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Cost effective way to start a shadey garden


We ve just bought a new property. The garden will be amazing but money is tight atm given the house needed a new boiler, electrics etc.

I am hoping to do just one area of the garden this year. It has two trees on our side and several on the other side of the fence. We have clay soil and is against a south facing fence. It is in full sun early morning, dappled sun during the day and then full sun again on the evening.

I would love to fill it with flowers/perennials that in time require less work (so I can do the other parts of the garden next year etc). However, as you will well know buying plants can soon add up. I m not looking for a ready made garden this year so can grow plants on from plugs or seed.

Where would you start with plant choices? What is the most cost effective way to fill this part of the garden?



  • K67K67 Leicestershire Posts: 2,507
    edited March 2021
    Seeds would be your cheapest option. You can use empty margarine tubs or yoghurt pots if you don't have seed trays. Sowing in situ with your soil may not be best so you would need to buy seed compost and grow on. Plug plants tend to be more summer bedding so not always easy to get ones for perennials.
    Ask friends and family if they can spare any plants.
    This website will give you an idea on what you can grow but they are limiting sales at the moment

    I wouldn't say your area is too shady as you do get some sun but that might change when the trees are in leaf. What it will be is dry. 
    Spring bulbs would be an addition for buying this autumn.
  • Butterfly66Butterfly66 BirminghamPosts: 736
    Growing from seed is cheap but not very cheap when you factor in buying compost and pots especially if it’s things you need to grow on and repot several times before they go in the garden. So worth picking things that are garden ready fairly quickly (Lupins are good for this in my experience and are happy with sun or some shade)

    Also buy perennials you can split either before planting or the next season at a decent size say 2 litre pots then you’ll get 2 or even more plants for your money. Hardy geraniums, Persicaria, Japanese anemones, Astrantia are all good for that and will take sun and some shade. It may be worth taking some time to get to know how sunny different areas of your garden are. I know you’ve said it’s a south facing fence but the trees will cast some shade when fully in leaf and more so as they get fully in leaf over the summer.

    I always think it’s worth investing in any evergreen shrubs you want first as they are usually slower growing than deciduous so buy early so you get your structure in and buy bigger if you can.

    Perennials grow quickly so even a small 9cm plant will soon bulk out and you sometimes this size in offers.

    If you fancy some herbs you can grow Thyme, Sage and Rosemary very easily from cuttings 9r even from the lack of fresh herbs from the supermarket. Just pop some of the sprigs in water for a few weeks and they will quickly root.

    You can also choose plants that will self seed so you get more free plants year on year. My favourites here are Ox-Eye daisies, Alchemilla mollis, Foxgloves, forget-me-nots, Lunaria (honesty) and Linaria. However don’t do this if you don’t like things popping up everywhere, as they can be very enthusiastic (🙄) if they’re happy in your garden. 
     If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.”—Marcus Tullius Cicero
  • madpenguinmadpenguin Isle of WightPosts: 2,422
    Supermarkets have very cheap plants so keep a lookout as some don't hang around for long!
    “Every day is ordinary, until it isn't.” - Bernard Cornwell-Death of Kings
  • Loraine3Loraine3 Posts: 514
    Look out for local plant sales and plants for sale outside people's houses. Get on local websites, Facebook and Nextdoor, also Freecycle. It's surprising what you may find!

  • TopbirdTopbird Posts: 6,981
    Hi Lucy - welcome to the forum and congratulations on the new house purchase🙂

    How large an area are we talking about for this first project? This will make a difference whether we recommend larger shrubs or smaller perennials. Also, do you know if your soil is particularly acid or alkaline?

    How large and what sort of trees are we talking about? I garden on heavy clay and one patch is under mature, but relatively small hazel trees. Similar shade to yours. The area can get very dry in summer as the trees take a lot of water and also cast a rain shadow. Perennials which cope well with the conditions are brunnera, aquilegia, foxgloves, honesty and hardy geraniums. I do water the area thoroughly if it dries out and, consequently, also grow astrantia and other plants that need more moisture.

    Aquilegia, foxgloves and honesty are easily grown from seed (and will self seed). For other perennials such as hardy geraniums I buy the largest plant I can find (so more expensive) but treat it as a stock plant for dividing or taking lots of cuttings.
    Heaven is ... sitting in the garden with a G&T and a cat while watching the sun go down
  • LoxleyLoxley Posts: 4,452
    edited March 2021
    Another vote for buying plants and then splitting. Alchemilla mollis is another good 'splitter' and also self seeds A LOT if you don't remove the faded flowers. When you have enough plants you must trim back after flowering to avoid it taking over. 

    Stoloniferous geraniums like G. macrorrhizum and x cantabrigiense are particularly good for working up stock, dig up at the end of summer and you'll find many runners under the surface that can be detached and which quickly form new plants. I'm finding Eurybia divaricata also runs a bit and can be treated the same way. These plants look excellent grown en-masse and don't really throttle other plants.

    Japanese anemones do the same thing but can be a bit too aggressive with their runners when happy.

    Luzula nivea is one of my go-to plants for shade, it doesn't run but bulks up quite well and three 9cm pots can be grown on this year and split three ways to yield 9 plants next year, 27 the following year, and so on.

    If you buy a few decent sized plants and plant up a small area of the bed this year, you may have enough to fill most of the bed next year, or within a couple of years. This is better than growing on plugs IMHO as it doesn't involve lots of potting on etc and the plants can be enjoyed in their first year.
  • FireFire LondonPosts: 14,019
    Ask around and get plants from neighbours, friends, Freecycle. Ask for cuttings, seed, divisions. If you want to go cheap in money, go long on time. Most of what you pay for in nurseries is time they have spent.

    People can often dig out a bit of a hardy geranium, creeping campanula or woodruff to grow on with little fuss. My advice would be to go bulk on seed and bulb buying - for these, it works out much, much cheaper. Snowdrops, bluebells, anenomes etc for pence. Wild flower native seed is very cheap. There are lots of 10g mixes esp for shade.

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