Every garden has a few problem spots where nothing seems to thrive. You know the ones – the shady ground under a tree, the narrow side-path area that looks so neglected, and the sunbaked garden bed where your plants suffer through the summer heat. But don’t give up, get wise and follow our great tips.
Planting under trees
One of the most challenging zones in any garden is the area beneath trees. It’s often difficult for plants to thrive in these areas as the soil is hard and compacted, with little or no sun exposure. And, to add to the difficulties, plants have to compete with tree roots for water and nutrients. But, you can succeed in these spots if you’re determined. The trick is to first build up the soil, then choose shade-loving plants with compact root systems.Tips for shady gardens
■ Remove weeds beneath the tree and scratch the surface of the soil with a garden fork – avoid heavy digging or you’ll damage the tree’s roots. Spread compost and manure over the area, fork in lightly and water well.
■ Apply a wetting agent to the soil and water in. The soil beneath trees is often water-repellent so the wetting agent will help moisture penetrate and reach the roots of your new plants.
■ Buy plants in small pots as it’s easier to plant them among tree roots.
■ For large areas under trees, use spreading groundcovers such as plectranthus, native violets or lamium as each plant goes a long way.
■ After planting, mulch the surface to help the ground stay moist between waterings. You’ll need to top up the mulch once it breaks down into the soil.Plants for beneath trees
- Native violet
- English ivy
Narrow side gardens
Areas like side-garden zones are often placed in the too-hard basket, winding up looking dull and neglected. While that’s not such a problem if they’re never seen, often these narrow strips are heavily used pathways – to a patio, for instance – so it’s important to work with the conditions to create something aesthetically pleasing. Side gardens will usually have a shaded fence for you to work with, so choose the right plants using these hints.Tips for narrow gardens
■ Because of their restricted size, the best design idea is to keep things simple. Don’t try complicated multi-plant schemes, but rather consider neat, shade-tolerant hedging plants against the fence and, if space allows, add a border at the base.
■ Save room by growing a climber on the fence and trim it regularly to keep it within boundaries. Consider shade-tolerant climbing species such as Chinese star jasmine, English ivy or creeping fig.
■ If you’re handy with plant-shaping and prepared to put in the effort, consider training espalier plants against the fence. Camellia sasanqua is a great candidate as it’s shade-happy and
produces beautiful blooms in autumn.
■ Dress up the scene with decorative touches – try hanging wall plaques, sculptures or mirrors against the fence.
■ To lighten the look of the garden, paint the fence a pale colour and use sandstone pavers or white gravel for a pathway.Plants for narrow gardens
- Mondo grass
- Star jasmine
- English ivy
- Creeping fig
Hot and sunny walls
Gardens set against walls that face full sun for most of the day require careful planning. Not only do the selected plants need to be sun-lovers, they also have to be tolerant of reflected heat from the brick and masonry. The soil adjacent to walls is notorious for being dry, too, especially if overhanging house eaves prevent the rain from penetrating. Here are several tips for giving your sun-soaked garden plantings
the best chance of flourishing.Tips for sunny walls
■ To improve the soil, add plenty of manure and compost and dig it through. Apply a soil-wetting agent and water in well.
■ Avoid planting hard up against a wall, if possible. Instead, position the root system about 30cm away from the wall. In the case of climbing plants, angle the root ball so the stems lean back towards the wall.
■ Dig generous holes for each plant and add a layer of hydrated water crystals to the base before placing in position.
■ If you want to plant against a hot wall to cool your home, choose robust climbers such as bougainvillea or ivy as they smother the surface in foliage. To avoid direct contact, attach metal mesh or lattice to the wall first, then train the climber onto it.Plants for sunny walls
- Broom (Cytisus sp.)