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Help with Scottish shady dry garden! First time gardener

Hi everyone! 

I'd really appreciate some help with my wee garden here on the East coast of Scotland. This will be the first time I've ever designed any kind of garden and I'd like to get it right! 

The overall length as shown in the photo is 4m, and the depth at most is 3m.

It's in an awkward position- it faces south but is highly shaded by the house to the West (photo taken facing north). However, the garden does get some mottled morning sununtil around 12 noon depending on the time of year. 

The biggest issue is the tree! As you'll see from the photo, the area under the three gets basically no water whatsoever, even in heavier rain (however there's what I think is a Skimmia soaking up some trunk runoff). The area to the right gets direct rain and the most sun, and the area to the left is very shaded and fairly damp due to the wall to the rear. 

I'm a huge fan of woodlands, and would love to recreate some colourful, lush wildflower woodland with ferns, hostas and a little colourful ground cover. I just have no idea how to get around the damp area! 

I wouldn't mind at all developing the rest of the garden too come to think of it.. Some climbers on the wall and a border around the fence perhaps? Go wild! 

If anyone has any concepts or ideas for design, and some ideas for ideal plants, I'd very much appreciate it. 



  • DovefromaboveDovefromabove Central Norfolk UKPosts: 71,700
    Hi smile 😊
    As you say, not an easy patch but there’s lots you can do with it. We have quite a bit of dry shade under a large tree ... I’d love a damp patch ... the hostas and ferns would love it ... as it is I have to do a fair bit of watering to keep them happy.  The native daffodil Narcissus pseudonarcissus would be happy in an area which doesn’t dry out too much. 

    Plants that do well on our dry shady bank without a lot of attention are foxgloves, Sweet woodruff, Lamium orvala, Brunnera ‘Jack Frost’, Arum ‘Italicum’, Geranium ‘Phaeum’ and Iris foetidissima. 
    Primroses (Primula vulgaris) are naturalising along the sunnier fringe. 

    Looking forward to seeing what you do with it. 😊 
    “I am not lost, for I know where I am. But however, where I am may be lost.” Winnie the Pooh

  • AnniDAnniD Posts: 8,223
    Hello @Gaughan.david. I agree with Dove , hostas would like the damp (and look pretty good against that wall). Some info from the RHS about planting under trees, which may be of help  :)
  • Bee witchedBee witched Scottish BordersPosts: 729
    Hello @Gaughan.david,

    Epimediums would look lovely in your dry shade bit .... lots of lovely ones to choose from. Some info here ....

    Bee x
    Bees must gather nectar from two million flowers to make one pound of honey   
  • DampGardenManDampGardenMan Posts: 1,054
    Yes, epimediums, I was going to recommend those! But watch out for Epimedium ×perralchicum 'Frohnleiten' - it can spread a bit too much for a small space. Might be best to start with the Asian species as they're a bit less vigorous and need a little more moisture (thus a dry area would hold them in check).

  • JellyfireJellyfire SuffolkPosts: 791
    edited May 2019
    Sounds tricky indeed, but actually if you want a lush woodland garden its pretty good conditions. Ive got ferns that are perfectly happy under next-doors monster leylandii (grrr) where its bone dry. There are lots that will be happy in dry shade once they get going, (some handy advice here but will probably need a once a week good watering in their first summer if you plant now. In that area Ive also got a few clumps of white vinca minor which is taking happily, sweet rocket is a big tall plant that will thrive there, as is monkshood which is a good woodland looking plant akin to foxgloves, but a longer flowering season. As dove says, sweet woodruff is a great one, I personally think its one of the plants that really gives that lush woodland look, even in the dry, and will fill any nooks and crannies once it takes. 

    The damp area should be much easier, loads of good stuff available there. I would look on a fern specialist site, and get a good selection of damp and dry varieties to give you a good backbone and tie it all together. 

    Looking at the space it would be nice if you could get some height in there. I once saw a fern wall on GW which looked lovely. Some vertical planting bags hanging from the fence filled with ferns would really give it that little pocket of woodland feel, though you may not want to lose the light. 

    A little water feature for some sound would also add to the feel, and is good for distracting the sound of road noise. 

    Some big planters on the edge of the patio would also break up that hard line and make it feel more natural and suited to the look.

  • I'll add my bit to the already excellent advice: have a look at this site (not necessarily for buying, but more for ideas). They have useful plant sections, including for damp and dry shade, that you may find interesting:
  • Hi everyone!

    Thanks so much for the advice- it's great to know I can do so much with it.

    I've made an order on PlantsForShade with a mix of ferns, epimediums and a hosta. Got some Sweet Woodruff and Monkshood coming too. 

    Love the idea of the planters- once the garden has raised up a little bit I'll try to source some long ones!

    The plan now is to find a source of some big rocks and turn it into a semi-rockery type area!

    Will update in due course. Thanks again.

  • hogweedhogweed Central ScotlandPosts: 4,024
    No rocks please. Rockeries are not very successful unless done really well and the plants you have chosen are not rockery plants, they are woodland plants where the understory should be more plants not rocks!
    'Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement' - Helen Keller
  • edhelkaedhelka GwyneddPosts: 1,972
    Why not? Rocks can look really good in a shade garden, they are often present in woodlands, they are typical for Japanese gardens and can be quite often seen in designer shade gardens. The key is not to treat it as a sunny rockery, it's a different type of landscape. Inspiration can be found using google images or pinterest.
  • The rocks are mainly to build some structure into the garden- I'd like to build up the back to around a foot above the front for some depth.

    I'm also a geologist, and love rocks ;)
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