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Help me plant a new border - backdrop/structural plant ideas

Hi everyone

I am in the process of preparing this border for new planting.  It is north facing with damp, clay, neutral soil.  I am aiming for a naturalistic/woodland edge theme - think ferns, foxgloves etc, and plants that must be able to thrive in shade. Direct sun is less than one hour a day.  Colour pallete basically green and white, mainly. 

The border is restrictively narrow - it starts at 1.4m wide on the very left and gradually to only 1m on the very right before it widens again.  The tree (a cherry blossom) is staying but that is all (the Buddleia will be moved). 

That means three layers of planting will be difficult on the left moving to impossible on the right, so I need to work with these limitations. The border cannot be widened. 

My question is where to begin with the backdrop plants?  With a border so narrow, should I avoid traditional shrubs altogether and stick with climbing shrubs/plants as the backdrop?  Alternatively, could/should I squeeze one in on the far left where the border is widest? I've started growing ivy up that wall. 

I'd be keen to hear on any dos and don't or ideas for this stage from people more experienced than I!  Perennials, bulbs, ground cover etc will follow later...that's the bit I'm less concerned with. 

Thanks in advance! 


  • LoxleyLoxley Posts: 5,554
    edited September 2020
    I think wall shrubs / climbers is a very good idea, pleached pyracantha can look really nice. Or a rose maybe. Or an early clematis (macroptelas look pretty 'woodlandy'). You should have *some* taller perennials; Actaeas for example, but they will end up closer to the middle of the bed. Which is OK.
  • Thanks Loxley - leave out the bulkier shrubs you reckon? 
  • K67K67 Posts: 2,507
    All my raised bed borders are around 1m deep and first off I put in a small shrub or two which this autumn I will be moving as they have filled the space and unless in flower are boring.
    Have a look at this website for some inspiration. You can't go wrong with clematis at the back a nice perennial in front to cover the base if it's the sort that goes brown and hardy geraniums for ground cover.
  • FairygirlFairygirl Posts: 54,353
    I'd agree that some of the earlier clematis alpinas etc will do well, but you can also add some of the later ones if you wish. Many are more than happy in shade, and the Group 2s flower in spring and then later on, like the alpinas/macropetalas if you get a long enough season in your area.  :)
    One shrub that would certainly be fine, and is worth considering is Osmanthus burkwoodii. I grow that in a very similar position, and in quite a restricted bed,  and although the flowers are smallish, they arrive in late winter/early spring, and are very valuable for early pollinators. Easy to just take the odd stem/branch off if they're in the way.  :)
    There are loads of suitable perennials, and that's an excellent site @K67 has linked to for searching. 
    It's a place where beautiful isn't enough of a word....

    I live in west central Scotland - not where that photo is...
  • Thanks all - sounds like a climber/climbing shrub + perennials + grounds cover is probably the way to go.  I'll keep my mind open for other shrubs too, but only for particularly small ones which will blend with the theme.  Clematis vs roses at the back, I think. 
  • @K67 - when you say "the sort that turn brown" what do you mean?  Apologies..amateur gardener here!
  • FairygirlFairygirl Posts: 54,353
    The bottom parts of many clematis get a bit shabby as the season goes on, so a few perennials in front help to hide their 'bottoms'  ;)
    It's a place where beautiful isn't enough of a word....

    I live in west central Scotland - not where that photo is...
  • edhelkaedhelka Posts: 2,350
    There are shrubs that can be kept narrow, are naturally narrow (columnar) or narrow at the base (trunk), widening higher up. I would avoid bulky shrubs but I would use some of these. Climbers/ivy can cover the rest of the fence for you. Foxgloves are quite tall and some other shade-loving plants are too, so you shouldn't have a problem with covering the fence for most of the year.
  • Looking at your photo, it strikes me that one of the main issues to address is some screening to the left-hand side (as we view it on the photo) of the border, to give you more privacy and conceal the bits of neighbours' houses. There are small, columnar trees that would do wonders here, and at the same time also provide one layer of your planting interest. You'd need to look out that it didn't get too big nor have invasive roots, and you'd almost certainly also want to aim for a deciduous tree as an evergreen would dry out the soil too much. My suggestions would be something like Amelanchier 'Obelisk' or 'Rainbow Pillar', or else Cercidiphyllum japonicum 'Rotfuchs'. The columnar cherry, Prunus 'Amanogawa' has a horrid tendency to die off in patches at maturity.

    The other thing that strikes me is that it would provide a real sense of harmony and serenity if you stuck with one particular fence covering plant along the length of the thing. What pops into mind is Trachelospermum japonicum, for example. It would make a nice backdrop for the rest of the garden, and always looks clean and tidy, besides having a longish period of wonderfully scented flowers. It is also possible to grow Clematis viticella into it without killing it. Ivy, as others have said, is also a good plant for this.

    I reckon you could get away with having one shrub on the left, where the border is wider, to the side of the tree (if you wanted it). What would be potentially very interesting would be Hydrangea quercifolia, but there are plenty more small-sized shrubs to choose from. Beyond that point you would be best off using mostly perennials I think, which would give you two layers to play with. 
  • That's super helpful thank you @Cambridgerose12

    The privacy issue is not a big problem - despite what it looks like in the photo we're actually pretty well screened.  I'd be concerned about putting another tree on the left as we already have one in the middle of the border (in the photo) and it could get a bit busy?  There are hawthorns and a crab apple in other parts of the garden so it could become overkill...

    I like the idea re the consistent climber and the layering though - will go with that as an overall structure I think
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