A Dry Shade Border & Problem solving

A client in Maastricht contacted me with a question to improve a particular border in their garden. Lots of plants had declined over time and not much was happening anymore. The border is the first one you see from the house so at the moment it is not a nice invitation to the garden.

With a video call and some photographs I established that the border is in a dry shade position, due to a large tree above it, a stone wall at the south side and it is the highest place in the garden. The soil is actually a good loamy/sandy soil but it has dried out and has had no organic matter added to it for a long time. It will need to be supported with more organic material to keep more moister in the ground. Also, the choice of plants need to be specific for a dry soil with part shade light if the plants are to survive the hot dry summers. The tree cover is not too dense so there is enough light and sun for ‘part shade’ plants.

The client’s idea for this border is a cottage garden style planting but also some evergreens to maintain a structure throughout the year. They also wanted to be able to do the work themselves, and not being experienced gardeners wanted some coaching with the work that is needed to make this change. I designed a new planting plan for the border and guided the client through the different steps of the plan.

Border Design

Planting Design WIP

The new planting scheme for the border is based around a few tall flowering perennials surrounded by ground covering plants and a few ferns that can handle a dry shade environment. The tall perennials will be very visible from the house and their fast growth creates lots of dynamic. The Foxgloves and Verbena are short lived but they will seed themselves out. This means the position of the plants will change over time and it will be exiting to see how this will develop into a natural looking planting. It also depends on how natural or managed it is going to be maintained. With a care plan for this part of the garden I will support the client with the gardening needed to fulfill this border’s potential.

Starting the work and coaching

We started with finding a new spot for the plants that where there, but needed a place with more light or more moister. The current Japanese Anemone stayed and to improve it we divided it up to make two groups. To improve the soil I advised the client to dig in organic material (rotten manure and soil ‘conditioner’) and add a layer of mulch or bark chips after planting. As is often the case if you haven’t worked in a garden for some time, a few surprises appear. The client found a tree trunk and roots in the border. It wasn’t too large so I adapted the planting. I grouped a few ferns around it because they actually like old trunks and slowly it will breakdown into organic matter as part of the soil.


Another part of the process is to find the plants on the planting list. Rarely, you can buy all the plants in one place. Most garden centers tend to sell plants ‘in season’, when they are looking good. Not necessarily to the benefit of the customer. Most nurseries are specialised in a particular range of plants. In other words, you have to shop around to find the plants. I tend to buy most plants from reputable nurseries & garden centers with online shops. For the more difficult plants I use the RHS plant finder to source plants in the UK. One advantage of buying online is that the visual aspect of the plant is not paramount anymore, so more plants are available in a 9 cm pot, which is precisely what we wanted.

Having received the plants in boxes, inspect all of them so you know you have the right plants and in good condition. Now the fun can start: planting, finishing with a layer of mulch and let it grow…

I will come back to this garden next spring, summer and autumn and see how it is developing through the whole growing season. Will it grow into what we had in mind ?