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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.

funnyperson Wed 16-Apr-14 20:29:52

When I looked at that garden lolalotta I realised that if you sat on the nice looking seat what you actually would see would be bare fence and nothing else. It looks good from above but what would it actually be like to sit in? I think climbers are important to get in first, preferably ones with pale flowers and scent, the lighten up the area and because then one wouldnt have to trample all over their roots to plant in front.

lolalotta Wed 16-Apr-14 06:41:50

What about something like this beautifully shapedpaved garden with boarders? you could plant shade loving plants! grin

funnyperson Wed 16-Apr-14 00:10:51

Look at these sites for plant ideas

Choose pale coloured flowers for really shady spots. Choose bright oranges and reds and purples for part shaded spots to give the garden some colour. Choose blues where you want to make something look further away. LIme green scented flowers like nicotiniana can be good too.

Get rid of the catshit and broken pottery and don't plant any poisonous plants. Dig beds all round even to 18 ins will be good to start with and put compost down before you plant and plant all plants in nice big holes filled with a good organic peat free compost to give them a good start in life.

funnyperson Wed 16-Apr-14 00:02:34

Climbers for north facing shade on clay soil
rosa alfred carriere
clematis wisley cream
clematis helsingborg
garrya ellliptica
hydrangea petiolaris
Mahonia japonica
Tall plants for shade
Digitalis alba
Acanthus mollis
Gunnera (huge leaves huge plant)
Medium plants
Japanese anemones
Hydrangeas (esp snowball;could try lacecap)
Hosta (if damp)
geranium pheum
geranium roxanne
geranium johnsons blue
grasses eg miscanthus
chinese lanterns
front of border
daffs, tulips
middle of garden
lawn with shade loving rye grass
camomile lawn
knot garden
japanese gravel (not so great for toddlers
sandpit (with lid to keep off cats at night)
sunken trampoline (with lid)
rotary washing line with paved circle.

Pannacotta Mon 14-Apr-14 17:53:08

and I really agree with the advice on "owning" the space, even if you only make small steps to improve it, it will start to feel more like yours and this will spur you on.
I'd get some garden furniture and pretty solar fairy lights too.
Good luck and post back if you need plant advice etc.

Pannacotta Mon 14-Apr-14 17:49:22

Perhaps get a few books from your local library (or cheap on Amazon) to give you some ideas as you have enough room to make it a really nice outdoor space.
Some good ones here

Also have a look here for inspiration (similar sized plot to you)

mrsbug Mon 14-Apr-14 17:18:23

Just to say thanks for the ideas, I am loving the suggestions. I think we will try to go to a garden centre over the bank holiday weekend and get some ideas of plants.

yummy I like the idea of the sandpit although it would definitely need to be covered or it would be a cat toilet.

Balloon I mean 20 ft long, by about 15 foot wide - maths was never my strong point blush

Bearleigh We have no worms, just lots of snails. Is manure a good idea with a toddler around?

Shoe we have been here three years. In the height of summer, half of our garden gets some sun in the mornings and evenings; the other half is always in shade.

ZenGardener Mon 14-Apr-14 13:52:01

Make sure to get a sand pit with a cover if there are a lot of cats about.

yummymumtobe Mon 14-Apr-14 08:53:01

I feel sad that north facing gardens are being written off by some as only worthy of paving! We have a north facing garden - we do get sun at certain parts of the day (we're in London and lucky to have a garden really!) As has been said above, go to a garden centre and ask advice about plants. We have tons of shrubs and flowers so it's certainly not the case that nothing will grow! Bark is definitely a good idea for areas with not much growing in (yet). The thing with gardens is to 'own' them. We always used to this our garden wasn't very pretty, needed lots of pruning, had a tatty old shed etc. Then we just got out there and weeded, collected snail shells, painted shed, got pretty chair cushions etc.

You mention dd - why not get a little Wendy house? Or a sand and water table.

Please don't pave - it just looks so miserable and also - I think- makes the gardens look smaller. Neighbour one side of us is paved and it somehow makes it look like a little yard whereas grass and shrubs make ours look like a longer, wide space.

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.

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

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

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.

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 (!)

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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

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.

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.

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

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.

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...

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