Gardening tips: a green masterplan for a shady garden

What can you do with a garden that's mostly in the shade? Create a lush and jungly setting with cascading greenery at different levels...
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What can you do with a garden that is mostly in perpetual shade? Plenty, is the response from Quinten Geurs, garden desiger at the Islington landscape company Modular.
Charged with making a lush green space from a bland courtyard at a north London home, Geurs’s first move was to knock down a wall that blocked the view of the garden from the house — though there wasn’t much to look at anyway, just a scrappy lawn and a tree that was beyond saving.
“The brief from the owners, a young working couple, was to open up the view, bring in more light and give them something green to look out on to,” says Geurs. They also wanted a patch expressly for pet greyhound Betty, where she could leave her calling card without soiling any other part of the garden.
The house at basement level is lower than the garden, which could only be reached by a dozen steps at one side, so surely it would make sense to move the steps to the centre for easier access? Geurs had a better plan which would bring the garden right up to the house and present the owners with a fabulous view of cascading greenery.
“If I had put the steps at the centre, the view would once more be of hard landscape,” says Geurs. “Instead, I made the steps at the side more people friendly by making them less steep. At the centre front, I created a green cascade by introducing three tiers of planting contained within three retaining walls that gradually increase in height.”
The nearest tier to the house, facing the kitchen, is about 18in high, just the right height for a built-in bench that is big enough for one person to wander out to with a cup of coffee first thing in the morning, and be surrounded by plants.
The centre of the garden is the only space where there is sunlight for any appreciable time, so Geurs made this the dining area, laying patio slabs of very pale blue-grey granite, which lighten the space and reflect sunlight without having the glare of dead-white paving.
He rounded the corners of the patio and curved a yew hedge around three quarters of it, which he contrasted with a band of dark basalt chippings that extends to a patch at the back of the garden, reserved for Betty. Slatted cedar panels attached to the brick boundaries on either side give the garden some privacy.
The rear wall, painted off-white, has a Clematis armandii wandering up it, providing a tracery of large, evergreen leaves as well as fragrant white flowers in early spring.

In the far corner, three young hardy palm trees, Trachycarpus fortunei, will grow upwards to seek the light, says Geurs. Euphorbia mellifera, a trio of banana trees and a Fatsia japonica contribute to the jungly feel that the couple wanted, while a young tree fern at the front of the garden, in one corner, will eventually form a lacy green canopy.
Within the three tiers of planting at the front, Geurs packed white-edged hostas, hellebores, pale lilac agapanthus, evergreen ferns, white-spatched arum lilies and oak-leaved hydrangeas, creating a diverse and beautiful tapestry of textures, patterns and shades of green.
There is a further advantage to this kind of lush planting, says Geurs: “It’s pretty low maintenance, because when plants are this thick on the ground, there’s no space for weeds to grow.”

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