cm S30cm
9. Salix sp. Dogs in pain often chew willow bark that contains a natural painkiller. Instead of a tree, try natural willow structures that can also double as a sheltered shady spot for a dog.
10. Viola odorata Nervous dogs may enjoy sniffing the scented flowers of sweet violets that also make a great addition to a woodland garden. H20cm S30cm