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how do I make my garden nicer?

(34 Posts)
mrsbug Fri 11-Apr-14 14:59:47

I have a tiny (20 square foot) garden which faces north and gets very little sun.

Currently it is a bit of a mess - about half of it is a 'lawn' (moss and dandelions, I think it might be too shady for grass), there are borders around it with pretty much no plants, just lots of snails and cat shit. There are also bits of broken pottery and the odd bit of broken glass mixed in there.

I have a 15 month old dd and would like her to be able to play out in the garden. What is the easiest thing to do to make it safe and attractive for her to play in? I am quite tempted to pave over the whole thing but it seems wrong somehow, and I do like the idea of an actual garden with things growing in it.

Our neighbours' gardens are mostly paved over so I wonder if this is the only option...

In case you hadn't guessed, I know nothing about gardening - this is the first place I have lived with a garden since I left my parents house several decades years ago.

Dilidali Fri 11-Apr-14 16:15:47

I used to have a north facing garden. I found it paved, dug everything up and repaved, I'm afraid. I used to have various pots with plants in that used to get dragged into the corner that got a bit of sun, but that used to happen when they were about to die, at least they were dying in the sun.
Can you tell I am no gardenerv either?

mrsbug Fri 11-Apr-14 16:26:02

That sounds about my level of gardening smile

I can just about keep cacti and spider plants alive.

So, paving it is...

Dilidali Fri 11-Apr-14 17:00:37

I started loving it when I put some really comfy solid iron furniture with naice cushions and a burner/pit thingy to keep us warm. Oh, and a bbq. And, oh, one thing I grew successfully was garden lanterns, had millions of those!

moodymary Fri 11-Apr-14 17:06:08

If you would prefer not to pave it, you could look into artificial grass, (like astro-turf but I expect it has a different garden type name!) and then just have actual plants in a small bed or pots

JacksLady Fri 11-Apr-14 17:15:05

How about some of that fake grass instead of slabs??
Lots of garden ornaments instead of flowers round the edge/in the borders, fun fairy lights that are solar powered with the solar panel up high to catch the sun to charge!!

sunbathe Fri 11-Apr-14 19:28:25

I think I'd try a central L shaped paving block, enough to get a seat on and room for a sandpit.

Then in the last corner of the L, so as to make it a square, iyswim, I'd try grass. From seed, a specialist mixture for dense shade.

sunbathe Fri 11-Apr-14 19:36:44

Ferns would do well. You could add a water feature for interest and pots of impatiens (busy lizzies) for colour.

Greenrememberedhills Fri 11-Apr-14 19:37:48

Get rid of the grass. Absolutely.

Then pave cleverly. Don't pave up to the walls- leave borders. Also, I would strongly recommend not just havering a boring strip of border round the edge- eg do an L shape into the space.

There are some great small garden books around eh John Brooke's. Just look at a few for ideas.

mrsbug Fri 11-Apr-14 19:47:58

Some interesting ideas, thanks. Does that fake grass look OK? I imagined it would look a bit tacky.

Like the idea of a water feature but may not be the best idea with a toddler...

LillianGish Fri 11-Apr-14 19:55:14

I have v shady north facing garden. I reseeded lawn with shade tolerant variety - I love the smell of grass. Then get yourself some shade tolerant plants. I have an excellent small gardening book called Plants for Places which recommends plants according to conditions (of light and soil). Accept there are something's which won't grow and stick to those that will. Personally I like lots of green and white - green looks lush and white brightens things up in the shade. I've had success with Acanthus, hydrangea, hostas (though use slug pellets). Camellias are also good on north facing sites (providing they like your soil) as the morning sun kills the blooms. My top tip would be to look at what is growing well in neighbouring gardens.

MisForMumNotMaid Fri 11-Apr-14 20:24:55

This is North west facing (not yet finished). The pebbles aren't all glued and none of the pebbles/ tiles are grouted. They were a good price off ebay, less than paving - although i did have to prepare a flat concrete slab to lay them on. I didn't think a lawn would survive in such a small garden with three children and a dog. I also didn't want to store a lawnmower.

The wood lining the fences is featheredge and the boxes are pots with a featheredge surround (again not yet finished).

The acer tree is a copper fountain off ebay. It emptys through the pebbles and a sheet of mesh into a garden trug then water is recirculated via a pump up the trunk and trickles off the leaves. It looks fantastic lit at night.

Under the benches are ferns, bluebells and a groundcover shrub.

Behind the benches are olives, hebes and lavender. I've just put some honeysuckle and passionflowers in to start growing up the fence cladding. Most of the planting is evergreen for that year round interest.

The tiles/ pebbles are working well for the kids being able to get straight outside as soon as the rain stops. The idea is that we can play chess/ draughts on the alternating pattern. DD likes to play jumping from one tile to another.

We have a five in one garden games set that is swingball, badminton, football swingball, basketball and slow tennis. Its easy to get out and good in a small space as the balls don't travel far by design.

You can do lots in a small space and more than just paving. Pinterest is great for inspiration. One of the first things to work out is what you want from it. I.e. Bike storage, shed, play equipment, washing line, seating barbeque, chimnea, water feature etc

ShoeWhore Sat 12-Apr-14 08:38:47

The RHS plant selector (on their website) will give you loads of ideas of plants for shade.

Shrubs wise there are lots of options - you could try dogwood, mahonia, fatsia, camellia and others. Smaller plants to try - ferns, hostas, solomons seal, lily of the valley, astilbe, pieris, primroses. Some perennial geraniums and clematis might work too. Lots of spring bulbs like sun but daffodils worth a try. Green and white can look very stylish - look for plants with interesting foliage esp variegated leaves.

How long have you been there? You might find that in the next few weeks as the sun gets higher you may get a little bit of sun?

Grass is tricky in dense shade. It gets very mossy ime.

Pannacotta Sat 12-Apr-14 20:18:57

Fake grass is much better now than it was and would be far nicer than paving for your DD to play on.
The garden should get some sun at the far end in the summer so I would have a bench or table/chairs there.
And yes do plant some shade loving shrubs, some are very easy eg Skimmia Kew Green, Viburnum tinus, Hydrangeas, Vibunrum davidii etc.

funnyperson Mon 14-Apr-14 04:37:45

I have grass in a north facing shady garden.
There are lots of plants on plantsforshade

ZenGardener Mon 14-Apr-14 04:50:22

I would pave over and just do container gardening.

I've put a lot of containers in our garden and it is very easy and pretty plus your daughter can help with choosing bedding plants and planting them in.

MinesAPintOfTea Mon 14-Apr-14 05:46:47

I would leave the moss lawn. Miss is lively and soft to play on. Then just stuck some shade loving plants in the borders and get yourself something to sit on and your dd something to play with.

Essel Mon 14-Apr-14 06:07:19

In Australia lots of people use fake grass because the hot, dry summers make it difficult to keep a lawn alive. I think it looks and feels great. You can get some types that look quite realistic because they put a little bit of brown in with the green. Its obviously easier to maintain than real grass to.

I would go for fake grass because its more inviting and easier on little feet. Much nicer to throw a rug down in the summer for a picnic.

I grew up with only a paved courtyard and was always getting painful stones stuck to my feet.

Ferns are lovely too, and vines up the wall or fence will make it feel very green without taking up too much space.

Bearleigh Mon 14-Apr-14 07:51:54

Another reason for the grass being so manky may be that it doesn't get enough drainage. If you take a handful of soil and squeeze does it stay in a lump or stay crumbly? If it's the former, the soil is clay & I recommend you do research (on the RHS website and books) into prepping the ground properly for a lawn then re-lay some grass real or fake, as it is so much nicer to have green 'carpet' than paving. Real is IMHO more attractive but more work.

As others have said there are plenty of great plants for shade. I recommend a book called "Gardening in the Shade" by Marjorie Fish, available on Amazon for £1 usually. It is full of ideas for what grows well in shade, some of which are a surprise - nasturtiums for example, some of which climb up fences. Make sure your borders are reasonable wide, if you want to grow plants, so you can have reasonable sized plants without them looking cramped. Also if you don't have a lot of worms in your soil, it needs feeding, so dig in lots of rotted manure (bags from garden centre) to help your plants along the way.

StupidFlanders Mon 14-Apr-14 08:00:30

I agree with Essel. Fake grass is very common here (even in the most expensive gardens) and looks perfect. Unless you go for the cheap stuff.

goshhhhhh Mon 14-Apr-14 08:06:16

Agree with what others have said. There is also a RHS book - shady plants & a great book called Truly Tiny Gardens for inspiration.

CeruleanStars Mon 14-Apr-14 08:15:14

I wouldn't go for fake grass or paving really, gardens are a real haven for wildlife and paving over is increasing problems with flooding as well - the water has to soak away somewhere.
Our garden has a lot of shade and the grass is fine. We succesfully grow buddleia, a cherry and rowan tree, lots of tulips, daffodils and clematis, pansies, busy lizzies, foxgloves (not recommended with a toddler though), oh and dandelions (!)

TheHouseofMirth Mon 14-Apr-14 08:16:38

Op my friend had her north facing garden done with fake grass and it's amazing. They did go for the best grade of fake grass and spent a bit having a thick rubber underlay put in but 3 years later it still looks great and all you have to do is occasionally sweep it.

TheHouseofMirth Mon 14-Apr-14 08:21:01

Oh, and she regularly sees birds pulling worms up through it so not bad for wildlife!

BalloonSlayer Mon 14-Apr-14 08:38:56

Do you really mean 20 square foot?

That's five feet long by four feet wide!

I'm assuming you mean 20 foot long . . .

My advice would be to leave the mossy lawn, just get it cut nicely. Make the edges nice and defined. Clear up the broken glass and cat shit and then plant as many shade-loving plants as you can in the borders so there is no room for any cats to get their furry arses in there.

How to find shade loving plants? Go to a big garden centre (ie not Homebase) and there should be a section. Read on the labels how big the plants are likely to get - it should say maximum height/spread. Then plant the ones which are likely to get tallest at the back. I hope this doesn't sound patronising but I have certainly made the mistake of planting a lovely expensive plant right by the fence, which then gets obscured by something in front of it. While you are waiting for the plants to grow you could get some bark to sprinkle between them which may discourage cats but if it doesn't it at least looks nice.

What are your fences like? If they are in a poor condition it can be quite inexpensive to replace panels. I would also suggest painting them with a coloured wood stain if you want to brighten the garden up a bit.

Have you an area that can be used as a patio? It costs a bit having a patio laid but if you have a patch of concrete I'd suggest cleaning it up, getting a small table and chairs and then put some bedding plants in pots and stand them on top of any cracked or unattractive areas.

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