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Really awkward border - help appreciated!

Hi folks,

I have a really difficult border which merrily kills everything I plant in it! Looking for some ideas.

I am up in the Cairngorms near Aviemore, at just over 300m altitude, so in basically the coldest area of the UK - we can get -15 or -20 easily in the winters so any plants have to be super hardy. I work at a wee tourist attraction and look after the hanging baskets, pots etc, and have one narrow border below our shop window which I keep trying to do something with, and failing miserably. It's only about 15" deep and about 15' long, but is under the overhang of the roof so is always very dry. It's south facing, but there is a big Scots Pine in front of it, so it's in the shade for most of the day. The soil is also very acidic, and made even more so by the constant addition of pine needles. Obviously I can dig in lime every now and then to try and decrease the acidity, but there's only so much that will do and I can't really make much difference when it's right underneath the tree.

Not looking for anything tall, just something relatively low growing that might cope with the conditions. I also don't necessarily need anything perennial, annuals would be fine. Except our last frosts can be in early June, which doesn't leave a very long growing season...

I know heather sounds like it might be an obvious choice, but we're surrounded by the stuff everywhere on the mountains, so I'm trying to steer clear of it!

So to sum up... dry, shady, extremely acidic, very cold... God help me. Any suggestions? I'm at my wit's end with it! It's the bed of death...



  • ObelixxObelixx Posts: 29,645

    Vincas should do well there especially if you can work in some well rotetd manure or garden compost or even just cheap MPC to improve moisture retention.   Vinca minor Gerturde Jekyll has glossy green foliage and white flowers which would show up well in shade or low light and vinca major variegata has creamy and green foliage with blue flowers.

    To add some height and foliage contrast you could add lychnis coronaria which has silvery leaves and cerise or white flowers and if you get both they'll self seed and you'll get white flowers with pink bits.  Very pretty.    I suspect foxgloves may be OK too if you go for the paler or white flowered version to add light.

    Vendée - 20kms from Atlantic coast.
    "We don't stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing." - George Bernard Shaw
  • raisingirlraisingirl Posts: 6,904

    Mm  - white foxgloves would be lovely. Have you tried any of the hardy geraniums? Larkspur, possibly? I know they say neutral soil but I can grow them in my acidic soil. Come to that dwarf blueberries might be OK if the soil is reasonably fertile. Very pretty plants, even apart from the berries image.You may not get much fruit in the shade but the flowers in Spring and leaves in autumn are lovely. Deciduous dwarf azaleas if it's not too windy. (the evergreen ones are a bit trickier but the deciduous ones see pretty tough). I've also got Leucojum growing in partial shade, apparently happy enough

    “It's still magic even if you know how it's done.” 
  • BorderlineBorderline Posts: 4,700

    For that small strip, Lamium Maculatum and its many varieties will do well there. They don't grow too high but have lovely interesting ground cover leaves. 

  • HenatronHenatron Posts: 37

    Thanks guys!

    I'm avoiding anything too tall like foxgloves as I don't want to block the view from the window behind, and anything I've tried that's more than about 9" tends to grow at a 45 degree angle outwards. There's some shelter from the pine and the fence but otherwise the bed is facing the prevailing wind, so is pretty exposed. Or at least it is at Cairngorm, in the same situation elsewhere in the country it would probably be quite sheltered! We get enormously strong winds at times, especially in the winter.

    The Vinca looks like it could be worth a try, or maybe Lamium. I'll need to dig a load of compost in as the soil will be really poor. It's going to wait till next spring now, but thought it was time to get some advice in preparation.

    Thanks for all your suggestions - very much appreciated. And any more are still welcome!

  • FairygirlFairygirl Posts: 53,974

    Hi Henatron - London Pride - (Saxifraga urbium) should thrive there. It'll cope with deep shade, wet or dry, and gives a good carpet of cover which will keep weed seeds out too. It produces stems of tiny pale pink flowers. I have some under the conifer and pine at the end of the garden. Hardy geraniums should be fine - there are lots of varieties. I know it can be a nuisance, but Alchemilla mollis would also be fine, and a big froth of it can look terrific. 

    If you can add some well rotted manure in there, it should help retain moisture and nourish the poor soil there. Anything you plant, water really well and mulch with more compost, manure or fine bark.

    How were the hills looking today?  I was up there on Saturday doing Sgor Gaoith and had a grand day. Hoping to come back this weekend to do Braeriach, but the forecast is still a bit hit and miss. image

    It's a place where beautiful isn't enough of a word....

    I live in west central Scotland - not where that photo is...
  • hogweedhogweed Posts: 4,053

    Alchemilla mollis, vinca and saxifrage would be my choices as well. All as tough as old boots. 

    'Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement' - Helen Keller
  • josusa47josusa47 Posts: 3,530

    I think I'd want to keep the soil away from that air vent, in case it gets blocked up.

  • HenatronHenatron Posts: 37

    Alchemilla, now there's an idea. Hadn't considered that. Lots of helpful ideas from everyone, thank you all! :-D

    I think my best plan is to try a mixed border of several different things, along with improving the soil with muck/compost, and mulching it too to keep the moisture in. Then I'll see what survives and keep going with that!

    Fairygirl - I have some London Pride in my own garden, but didn't know it's name. Thanks! And the hills have looked awesome the last couple days, but the cloud level is looking like it'll be pretty low over the weekend, athough clearing a bit on Sunday afternoon. Sunday might be your better day for Braeriach, but hit and miss like you say. About time we had some nicer weather though!

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