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Advice needed for freshly cleared bed


I'm looking for some advice on how to populate this bed that we cleared on the weekend. It was completely overridden with weeds (much like the bed at the top left) and as you can see, it has a fair few trees in it which I've cut right back. There are a couple of buddleias which have nice purple flowers, but they grow absolutely huge and out of control (advice needed on these too!). In essences, we're after something that:

- Looks neat and tidy all year round with some nice colours in spring/summer
- Is relatively low maintenance
- Isn't going to grow wild and overtake the path like it has done before (the bed is about 1-1.5m wide)

I'm really keen to get into gardening and having a blank canvas like this seems like a perfect opportunity to learn.

Any advice for a novice is much appreciated.

P.s The bed is east facing so gets lots of morning and afternoon sun, and I don't have a clue what the soil is like!!



  • WaterbutWaterbut Posts: 327
    I personally would get rid of that tree in the middle and the ivy (I hate ivy). Dig in some compost and plant some roses, fruit trees, not allowing them to grow higher than you can reach, or turn it into a vegetable plot. That fence looks like your neighbours so they have the last say in what you can put on it. My experience comes from my last two houses where my neighbours complained about my trellises I put up. So I had to take them down after doing some research. It will be interesting reading other suggestions.
  • B3B3 Posts: 27,329
    Why would you remove the tree?
    In London. Keen but lazy.
  • Busy-LizzieBusy-Lizzie Posts: 23,837
    Hello and welcome to the forum.

    If the soil is sticky and heavy when wet, stays in a ball when you squeeze it and holds onto moisture it's most likely clay. If it's when drained and doesn't hold together and feels a bit abrasive when you rub it then it's probably sandy. You will need a soil testing kit from the garden centre to find out if it's acid or alkali. Whatever it is it can be improved by adding compost or well rotted manure which can be found in garden centres. You can dig it in or use it as a mulch on top. A mulch is good as it keeps to the weeds as well.

    There are a lot of reliable cottage garden plants with pretty flowers that are usually OK for most conditions. Salvia nemorosa, rudbeckias, campanulas (many different sorts, short to tall), astrantia, geums, hemerocallis, aquilegias, hardy geraniums (lots of varieties) etc. The easiest is to decide how many plants you need according to space and go to the garden centre in spring and then again in summer and see what you like and look at the plant labels for height and how much sun they need. In the autumn you can plant bulbs like daffodils.

    You will probably find the soil is quite dry and may have roots in it under the trees and buddleias so don't plant anything that needs moisture there. It may be a bit shady too once the leaves are out.

    If the plants flop on the path they may need a bit of support, couple of bamboo canes and some jute twine should do the job. You can always snip bits off to tidy them up.
    Dordogne and Norfolk. Clay in Dordogne, sandy in Norfolk.
  • Thanks @Busy-Lizzie - that's brilliant advice, really helpful. I've read about having tall plants at the back and smaller at the front to create a tiered effect - would I need to worry about that with such a shallow bed?

    @Waterbut - the tree is quite nice (I think it's crab apple) so we're minded to keep it, but agree on the ivy - it gets everywhere and I've still got lots to do to get rid of it all!
  • FairygirlFairygirl Posts: 54,860
    I'm going to slightly disagree with @Busy-Lizzie here [sorry Liz!] because it also depends where you're located and what your climate is like. My east facing beds never dry out, and I can plant all sorts of stuff even with trees and large shrubs in them.
    Shrubs are always going to be easier to maintain than lots of perennials, so that would be a better way to start. You can then add in other plants - annuals, perennials and bulbs, once you get a feel of how everything is working. When I was working full time, I always had a shrub based garden, and I didn't realise just how low maintenance the garden was until I retired! It also means you have a bit of structure to look at during winter, especially if the border's visible from your house, but that also depends on your preferences. 

    There may well be plants already in there too, so you might want to hang fire a little, until you see if that's the case.  :)
    It's a place where beautiful isn't enough of a word....

    I live in west central Scotland - not where that photo is...
  • Busy-LizzieBusy-Lizzie Posts: 23,837
    That's OK @Fairygirl. I forgot to mention climate. I've always lived in southern England and SW France until I met 2nd OH so now I garden in Norfolk at his house and France at mine. Norfolk is dry and the soil is sandy here so well drained. France is clay that bakes in summer and waterlogs in winter, loads of compost was necessary.

    I did wonder about shrubs but they, although lower maintenance, are less colourful and I'm a cottage garden flower fan! Also, not knwing enough about the conditions it was harder to think of shrubs. Fuchsias don't like the same conditions as lavenders! I suppose spireas and Wiegela are fairly easy though.
    Dordogne and Norfolk. Clay in Dordogne, sandy in Norfolk.
  • To add to the above, wonder if those slabs for the path are just laid on soil and thus making it easy to widen the bed. If you want to it will give you enough space to experiment with layering, a metre wide bed is too small for an evolving scheme. You may even find a more undulating edge to the bed will look more pleasing than a straight line. Great to have the opportunity to make a fresh start. 
    To Plant a Garden is to Believe in Tomorrow
  • FairygirlFairygirl Posts: 54,860
    Oh absolutely @Busy-Lizzie. It's why I usually say - 'where are you?'  because my climate and conditions are very different from yours, and many others, and I know how difficult it can be. I can't grow all sorts of things that you probably can, and vice versa.
    Yes - Spireas and Weigelas and all sorts of other things like Pieris and Azaleas are more than happy in east facing sites - as long as the soil isn't too alkaline for the latter pair. They're fine with sindier sites too, which I'm guessing the OP might have.
    I use things like Camassias and Acteas because of the conditions, but others may have difficulty with those if the soil doesn't stay moist enough, long term.  :)
    For extra flowering, I have buddleias, plus rowan and pyracanthas earlier in the late spring/early summer, and then their berries. Hellebores, Aquilegias and Geraniums [definitely] plus various spring bulbs, Native Primulas, and even bronze Fennel in one corner. I have a daylily which is to go in there too.
    Climbers will add more flowering through the year, but as mentioned - it depends who owns the fence etc.
    Even a border that depth will be fine for all sorts of stuff @michael.bishop1341193. It's a question of preference a lot of the time, and often a bit of experimenting. Vertical perennials slotted in among the rounder/bushier shapes and other shrubs, and that's where Irises can be useful. Some need very sunny sites [the bearded Irises]  but many types like a moister spot - the sibiricas and ensatas are great in that kind of position, so it's just a case of working out how well the site works. Aquilegias are good for that too, as is Polemonium [Jacob's Ladder], and Japanese anemones for later in the year. 
    If you have areas that get adequate sun, Hebes will work. There are dozens, probaly hundreds, of varieties, and many are readily available. In general, the variegated ones are a bit less tough, and the larger leaved ones can be a bit iffy too, but that's where your climate and conditions come in.
    Low growing ground cover plants are ideal for saving on weeding, and there are lots of choices for that too -  Saxifrages [wee bit of sun for those if possible]  Ajuga, Iberis [perennial candytuft] Saxifraga urbium - commonly called London Pride, and even Aubretias and Arabis might be fine if there's enough drainage and a bit of sun for them.   :)  
    It's a place where beautiful isn't enough of a word....

    I live in west central Scotland - not where that photo is...
  • FireFire Posts: 18,975
    Waterbut said:
     my neighbours complained about my trellises I put up.
    Really? Why?
  • WaterbutWaterbut Posts: 327
    Fire. Checking the deeds it was their fence and then using the search engine they have the finale say about what goes on their fence on both sides. I am not going to court over their pettiness.
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