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Ruthless advice on planting needed

Spring is coming and I have some fresh borders ready for planting. I'm going for a woodland sort of theme.

Left border is north facing. You can see a mature hawthorn on the E border and a prunus on the N.

There will be ferns, solomons seal, climbing hydrangea etc to cover the walls ASAP.

However, I think I may already have gone wrong.

I've stuck a couple of snow queen himalayan birch trees in between the more mature ones which you can see in the pic circled red.

We also have a mahonia charity on the way which I think should take up the top left corner space, but would get in the way of the birch. By all accounts it will get quite big.

Have I made a massive mistake? Should I take those birches back out and leave the three more mature trees as they are, and stick to smaller plants in between? If not, where will the mahonia shrub go?


I'm also not sure I can bear waiting 5 years for any sort of impact from the birches.  They cost a good £75 each and the mahonia wasn't cheap either, so I'd like to make all three work if I can!


Any guidance appreciated. I cannot make my mind up at all and need someone to tell me exactly what to do, as I'm going round in circles :-)



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  • K67K67 Leicestershire Posts: 2,507
    edited February 2021
    It's hard to get a feel for the space with just one photo.
    Maybe there are too many but you have them and have spent over the odds for them, can't tell how tall they are but a 5/6ft tree should be around £40.
    They also look better grouped together in threes, sorry! Could you move them into the grass area at the right of your picture which would give you room for the prickly mahonias.
    You mention climbing hydrangea to cover the walls, I assume you mean fence, they are slow starters so it will be about 3 years before you see much growth but they will cling to the wood so you will not be able to maintain it and if it's not your fence you shouldn't be using it to support your climbers.
    Gardening isn't about speed unless you have thousands to spend but in 3 years the trees will have filled out nicely and you do have sone nice mature trees already.
    Tall perennials and grasses would fill out the spaces well and some ferns are big. Snowdrops, winter aconites planted underneath, no doubt you have found planrs for shade website.
  • Busy-LizzieBusy-Lizzie Posts: 18,485
    Those birch trees will be lovely. It's true that they do look good in threes, but they also look good on their own and you have two. I think they will be fine where you have planted them. They aren't heavy trees, more light and airy.

    Gardens are very much a matter of personal taste. I don't care much for Mahonia Charity but lots of people love it. It doesn't have to grow huge anyway because they can take hard pruning, unless you want it huge. I cut one down to the ground and tried to dig it out but it grew back. After that I kept it under control. I think it will be fine where you want to plant it. The white trunk of the birch will show up well against the dark green leaves of the mahonia.

    I think climbing hydrangeas may be too heavy for a fence and they are better grown on a wall. I had a huge one on a wall at my last house, which I planted over 30 years ago. I think something more lightweight is better on a fence, such as clematis. There are clematis that will grow in shade, such as "Etoile Violette". 

    Brunnera "Jack Frost" is nice in shade as its silvery leaves brighten up the space. There are some pretty leaves pulmonarias and don't forget hostas.
    Dordogne and Norfolk
  • Thanks both.  After a morning of fretting I've taken it on board and decided:

    - The birches stay, and I'll learn to be patient
    - The mahonia is now going in the front garden, which needs some wildlife cover thrown in - that solves it getting in the way too much
    - Climbing hydrangea plans scrapped except for wall area (out of shot) - I'll look at a mix of climbers for each fence (intending to cover every last bit of it, eventually)
    - All other gaps to be filled by perennials and smaller shrubs, ferns, bulbs etc.  Will keep the trees and the climbers as main cover/backdrop

    Much appreciated!



  • One more question - how varied would you make the cllimber planting?  As you can see, there is an entire east and north fence to cover, and a small S facing one out of shot.  I don't want to mix it up to the point of it looking messy, but using the same throughout might be odd
  • Busy-LizzieBusy-Lizzie Posts: 18,485
    Thank you for letting us know what you've decided, glad we could help. I hope you'll send some photos one day when it's more mature.
    Dordogne and Norfolk
  • K67K67 Leicestershire Posts: 2,507
    It does depend on whether you like vibrant colours or more subtle.
    There is a white clematis that doesn't flower until October but will cover 18ft or more, you cut it back every year to about 1ft so you can maintain the fence if required. Posted photo of mine but can't remember the name.
    I would look at images of climbers and check out Taylors and Thorncroft websites for clematis ideas.
    If you go for smaller clematis you could repeat the colour a couple of times and then have something toning or contrasting in between. I just love them as they are so versatile as you can let them grow into trees and shrubs or along the ground

  • The tricky thing covering that fence will be finding something that will flourish under the trees' canopy. As K67 notes, there are problems if you plant up a neighbour's fence, since when they need to maintain or replace it you'd need to cut your climber down.

    Given the situation you describe, a Clematis would be pretty effective in any areas of bright shade--I would think of Clematis macropetala, for example. It will grow towards the lighter areas. But it looks as if all your trees are really very close to the fence. Thinking about how this will work once they are more mature, you'll have a rather rigid look created by having them all in a row, and the area beneath and behind the trees will be very dry and difficult to plant. It might involve a more significant rethink (which you may not want to do) but it would be possible to move your birches further into the garden while they are still dormant, and then free up the space behind for some planting against the fence, such as holly, osmanthus, and viburnum, which could be seen past the white trunks in winter. I'd personally be tempted to put Hedera colchica 'Dentata Variegata' on the fence itself, then, and perhaps something fun like Euonymus fortunei 'Wolong Ghost'. Clematis armandii is another possible for a north-facing surface, but it can get out of control without vigilance.
  • DovefromaboveDovefromabove Central Norfolk UKPosts: 77,465
    If plastic clematis netting is fixed to the fence on wooden battens (with the neighbour’s agreement of course) then, when the fence needs repainting or replacing, the netting can be detached from
    the fence and laid down gently, with the clematis still entwined in it. The fence can then be attended to before the clematis netting is reattached to its supports. 
    I’ve seen this method work very successfully. 
    “I am not lost, for I know where I am. But however, where I am may be lost.” Winnie the Pooh







  • @Dovefromabove: some forms, and I include Clematis macropetala in this, can be cut back hard and will grow away again just fine, in a worst-case scenario. But you'd still have to trust your neighbour wouldn't need to repaint when it's in full growth! So netting is a good way to go.
  • WonkyWombleWonkyWomble Posts: 4,024
    Just spent 2 weeks digging out mahonias  from the roots of an established beech hedge.  I HATE mahonias of all types! A lot of them spread everywhere. Just glad you didn't sacrifice the trees for one! Looking forward to seeing pictures of the end result!
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