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Diary of A North Facing Garden

A few months ago, I wrote a blog extolling the virtues of a north facing garden and exploring the ways of making it work to best advantage. The ‘Case Study’ was my own small garden in the suburbs of south Manchester which had undergone a few changes in the early part of 2018.

The most radical of these changes involved the removal of an old acer tree which had been occupying the sunniest spot in the garden and increasing the amount of shade in my garden year by year. It’s funny that when I talk to clients about their gardens, I have no emotional attachment to their plants so it’s very easy to advise on what should stay and what should go, but when it comes to my own it’s so much more difficult! Anyway, the acer had to go and, in its place, I created a new perennial border. As this faces south (as opposed to my view from the house), the amount of sun it receives has allowed me to grow perennials that would previously have been impossible. This border can be viewed from the north facing main patio (a shady spot on a hot summer day), or one of the other little sun traps that I created a few years ago to take advantage of the sun at different times of day. At the time of writing the original blog I was hoping for a little ‘big birthday’ present from Mr M in the form of a Sitting Spiritually Swing Seat for one of these areas. That hasn’t quite materialised yet, but I’m still working on it!

The thing about a small garden is that every plant has to pull its weight. Good planning is always the key to ensure year-round interest and colour through a combination of shrubs, grasses and perennials.  So how has the new border fared through it’s first spring and summer.


At the end of the summer last year, I reshaped and widened all the borders in the garden. To ensure that things didn’t look too bare in spring I planted lots of additional bulbs at the front of the borders and used the opportunity to try some different varieties of dwarf narcissi.  The ones in the photo below are ‘Jetfire’ along with some of the original ‘Tête-à-Tête’ that had naturalised under the old tree (you can just see the old stump in the centre of the photo).  I also planted ‘W P Milner’, ‘Topolino’, ‘Rip van Winkle’ and ‘Jack Snipe’ along with some white ‘Tête-à-Tête’.


The benefit of having different varieties of narcissi is that I had flowers for many weeks and the white ‘Tête-à-Tête’ were still going strong at the beginning of April when the tulips started to take over.  Even on dull days the view from the house was a riot of spring colour.


After the tulips had finished the alliums took over, complemented by the ever reliable (and very long-flowering) Erysimum ‘Bowles’s Mauve’ which always attracts the late spring pollinators. I chose Allium Purple Sensation and Allium Christophii for their different shapes and sizes. Even after the flower colour has faded the seed heads look amazing.


By the time June arrived Salvia ‘Ostfriesland’ was in full bloom along with the pretty Erigeron Karvinskianus which covers the old tree stump. In between the clumps of salvia you can see the green leaves of Aster ‘Veilchenkonigin’ which will provide some of the autumn colour. The rusty metal poppy seed-heads were a little purchase from the RHS Chatsworth show.  


And here’s the border filling out very nicely in July. I have a few tweaks planned for next year, mostly involving disguising the not very attractive fence. The area at the back has proved very dry and more difficult to grow the rose and clematis combination than I had anticipated.  


What a month of rain it’s been! But in between the showers the butterflies have been visiting and there’s just been so many of them this year especially the Painted Ladies. They love the Verbena bonariensis ‘Lollipop’ which survived last winter and has now happily self-seeded itself.

At the time of writing August is coming to an end and I’m starting to plan my tulip combinations for next spring. There is also a project afoot for this autumn to repair a water feature and recover a little seating area that has become swamped by a rampant Hydrangea petiolaris and an old Clematis montana.  As with the tree I have been putting this off because the clematis looks so fabulous when it’s in flower.  But it’s time to get tough, so watch this space!

Read Part 1 of the Diary of a small North facing garden.

With many thanks to Alison Moore, and all photos courtesy of Alison

Renaissance Garden Design

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Posted by Siobhan on August 27th 2019

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