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Big Border + Novice Gardener = Help!

Hi All,

I've been reading the forums for a while, and finally ready to start in the garden and ask for some advice.

I'm very lucky to have a sizable garden which is very much a blank canvas. I am planning to get a proper landscaper / garden designer in to help plan the back garden but in the mean time I'm keen to start on the side border, but it's a beast!

The details:
27 meters long
4 meters wide at the gate post
7.5 meters wide at the garage end
The wall runs NW/SE
Soil is Alkaline / neutral
It can be windy
Pretty rocky, although the test dig wasn't as bad as I feared it would be
West coast of Ireland, so doesn't really get that cold

I'm thinking if digging out all of the section in front of the gate post, and having a curved border down to the garage, probably 1.5m wide at the top, getting wider as it goes down the garden.

To the side of the garage I'm planning raised beds and a small lean to green house.

Style wise I'm struggling as there is very little that I dislike. I love big colourful borders of Azalea, alliums, hydrangeas, hellebores, tulips, roses, acers.

Cottage style, formal, herbaceous etc I love them all!

I know the soil isn't great for a lot of the acid loving plants that I like, so I guess the big questions I have at the moment are:

1. Should I go the whole hog and do a raised border with hard landscaping so I can get the more acidic loving plants?

2. If I don't go for raised, is it worth investing in the metal border edging that is sunk down to grass level?

3. Should I use the weed control membrane as well as mulch, or just mulch?

4. Any advice on planting for such a border?

I'm going to be spending most of this summer lifting the turf and digging the border. So plenty of time to plan.

Although I have been a little impatient and brought a Ceanothus Trewithen Blue and Hydrangea paniculata Vanilla Fraise, with a view to plant the Ceanothus at the top near the gatepost.

A few photos attached. 

Thanks for taking the time to read such a lengthy post!


  • Hostafan1Hostafan1 Posts: 34,061
    No to no3, IMHO
  • JennyJJennyJ Posts: 8,913
    It's usually better in the long run to go with plants that will like the conditions that you have.  There's lots of things that will be happy with neutral/alkaline soil, and you can always have acers etc. in large pots of ericaceous compost.  The border might also be too exposed/windy for acers. I'd also say no to membrane.
    If the landscapers will need to go down the side of the garage to get into the back garden, make sure you leave space for them to get machinery etc down there. You can always start at the gate end until they're finished.
    Doncaster, South Yorkshire. Soil type: sandy, well-drained
  • FlinsterFlinster Posts: 883
    Blimey that is one hell of a border! How exciting for you! I’d start with a pencil and paper! Plan your structural plants first- shrubs, evergreens and trees, in a border that size you are going to need some otherwise come winter you’ll have a large border of mud! They will also help to diffuse the wind. I agree with above, go with plants that will be happy long term rather than trying to adjust your soil... you will have loads of choose with that ph. Good luck! Make sure to post update pictures along the way as your garden develops!
  • AnniDAnniD Posts: 11,450
    Hi @michelleu200 , you certainly have an area to play with there !
    First of all, l agree with Hostafan1,  l wouldn't bother with membrane. As you're digging out by hand (l assume), you can dig it, leave it and wait for the weeds to appear. If you wanted some acid loving plants, you could just have a raised section for them.
    You could use any type of edging, stone may look better with the wall at the back.
    With regards to planting, it's tempting to put in everything you like, but l would stick to a few and do repeat planting. Also you want interest all year round, so the trick of visiting gardens and garden centres at different times of the year to see what's in flower always works.
    As you say, plenty of time for planning !
  • WestCoastWestCoast Posts: 17
    Thanks all for the comments so far.

    HostanFan1, thanks that will save me unnecessary cost. 

    JennyJ, you are right. I'd love garden of big blousey azaleas but being close to two marble quarries does mean we are pretty limey so I know they would hate being planted out. I'll have to do some reading on keeping a few pots on the go. On the plus side it rains A LOT, so watering won't be an impossible task. That's also a good thought on access, I think given the size, just doing the top two thirds would keep me busy enough for now.

    Cheers Flinster, it is a beast of a border. We didn't really take the garden in to consideration when we brought the house, so the initial maintenance came as a shock! I'll be grabbing an A3 pad to plot on, I much prefer that to trying to learn software to do the job. Do you have any plant / tree / shrub recommendations to provide the larger structure?

    AnniD. Yes all by hand. I took a layer of turf off today, it will definitely save on having to go to the gym :smile: I do like the idea of a couple of raised sections, which along with the pots could allow for a little more variety. Plenty to think about. A stone edging would repeat well against the stone walls too.

  • Lizzie27Lizzie27 Posts: 11,200
    I would start by the gatepost as you suggest and dig a smallish section at a time and get that planted up. If you are going to try digging it all by hand, you might well rue the day you started, especially if you are new to gardening. It's so easy to get carried away in the initial enthusiasm but life and stuff tend to get in the way and you won't want a big sea of mud!   Put your big shrubs and/or trees towards the back, leaving at least 1 metre between them and the wall so they will have room to grow.  
    North East Somerset - Clay soil over limestone
  • EnnylEnnyl Posts: 24
    If this is 'just' a side border and you are planning to landscape the rear garden,  I would create a low maintenance shrubbery - and leave the lovely, but higher maintenance perennial borders to the rear.
    I agree with AnniD and think about repeat planting.
    A line of Amelanchier multi - stem trees against the boundary for all year round interest (and privacy) then with a repeat of the hydrangeas and ceanothus in front, with some blousy roses for colour (interspersed with spring bulbs and alliums) would look fab.
    Also, you can get some great discounts if you buy in bulk.
    I recommend Strulch for mulching large areas - pricy but easy to use and lasts 2 years.
    Save your energy for the rear as that is where you will spend more time to enjoy your efforts.
    So excited for you.
  • WestCoastWestCoast Posts: 17
    Thanks Lizzie27. There is the remains of an old path along the length of the wall, so I think I'll clear what little grass there is there and gravel the 1 meter width to cut down on weeding, unless there are any reasons to mulch there instead?

    Ennyl, the Amelanchier multi - stems are beautiful. I hadn't heard of them before and do like the idea of a row of them very much. I think I'm going to have to do some reading up on spread, so I can plot on the paper the best planting distances. They would like striking.

    I'm warming to the idea of a purple, blue, white olantipl scheme with the hydrangea, Ceanothus and Alliums. Very simple and striking. 
  • PerkiPerki Posts: 2,368
    Ceanothus are quite vulnerable to a cold wind they tend die back , it be better suited to a sheltered site if you have one, I saw plenty of died ones after the cold winter of 2017/2018 beast from the east. 

    You seem quite fond of alliums like me  :) I have for to many ( not enough  ;) ) I were looking at the front border today and it just looks like a forest of allium leaves. I'd have even more if I stopped chopping them up with the spade. Bulbs are normally the last plants to go in when planting up a border otherwise chop chop chop  :'(  

    I have a Amelanchier lamarkii nice tree , saw a large multi stem today about 6-7ft tall £169 , they not something I would plant as a row more of a specimen plant . 
  • Lizzie27Lizzie27 Posts: 11,200
    I like the sound of that colour scheme. It's up to you whether you use gravel or mulch, both have their benefits. Mulch is probably cheaper but needs replacing every couple of years. Gravel on top of the existing path would also work but try to tie in the colour to match the wall if you can. Cats love both!  A line of amelanchiers would look fab, but they are not cheap and I would research whether they would grow well in the Irish climate.
    North East Somerset - Clay soil over limestone
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