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Small shady city garden design


We've got a ground floor garden flat in a converted terrace in West London. We're having an extension built at the moment and need some help with designing our back garden.

Our garden is east facing and we have a very large sycamore which overshadows us slightly to the southeast in a neighbours garden as well as a fig tree in the northeast corner. We've tried a couple of times to grow a lawn but we can ever keep it alive.

The north edge of our garden gets the most sunlight (1-3 hours a day?), with plants against the southern fence getting almost none. I'd describe the garden as moderate/dappled shade which is obviously worse in summer when the sycamore and fig tree are both covered in leaves.

Garden size is 4m wide by 6m long so pretty small. My current thinking is a patio area outside our bifold doors, with slate chippings as the main garden covering. Have a small path that leads to a small (2mx2m) raised deck with L shaped seating. Then add in raised planters/ornamental rocks/interesting pots on the slate chipping area to make it not look incredibly bland.

Hoping to get something which looks good, can tolerate shade and is fairly low maintenance. Diagram below showing general layout.

If anyone has any suggestions or comments - including telling me my design is crap - I'm not precious ;) - that would be very much appreciated. Any suggestions for plants which could be grown in various areas too would be great!





  • BorderlineBorderline Posts: 4,699

    If you are keeping the fig tree, I think the slate chip floor will make the area seem even more dark. They are also difficult to deal with when trying to rake off leaves in the autumn time. I think gravel will suit more, and help light up your area instantly. As you state, in the summer time, the garden can be quite shaded.

    Your planting spaces looks fine. You could keep the patio for pots and short term colour which could be changed throughout the year. With the planters, try to mix different height and shape on the left and right side to give interest and shape. Long standard troughs can look too much. 

    Shrubs are usually longterm and low maintenance. Look into Sarcococca Humilis, scent winter flowers and dark berries against evergreen foliage. Grasses like Luzula Nivea which thrives in dappled shade. Ferns, Liriope Muscaris and many Geraniums like Endressii and Oxonianum. Very low maintenance and only requires you to cut down Geraniums once in autumn or winter.

    Use the walls too to create height and colour. Climbers like Akebia Quinata, the Chocolate Vine could do well in these surroundings.

    Last edited: 21 January 2018 22:48:18

  • Thanks for the response some really useful comments! Looking through some images online for inspiration I was coming to the same conclusion you made about the slate being too dark.

    I'll keep in mind your comment RE the planters, still not sure what to do with them for the more permanent planting but I've already started looking at the plants you suggested :)

  • Papi JoPapi Jo Posts: 3,844

    You may find inspiration from this very interesting website of someone gardening in a small garden in London:

    You might even visit the garden!

    You are invited to a virtual visit of my garden (in English or in French).
  • Thanks - taking a look now image

  • Quick follow-up post - definitely thinking that slate is the wrong choice of ground cover for the non-patio area of the garden. The reason for choosing slate was a preference over pea gravel which I'm not a big fan of.

    Can anyone recommend a larger light coloured aggregate that's more like slate in terms of being flattish? Looking for something I won't constantly be tracking in on the bottom of my boots but will look good/be easyish to walk over in a 4x4m area.

    Last edited: 21 January 2018 23:24:11

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  • Thanks!

  • hogweedhogweed Posts: 4,053

    I would go for a few very large pots rather than lots of little ones. And group them together rather than dotted. And I agree the path would be better straight. Use the largest flagstones you can get and stagger the path. for a bit of interest. 

    'Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement' - Helen Keller
  • hogweedhogweed Posts: 4,053

    Granite chippings come in a range of colours from white through pink to greys and browns and golds. Either look online or go to a builders merchant who should have samples. I would also buy a few bags of big river cobbles and put groups of that on the gravel. Again, adding a bit of interest. 

    'Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement' - Helen Keller
  • Remember it's not just shade you have been battling but drought as well. Both the Sycamore & especially the Fig have very extensive root systems that will draw huge amounts of water especially when in full leaf. Anything in the ground will have to be tough hence the advice to use large containers. You will need to put landscape fabric under the chippings as well or they will end up incorporated into the soil. 

    AB Still learning

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