In this blog, I will discuss how to garden on difficult sites. Firstly gardening on a site that is not suitable for gardening can be frustrating, disheartening and costly. I encourage you not to give up. There are plants that will grow in almost any situation. Its just a case of finding the ones that will work on your site. In addition you may also need to rethink some of the elements or plants you had in mind for your garden.
For example in my own garden we really wanted a Japanese Maple and a couple of years ago I planted one. Despite the fact that I know they don’t like cold winds and our garden is in an area that gets cold winds, most of the time. I wanted to give it a go. So I planted the Japanese Maple in what was the most sheltered spot in the garden. It was a beauty and grew so well in the first year but then in February 2019 the month started off quiet normal temperature wise but by the end of February we got record high temperatures and the Japanese Maple loved it and responded with lush growth and vigour.
Then in March, the warm February weather was replaced by very cold dry harsh winds. This cold weather lasted right up until May with wind burn a feature in many gardens across most plants types. Growth was very slow and grass didn’t even grow for a good part of that period.
This was the death of the Japanese Maple it limped on for a while during that period but a heavy late frost finished it in early May. That same frost also killed off a wedding cake tree planted at more or less the same time.
So reality is its going to be very difficult to succeed with a Japanese Maple in my garden, although to be fair my stubbornness probably means I will try again in the future. Maybe when we have an area with more mature planting that will offer additional shelter from the wind.
The types of sites or areas within gardens that cause gardeners the most difficulty are the following cold and exposed inland sites, exposed costal sites, wet ground, shaded areas and slopes.
I will look at each type of site and talk about what we can do in the set up to give us every chance of success. Discuss if we can add anything structurally to give us a helping had and give a list of plants for each site type. The list of plants will be a guide but there is always more to find and add.
The very first tip however is, look at other gardens nearby that have the same or similar conditions as your garden. Look to see what is growing well? What looks good? What are you not seeing? ( Note to self here, I have never seen a Japanese Maple grown nearby) all of these question will give you a steer as to what has a good chance of working in your garden. Also talk to gardeners in the area especially the older ones and they will give you a good guide as to where to start.
Second tip is to think about is there anything that you can do structurally before you plant to improve the situation.
For example, on an exposed site, can you plant a shelter belt or install an artificial shelter net prior to planting?
On a sloped site can a retaining wall be used to lessen the slope or rocks be used to create break on the slope?
On a wet site can drainage be done to improve the ground or can raising some areas create drier planting points on an otherwise wet site.
All of these things won’t make your site perfect but they will give you a better than average chance of succeeding on a less than perfect site.
So let’s look at plants that will almost certainly grow and thrive in each of situation. It is not every plant available just a list of 10 bulletproof plants for each situation to help you get started. These can be added to over time as you create the layers in each area. The list includes some trees, shrubs, perennials and bulbs.
SHRUB SHRUB/BULB Primula most varities Ferns Bluebells, Snowdrops, Oxalis Hydrangea Qyercifolia ( Oak Leafed hydrangea) Aucuba Japonica (Japanese Laurel) Heuchera Palace Purple (Most Heuchera will work) Lamium (Ornamental Dead-Nettle) Sarcococca Humilis (Sweetbox)
Primula most varities
Bluebells, Snowdrops, Oxalis
Hydrangea Qyercifolia ( Oak Leafed hydrangea)
Aucuba Japonica (Japanese Laurel)
Heuchera Palace Purple (Most Heuchera will work)
Lamium (Ornamental Dead-Nettle)
Sarcococca Humilis (Sweetbox)
SHRUB Cornus Alba (Dogwood) Willow Trees ( All types) Physocarpus Opulifolius (Common Ninebark) Sambucus Nigra (Elder)
Cornus Alba (Dogwood)
Willow Trees ( All types)
Physocarpus Opulifolius (Common Ninebark)
Sambucus Nigra (Elder)
GROUND COVER PLANT
GROUND COVER PLANT
Cotoneaster Queen Of Carpets
Erica (Heather all types)
Ceanothus Repens (Californian Lilac)
Rubus Tricolor ( Decorative Bramble)
Santolina Incana (Cotton Lavender)
Persicaria Darjeeling Red
Olearia (Daisy Bush) most types
Sorbus Aria (Whitebeam)
Laurus Nobilis ( Bay Tree)
Spartium Junceum (Broom)
Sorbus Intermedia (Swedish Whitebeam)
Pinus Nigra (Black Pine)
Viburnum Opulus (Guelder Rose)
Acer Pseudoplatanus (Sycamore)
Spiraea (Most Types)
Tillia Cordata (Lime)
Fagus Sylvatica (Beech)
Cotinus Royal Purple (Smokebush)
Crataegus Monogyna (Hawthorn)
Kerria Japonica (Marigold Bush)
Sorbus Aucuparia (Rowan/Mountain Ash)
I hope this list of plants helps you as you try to master how to garden on difficult sites. Wether it be your own, a friends or customer. Best of luck with it and I’m sure it will turn out great. Remember other gardeners in the area should have good knowledge which they would be more than happy to pass on to you.
If you would like to listen to my podcast on this topic hit the link below and enjoy.
Until the next time,