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Back garden plot - concept plan

This is a follow-on post from Problem Solving category. Have a area 10 x 10 meters area in the back garden, in South London, north facing. Taken down a large Laurel tree but unable to remove the stump. Sun light is good, dappled in the morning, full midday to early evening. See the concept diagram. The stump in the foreground stays, will plant around it, been given some good planting ideas already, thanks to this community. Have drawn up a conceptual plan, which shows the planned structure of the area. Back area is surrounded with Conifers on sides of the fence and a massive Eucalyptus tree next door. Constantly foliage/leaf and bark drop both from Conifers and Eucalyptus, leaf blower is busy.

The plan clockwise starting with the stump, will plant around the stump. Then a row of paving and couple of high raised beds for veggies. A bench in the middle with a row of paving from lawn to the bench in middle of the plot. Several planters on the left side of various sizes and heights.

Not sure yet on ground cover, plenty of options. Budget and health (back problem) is a constraint. Paving, decking or lawn I am not keen on. Gravel or Bark/wood chipping is preferred. Welcome any thoughts who have on gravel or bark as ground cover. I’ve read about Beth Chatto's dry gravel garden, sound interesting. Gravel looks great but does deteriorate over time I believe. Both gravel and bark will need topping up with time. Do I need a membrane for gravel, I hear differing stories.

On the planting side not really decided, but thinking of bed of lavender, salvia and sage to follow the path of pavers. In the round planter think of ornamental grass, Silvergrass, Miscanthus sinensis, Switch grass, Panicum virgatum, and Pony-tail grass, Stipa tenuissima as examples not sure about plants for other planters.

I am not sure of the soil PH but the texture is loamy and well draining, important for the bed that will follow the pavers and around the stump. Rest of the planting is in planters, so I can  pick the best soil for the plant.

The theme is to keep it simple, low maintenance, add serenity and tranquility with pastel colors, Keep to perennials. it’s a nice spot to listen to bird song, rustling leaves and breeze blowing through the trees. I am container gardener have around 90 pots on the patio where I have tons of bright colors, so a lighter theme in the back plot is a good contrast. 

Sorry for the long post, just wanted to share my passion and what keeps me sane. This will be a bite size project as health and budget allows.

Welcome thoughts, suggestions, and ideas. Thanks again to the amazing community here.




  • FairygirlFairygirl Posts: 54,762
    I think most of those plants you've mentioned will struggle. I can't see how there's that much sun if it's a north facing site, and with all those trees. Are you sure there's lots of sun from midday? Those will need around 6 hours to really do their best. 
    If so, that site will be fine.
    As to the gravel/bark dilemma. I've use gravel in every garden I've had, and it doesn't break down unless it's a limestone type. If you want to plant into the gravelled areas, then it's better not to use membrane. If it's only a pathway, it can help. Others will disagree though. Bark will break down, but if you use those sun loving plants, gravel is a much better option. Bark just looks wrong for those IMO, and is better for woody shrubs and trees. Collect the leaves to make leaf mould too. Ideal for a mulch.  :)

    Have you decided what your planters will be made from? Stone/brick or rendered block will be easier to maintain than timber, so if you're concerned about your back, that's a big factor. Timber needs treated and looked after more than something like a brick or rendered finish. I've had back trouble since my teens, but I'm so used to it, I don't always notice until the next day.  ;)
    It's a place where beautiful isn't enough of a word....

    I live in west central Scotland - not where that photo is...
  • punkdocpunkdoc Posts: 14,941
    i agree with @Fairygirl, the garden looks very shady for most of the plants mentioned.
    How can you lie there and think of England
    When you don't even know who's in the team

    S.Yorkshire/Derbyshire border
  • Dilip_UKDilip_UK Posts: 114
    @Fairygirl, aww thank you for taking time to consider and reply, appreciate it. 
    I will double check the sunlight issue, as the sun rises i get dappled light through the Eucalyptus tree which has an open aspect, then i get full sunlight till late afternoon/early evening when sun hits the conifers. The garden is over a 100 ft long, the house does not cast a shadow at the back of the garden. i don't get much light on the patio side and up to half the garden but rest is okay . The picture was taken yesterday on a dank drizzly day which didn't help. Yes the concrete area right at the back does not get much light. Don't want the plants to suffer, so i will double check and seek advice on alternatives plants if need be. My thoughts are to cover the whole area with gravel, yes indeed, bark does not fit the context. Places where i plant in the ground, was thinking to cut the membrane and plant into soil. Thanks for the steer on planters, need to have a think, was planning on using wooden ones.  Thanks again, this novice has lot to learn. As a new gardener, i am staggered on the depth and breadth of knowledge required, the learning process is part of fun me thinks.

    @punkdoc, thank you, well check the sunlight issue and look for partial/shaded sunlight plants if need be.

  • FairygirlFairygirl Posts: 54,762
    The amount of sun is always calculated by summer conditions, so if you think you can get enough hours, some of those plants will be fine. What you can do to help is have enough woodier plants which will help support the floppier ones a good bit, and prevent them leaning towards the light. It also saves putting in physical supports, although that might be needed too. Some of the salvias are woodier toom so that may help. if you have a large enough bed, rather than just a lining to the path/gravelled areas, that would also make it easier    :)
    The drawback of the membrane is exactly what you describe - cutting through to put plants in. With lighter soil, that isn't such a problem, but if you wanted to add bulbs, you'd need to be sure there was nothing blocking them getting through. It's easy to forget that. I speak from experience  ;)
    I would usually recommend timber for the raised planters, but if you struggle with your back, you may want to consider the maintenance. I've built raised beds many times from timber, because I can do it myself, and it's often much easier than trying to improve the heavy clay, and counteract our rainfall, but I also rather like painting them when needed. I sometimes use a roller rather than a brush, which means you can give them a quick touch up with a good paint.
    They need to be lined with plastic too, which helps prevent them drying out too quickly, as raised beds drain more readily anyway. In your location, that will be more important then where I am. A good base of soil will help prevent that too - a good hefty mix, not just lightweight compost or similar is needed  :)
    It's a place where beautiful isn't enough of a word....

    I live in west central Scotland - not where that photo is...
  • Dilip_UKDilip_UK Posts: 114
    @Fairygirl, awww wow, lots of wonderful advice, suggestions and tips, very kind of you to take time, appreciate it. I am going to put the planting scheme on the back burner, till I am sure about the degree of sunlight. Will start looking at costings for the project and more research. Also do some prep work on the plot as and when weather allows. Thank you again.

  • FairygirlFairygirl Posts: 54,762
    It's a good time of year to plan @dbhattuk, and I'm sure others will have further advice and suggestions, although it can be easy to get overwhelmed with that too!
    With your plan- a good tip is to simply make sketches of where you want plants, rather then trying to fit the plants you like into the design. If you're able to make some copies of the site, you can then doodle on those dreary days with various shapes/ideas etc until you get a look you're happy with. The planting can take shape once you're happy with that overall look, and then you can check the sunniest and most suitable spots for the plants you mentioned. The good thing about planting directly into ground with a gravelled surround is that you can also add plants as and when you fancy. 
    I did that a couple of years ago when I removed the lawn I'd put in about 7 years ago, mainly to create a bigger pond. I just keep adding and switching things around, as well as using pots for seasonal planting.  :)
    It's a place where beautiful isn't enough of a word....

    I live in west central Scotland - not where that photo is...
  • PlantmindedPlantminded Posts: 3,447
    Taking time to review your plot before investing in any hard landscaping or planting is the best way to start your project @dbhattuk, from my experience. This RHS guide to shade might help you with your planning:

    Shade gardening / RHS Gardening

    From what I can see, I think that area is going to be prone to a lot of debris from trees, not just leaves but also any other detritus like falling twigs, resin, seeds etc. (Conifers can be very messy!)  Gravel is fine in an open space without close or overhanging trees but I think you're going to find it difficult to keep it tidy in that area, even with a leaf blower or vacuum. 

    I have used bark chippings on all my borders until recently - perennials and grasses look just as natural in it as they would in soil, as it's the same colour and it's organic.  (I've recently removed it to enable regular mulching with organic matter to improve my free draining sandy soil.)  Bark is cheap to buy, easy to lay, can be quickly moved aside to plant and any organic matter like leaves etc will blend in and decay with it naturally.  You will have to top it up though as it degrades, probably annually, depending on weathering.

    If you are certain that gravel is the way to go, I'd go for the largest size you can obtain as the small sized gravel gets everywhere, into borders, onto your shoes and into the house and car!  It also makes an attractive cat litter tray!

    Looking forward to seeing your progress.  Good luck!
    Wirral. Sandy, free draining soil.

  • Busy-LizzieBusy-Lizzie Posts: 23,789
    I have a gravelled area that the previous owner did, quite course gravel. It is on a membrane and I'm glad of it as it prevents weeds. There is another gravelled area without a membrane and the weeds are a pain in the neck. However the biggest bother is that there is a lime tree and a conifer which drop leaves and debris onto the gravel. When the weather is dry the leaf blower works well. But when there is a lot of rain it doesn't and when the rain is prolonged the leaves start rotting into the gravel.

    I have a large shrub bed where I have used bark. First I planted young shrubs, digging in manure and compost, covered the area which was in the lawn with cardboard, I had loads as I had recently moved, packing boxes. Then I covered it with compost to help the heavy soil then mulched it all with bark chips, then watered it. It stayed weed free for the first year then the weeds started. The cardboard had disappeared and the bark was disintegrating, turning into compost. I have just weeded it and mulched it thickly with chippings that I had in a big pile from when tree men came and cut down 2 trees that were leaning. An advantage is that that when leaves fall on it in autumn it doesn't matter, they merge in and don't show.

    At my old house I had bark laid on membrane around the raised vegetable beds. That worked better from the weed point of view, though it would have needed topping up from time to time.

    Another problem with bark is that blackbirds scratch and chuck it on the lawn.

    There are disadvantages and advantages to both. If not planting in the ground I would use a membrane. In an area under trees, like yours, I would choose bark. Bark isn't so heavy to use. I would get a man in to deal with gravel.
    Dordogne and Norfolk. Clay in Dordogne, sandy in Norfolk.
  • Busy-LizzieBusy-Lizzie Posts: 23,789
    Now for plants. If the area is shady there are plenty of perennial plants you can plant in planters. I have planters in shade with ferns (dryopteris as it's OK if it gets a bit dry), hostas, geranium phaeum and macrorrhizum, snowdrops (around the hostas), heuchera and brunnera. Violas can be added for a bit more colour.

    You probably have some sunny bits, especially in the middle front where you can plant your choices. Sun can slant in, isn't always above, depends on time of day.

    Will you be planting anything on the fence? Is it your fence? Is it in sun or shade?
    Dordogne and Norfolk. Clay in Dordogne, sandy in Norfolk.
  • Any areas under or near trees are difficult to maintain due to debris falling onto them. Dry shade is always difficult to grow anything, not impossible but difficult. I didn't want any lawn in the garden I have now so leveled lots of access paths, laid membrane and put down silver/grey/blue slate chippings which are too heavy to pick up on shoes, etc. I have topped the paths up a couple of times over the last 20 years but basically very easy and clean to maintain. There are no nearby trees either. 
    In a previous garden, in my innocence then, I planted a beautiful baby eucalyptus which steadily grew to 30ft plus. Nothing grew near it so eventually had to have it cut down. They take all the moisture from the ground and they shed a lot of large leaves which suffocate nearby plants if not picked up. Conifers do the same, to estimate the root spread of trees a rough guide is to calculate the height of the tree and take it as the diameter of the root spread, so the conifers next to your garden will be taking a lot of moisture from your garden already, as well as casting dense shade, not ideal growing conditions for any plants. I am guessing the conifers were planted to provide privacy, seeing the new trellis along the top of the fence, privacy is still an issue. Apart from removing the conifer in your garden, which would help with the additional sun, light, and improved moisture, there is not a great deal you can do as the other trees are not in your garden. I can see what looks like a deciduous tree next door which will drop leaves into your garden as well so expect autumn leaf gathering each year. I have just looked at your plan which seems to indicate you do not want a lot of plant growing space, the veg. beds are not going to provide much room for plants to grow and spread their foliage, I would use railway sleepers to create raised beds, which can if necessary be moved later. It is surprising how much room a lettuce plant can take up when growing.
    I might be tempted to design a shady area for sitting and socializing across the width of the garden, as an easy option, a bar, barbeque, fire pit, play, dance area even, not that I do much of that these days, it could be a potting area, cold frames, etc. Even put trellis fencing across the garden halfway towards the house, staggered possibly, to hide the work area, there would then be plenty of fencing to grow climbers on, roses, clematis etc. 
    Just a few "outside the box" thoughts to consider. Gardens divided into secret rooms can be very effective rather than one flat area to be seen at a glance. It really does depend on what you want from your "estate".
    A flat football pitch, a work-intensive haven for you to potter, plant, and grow, an easy, sweep once a week, a fairly sterile keep clean and under-control area, a wildlife refuge, or a combination work-intensive mix of the previous.
    Decisions, decisions, decisions!
    Gdbhattuk said:
    @Fairygirl, awww wow, lots of wonderful advice, suggestions and tips, very kind of you to take time, appreciate it. I am going to put the planting scheme on the back burner, till I am sure about the degree of sunlight. Will start looking at costings for the project and more research. Also do some prep work on the plot as and when weather allows. Thank you again.


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