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Redesigning our back garden

Hi there

My OH and I want to inject new life into our back garden. We inherited a well-established garden when we moved here 5+ years ago. We were new to gardening back then and since have been building our knowledge and skill. Now we’ve got big ideas to redesign parts of our back garden to make it more coherent and remove some elements we don’t care for.

About our garden

  • We live in Yorkshire – its wet. The soil is heavy clay and slightly acidic. The last few years we’ve applied a thick layer of manure in spring to help improve it.
  • We spend on average about one day a week maintaining the garden through the year. Longer during key gardening periods and we’re happy to invest more time getting our new design in place.
  • We don’t have a set garden style. We like bold, bright colours, all mixed in together – the more the merrier. We tend to favour perennials and bulbs. We are introducing more shrubs to give structure and interest through the year. We haven’t bothered with annuals so far.
  • The left-hand border is south facing and gets sun until around 3pm when the sun moves behind the house.
  • The right-hand side (currently grass) is always in shade due to the fence.
  • The back right gets some sun towards the end of the day.

What we’d like

  • We want the fence to be less of a feature and to make the tree feel like a part of the garden rather than just stuck at the end of the grass. The garden is a bit bland outside mid-spring to summer.
  • We will keep the border on the left. We plan to leave the buddleia, rose and skimmia where they are, but could move/divide the other plants.
  • Our idea is to extend the flower bed from the left-hand side, along the back fence.
  • Along the back fence we’d like some planting which brings structure, height and year-round interest. Some ideas were conical evergreen shrubs, dogwood shrub (? Those with fiery red branches in winter), acer.
  • In the back right corner we are considering a bench. Instead of the bench (or in addition to) we thought something like Viburnum bodnantense which flowers through winter would be pretty
  • We’d like to put some kind of border down the right-hand side but we’re not sure what would work in the shade.
  • Some features we want to incorporate are bird bath, bird feeding station and hedgehog house. We would also like a small area for making leaf mould and possibly a compost bin but we’re not sure where they’d best go.

If you’ve stuck with me this far – thank you! I'll attach some photos and visuals of our plan in the next post. We would love to draw on the expertise here
  • How does our plan sound? What might you do differently? What are the flaws (I’m sure there are many!) in our ideas?
  • What plants could we consider?
  • Any advice on how we approach turning the grassy areas into new beds
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Posts

  • What it looks like currently





    This is what's in the flower bed at the moment



  • The design we have come up with so far



  • JennyJJennyJ Posts: 10,417
    If it was mine I'd have a lot less lawn. Deep borders are much better at drawing attention away from the boundaries. I also think lawns look better with either straight or smoothly curved edges rather than wiggly shapes, but that's just personal preference so feel free to ignore!
    Doncaster, South Yorkshire. Soil type: sandy, well-drained
  • JennyJJennyJ Posts: 10,417
    I think I'd go for a D-shape there. For the shady border, there are plenty of plants that would work there (see for example https://www.plantsforshade.co.uk/, there are lots of other specialists whose websites will give you plenty of ideas). I think a bark mulch looks better than gravel in shade. You could make a small paved area for your bench, maybe add an arbour or pergola for some instant height (budget-dependent of course). My sketch is probably hopelessly out of scale!

    Doncaster, South Yorkshire. Soil type: sandy, well-drained
  • Busy-LizzieBusy-Lizzie Posts: 23,779
    There are lots of plants that would grow in your shady border but more for foliage than flowers, like Brunnera "Jack Frost", Hostas, Tiarella, ferns, Heucheras, Epimediums. Daffodils would be OK there to. I would rather use plants for ground cover than bark or gravel. Blackbirds scratch bark onto the lawn and cats often use gravel as a litter tray and it's a nuisance when it gets in the lawn or you want to plant something. A compost mulch would be better, once it's planted.

    Are the fences yours or the neighbours? If yours then you can attach wires to them and grow some climbing plants. Some of the group 3 clematis grow in shade, such as Etoile Violette, and would help cover and soften the look of the fences. Climbing roses could be used for the sunny side.
    Dordogne and Norfolk. Clay in Dordogne, sandy in Norfolk.
  • PlantmindedPlantminded Posts: 3,439
    I think that @JennyJ’s D shaped lawn would work very well for you, with lots of scope for interesting planting in the wider borders.  Unless your lawn gets very wet and muddy in winter, I’d not include the stepping stones, they disrupt the visual appeal of a well shaped lawn. 

    You’ve done well with your planning. I find that considering how the garden will look in winter and incorporating a good structure of evergreens helps to support the rest of your planting for interest throughout the rest of the year.  Good evergreen shrubs for structure include Portuguese laurel, Bay, Griselinia and the Strawberry tree, Arbutus unedo which can be topiarised as can the Portuguese laurel and Bay. I’d also include some ornamental grasses for winter structure and interest. 

    Take your time and visit a good garden centre, botanical garden or nursery to view the plants you are interested in to decide whether they suit your taste and garden before you buy!

    Wirral. Sandy, free draining soil.


  • If the shady right hand side of your garden is sheltered, an acer could look good there.  You could look at Acer Sango-kaku, which has pink stems in winter for extra appeal, and gold autumn colour.  It gets to small tree size eventually.  But there are lots to choose from.
    Since 2019 I've lived in east Clare, in the west of Ireland.
  • JennyJ said:
    If it was mine I'd have a lot less lawn. Deep borders are much better at drawing attention away from the boundaries. I also think lawns look better with either straight or smoothly curved edges rather than wiggly shapes, but that's just personal preference so feel free to ignore!
    Thank you @JennyJ!

    We definitely have too much lawn and the grass is not in great condition. I was a bit unsure about too much border because of the upkeep but I think the key will be having a good selection of low maintenance plants. They will definitely be nicer than our ragged, bumpy grass.

    I find the wavy lines pretty to look at but we struggle to keep the boundary line neatly edged which detracts from the effect. I think a sweeping curve will be easier on that front.

    Your suggestion has inspired me to rethink our plan. My OH was very excited at the prospect of a paved corner area! I will take a longer look at the website you suggest to help us think plants for the shadier spots. I really like bleeding hearts and primrose candelabra (not sure of the proper names) so I'll check if they are suited to shady areas.
  • There are lots of plants that would grow in your shady border but more for foliage than flowers, like Brunnera "Jack Frost", Hostas, Tiarella, ferns, Heucheras, Epimediums. Daffodils would be OK there to. I would rather use plants for ground cover than bark or gravel. Blackbirds scratch bark onto the lawn and cats often use gravel as a litter tray and it's a nuisance when it gets in the lawn or you want to plant something. A compost mulch would be better, once it's planted.

    Are the fences yours or the neighbours? If yours then you can attach wires to them and grow some climbing plants. Some of the group 3 clematis grow in shade, such as Etoile Violette, and would help cover and soften the look of the fences. Climbing roses could be used for the sunny side.
    Very helpful @Busy-Lizzie! I love ferns so don't know why I didn't think of including them. I have found a couple of examples that look interesting to me.

    I really appreciate the advice on the bark/gravel. Our garden seems very popular with the local cat population so definitely don't want to encourage them.

    Yes the fence at the back and to the right are ours so clematis would definitely be an option as another plant I've admired.
  • I think that @JennyJ’s D shaped lawn would work very well for you, with lots of scope for interesting planting in the wider borders.  Unless your lawn gets very wet and muddy in winter, I’d not include the stepping stones, they disrupt the visual appeal of a well shaped lawn. 

    You’ve done well with your planning. I find that considering how the garden will look in winter and incorporating a good structure of evergreens helps to support the rest of your planting for interest throughout the rest of the year.  Good evergreen shrubs for structure include Portuguese laurel, Bay, Griselinia and the Strawberry tree, Arbutus unedo which can be topiarised as can the Portuguese laurel and Bay. I’d also include some ornamental grasses for winter structure and interest. 

    Take your time and visit a good garden centre, botanical garden or nursery to view the plants you are interested in to decide whether they suit your taste and garden before you buy!

    I love the Portuguese laurel @Plantminded! It has a bit of a Christmas tree look to it. 

    Getting the basic structure in will take us a little time so plenty of time to spend dreaming in garden centres. The big challenge will be keeping my purse in my bag and not buying on impulse 😁
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