Gardens | Specific Problem Sites

I have looked at the ways in which you can go some distance towards capitalising on the climate and soil in your area and how to set about designing a garden to meet your individual needs, but frequently, plans are thwarted or frustrated by some over-riding factor that superficially seems insurmountable; as people frequently tell me, ‘it is never as simple as it appears in the books’. I can understand this frustration. No two gardens are identical simply because every location has its own special features. In many ways, this is what makes gardening the fascinating activity that it is; local or regional diversity in gardens, dictated by individual variations in site, are to be encouraged. Nonetheless, I’ve realised that there are certain areas that offer more problems than others and so here I set out some guidelines for dealing with them.

For Gardens by the Sea

The difficulties of gardening by the sea are those of wind, salt and salty water – if the garden is very close to the seashore, within reach of wave splash, plants can be almost inundated during the winter. Salt carried on the wind is the more general problem, however, and its effects can be apparent for several kilometres inland.

1 don’t think that anyone has determined why some plants are more tolerant of salt than others but it is evident from the richness of the seashore’s natural plant life that a great many have adapted to it. Some like the sea buckthorn (ilippopliae) or the sea aster (Aster maritima) can be grown in gardens in their natural unaltered state and make very attractive subjects. Others, like thrift (Armeria maritima) may be grown either in their native form or in one of a small number of selected variants. Yet others, like many roses, bear little resemblance to the wild species. And finally, there are the numerous plants like Eucalyptus that will never have experienced the coast in their natural homes yet still possess a valuable tolerance of salt.

Every seaside garden will be the better, however, for the provision of some shelter; even salt tolerant species will grow more luxuriantly if the force of the wind can be lessened.

Some Plants for Seaside Gardens

Herbaceous plants and bulbs

Achillea, Agapanthus, Allium, Alstroemeria, Anemone, Anthemis, Armeria, Aster, Bergenia, Campanula, Centaurea, Crambe, Crocosmia, Dianthus, Dierama, Echinops, Erigeron, Erodium, Eryngium, Euphorbia, Geranium, Gypsophila, Heuchera, Iris, Kniphofia, Limonium, Linaria, Melissa, Mimulus, Morina, Nerine, Oenothera, Origanum, Peustemon, Phygelius, Pulsatilla, Ruta, Salvia, Santolina, Scabiosa, Schizostylis, Scrophularia, Sedum, Sisyrinchium, Stachys, Veronica, Zantedeschia.

Acer pseudoplatanus (windbreak), Arbutus, Castanea, Chamaerops, Choisya, Colutea, Cordyline, Corokia, Cotoneaster, Crataegus (windbreak), Cupressus, x Cupressocyparis, Cytisus, Elaeagnus, Ephedra, Erica, Escallonia, Eucalyptus, Euonymus, Fraxinus, Fuchsia, Garrya, Genista, Griselinia, Hebe, Helianthemum, Helichrysum, Hippophae, Hydrangea, Ilex, Juniperus, Laurus, Lavandula, Lavatera, Leycesteria, Lonicera, Myrica, Olearia, Parahebe, Phlomis, Phormium, Pinus (windbreak), Pittosporum, Podocarpus, Populus, Prunus, Pyracantha. Ouercus, Rhamnus, Rosa, Rosmarinus, Salix, Sambucus, Santolina, Senecio, Sorbus, Spartium, Spiraea, Tamarix (windbreak), Ulex, Viburnum, Yucca.

Exposed Inland Gardens

Exposed gardens away from the coast do have some features in common with seaside locations. The wind is the constant factor but in hilly inland areas, it tends to be colder; and in really elevated locations, very much colder. Salt is not present to cause spotting or scorching but the searing effect of the wind on foliage can have much the same effect.

Weather forecasters now frequently refer to the chill factor – the reduced temperature effect that we feel when a cold wind blows very strongly; plants will experience this just as much as humans. In very windy places, you are likely to see, even on the toughest species, the characteristic effect called wind pruning, in which the buds on the windward side of plants shrivel and die, resulting in a plant apparently leaning away from the wind. And, exactly as at the coast, a windbreak or shelter will immeasurably improve the quality of your gardening. I know of many an upland garden that simply could not exist without a screen of durable trees. However, whereas cypresses, including the very fast-growing Leyland cypress, are generally unsuccessful as wind breaks on the coast because of their susceptibility to salt damage, they will often survive when used in the same way in hilly sites. Although not the loveliest of trees, this does mean that a wind break can be provided relatively quickly; there’s no need to wait the many years required for more conventional native plants to reach maturity. Although no tree can be guaranteed to survive the gales that are frequent at high altitude, there’s no doubt that many species do have particularly brittle wood and should therefore be avoided.

I should add that the plants I suggest here (at least, the smaller ones) will be valuable for another common problem garden that, whilst superficially very different, does in have much the same cause. These are what I call ‘wind-tunnel’ gardens; those sites where there is a very narrow gap, very often one adjacent to a town house with little space between the house and neighbouring property.

In the lists that follow, I haven’t specifically included alpines, although they are the one large group of plants that will thrive in most exposed gardens. Nonetheless, within familiar herbaceous genera such as Geranium or Campanula, it is not surprising that where alpine and lower growing species exist, they will generally be the most successful.

Some Plants for Exposed, Inland Gardens

Herbaceous plants and bulbs

In very exposed sites, all herbaceous plants will require some shelter:

Achillea. Anemone, Anllieinis, Armeria, Aster, Campanula, Crocosmia, Dianthus, Erigeron, Erodium, Euphorbia, Geranium, Gypsophila, Heuchera. Iris, Origanum, Pulsatilla, Rata, Salvia, Scabiosa, Schiiostylis, Scrophularia, Sedum, Stachys, Veronica.

Trees and shrubs

Acer pseudoplatanus, Cotoneaster, Crataegus (windbreak), Cupressus (windbreak), Cupressocyparis (windbreak), Cytisus, Elaeagnus, Erica, Euonymus, Fraxinus, Genista, Ilex, Juniperus, Lauras, Lonicera, Pinus (windbreak), Populus, Primus, Pyracaniha, Ouercus, Rhamnus, Rosa, Rosmarinus, Salix, Samhucus, Sorbus, Spiraea, Ulex, Viburnum.

Shaded gardens

Plants that thrive in or at least tolerate shade, are those that have evolved to cope with low light levels.

Most have also adapted to a relatively moist environment as shaded places are generally damp. It is for this reason that gardens that are both shaded and dry are those that present the biggest challenges for there are relatively few plants that have adapted to this combination.

One feature of shade tolerant plants (or at least, of those tolerant of deep shade) is that flowers tend to be sparse or insignificant. The shaded garden therefore is one that relies very largely on foliage: but it is none the worse for that. No foliage plants exemplify the shaded garden more than ferns; flowerless by definition but in a delightful array of foliage shapes and textures. All ferns will be suitable and I haven’t therefore listed them individually by name.

Some plants for Shaded Gardens


Anemone nemorosa, Arum, Colchicum, Convallaria, Cyclamen, Eranthis, Erythronium, Fritillaria, Galanthus, Hyacinthoides, Iris foetidissima (dry shade), Leucojum, Lilium, Iridium, Ranunculus, Scilla.

Herbaceous perennials

Aconitum, Ajuga (dry shade), Alchemilla, Anemone x hybrida, Aquilegia, Astrantia, Bergenia (dry shade), Brunnera (dry shade), Campanula, Carex, Cimicifuga, Deschampsia (dry shade), Dicentra, Digitalis (dry shade), Epimedium (dry shade), Euphorbia robbiae (dry shade), Galeobdolon, Geranium (dry shade), Hakonechloa, Helleborus (dry shade), Hepatica, Holcus, Hosta, Lamium (dry shade), Luzula, Lysimachia, Mentha, Milium, Mimulus, Molinia (dry shade), Omphalodes, Pachysandra (dry shade), Polygonatum (dry shade), Pulmonaria (dry shade), Sanguinaria, Symphytum (dry shade), Thalictrum (dry shade), Tiarella (dry shade), Valeriana (dry-shade), Vinca (dry shade), Viola labradorica (dry shade).


Arctostaphylos (dry shade), Aucuba (dry shade), Rerberis, Buxus, Camellia, Comas canadensis, Cotoneaster, Daphne, Euonymus fortunei, Fothergilla, Garrya, Gaultheria, Hamamelis, Hydrangea, Hypericum calycinum, Ilex (dry shade), Kalmia, Leucothoe, Ligustrum, Mahonia (dry shade), Ruscus, Pieris, Prunus laurocerasus, Rhododendron, Ribes, Rubus (dry shade), Sambucus, Skimmia, Stranvaesia, Symphoricarpos.

Gardens on Very Wet Sites

A garden can have a permanently wet soil for a number of reasons. Generally the drainage is impeded, commonly although not invariably because there is a clay soil or sub-soil. A clay-soil alone doesn’t mean a wet garden, however, for there must be a continuing influx of water more or less throughout the year to create constantly wet conditions. A spring beneath the garden is one cause. Drainage from nearby land is another and. For this reason, permanently wet gardens are often situated near the foot of a slope. Plants that thrive in these conditions are those that aren’t liable to having their root tissues asphyxiated and succumb to decaying organisms in consequence. Yet again, however, the exact way that this tolerance operates seems obscure. Choosing plants that grow naturally in the permanently wet areas of ditches, the margins of pools or in bogs will help ensure success.

Some Plants for Very Wet Sites

Herbaceous perennials and bulbs

Acorns, Astilbe, Caltha, Cardamine, Carex, Filipendula, Gunnera, Hemerocallis, Iris (some), Ligularia, Lysichiton, Lysimachia, Lythrum, Mimulus, Primula (many), Rodgersia, Trollius, Zantedeschia.

Trees and shrubs

Alnus, Amelanchier, Betula (some), Cornus, Crataegus, Gaultheria, Mespilus, Myrica, Photinia, Populus, Pyrus, Salix, Sambucus, Sorbaria, Sorbus aucuparia, Spiraea, Symphoricarpos, Taxodium, Vaccinium, Viburnum.

Hot and Dry Gardens; Free-draining Soil

With the increase in global warming, a number of countries that previously experienced cool summers are now experiencing a high proportion of hot and dry summers, conditions in which gardeners with light soil have experi-enced most difficulties. And although no-one seems clear whether we are truly passing through a period of general climatic warming, there’s no doubt that requests for plants tolerant of hotter, drier environments now reach me much more frequently.

Elsewhere in this site, I’ve described the importance of improving the soils moisture retentiveness and of collecting and storing rain water. Both are essential in the conditions under discussion but a great deal can also be done in the careful selection of plants. Those that originate in warm and dry climates will be most likely to survive. Plants from regions with a Mediterranean climate (which extends of course far beyond the Mediterranean itself) are often both durable enough to survive a hot dry summer and hardy enough to come through a cold winter. Also, a silver or grey appearance to the foliage often betrays a plant’s adaptation to limit water loss; species that display this characteristic are also good dry garden subjects.

Some Plants for Hot, Dry Gardens

Herbaceous perennials and bulbs

Acaena, Acanthus, Achillea, Agapanthus, Allium, Alyssum, Anaphalis margaritacea, Antennaria, Anthemis, Arabis, Armeria, Artemisia, Asphodeline, Asphodelus, Bupleurum falcatum, Calamintha, Centaurea, Ceutranthus, Cerastium, Cdiamaemelum nobile, Cheiranthus, Coreopsis, Cotula, Crambe, Crepis incana, Crinum, Crocosmia, Cynara, Dianthus, Diascia, Dierama, Echinops, Erodium, Eryngium, Erysimum, Euphorbia, Ferula, Festuca, Foeniculum, Gaura, Genista, Glaucium, Gypsophila, Hermodactylus, Holcus, Iberis, Ipheion, Iris unguicularis, Linaria, Linum, Lychnis, Nepeta, Oenothera, Onopordum, Origanum, Osteospermum, Pennisetum, Penstemon, Perovskia, Phlox douglasii, Phygelius, Potentilla, Raoulia, Romneya, Ruta, Salvia, Santolina, Saponaria, Sedum, Sempervivum, Silene maritima, Stachys, Stipa, Verbascum, Zauschueria.


Brachyglottis, Buddleia, Callistemon, Ceanothus, Cestrum, Cistus, Colutea, Convolvulus cneorum, Cytisus, Euryops, x Halimiocistus, Hebe, Helianthemum, Hypericum, Lavandula, Luma, Myrtus, Olearia, Ozothamnus, Phlomis, Potentilla, Spartium, Thymus.

Gardens With Clay Soil

In my account of soil types, I’ve described the advantages and disadvantages of clay soil. But it s true that no gardener with a very heavy clay will ever concede any advantages and I don’t deny that gardening in these conditions can be extremely dispiriting.

My advice of improving a small area at a time with as much organic matter as is available still stands. But in truly extreme conditions those small areas will be found to remain fairly small and selecting plants that are at least reasonably tolerant of the conditions will be the only realistic option. The list that follows includes some of the most reliable; but bear in mind that some are not particularly hardy so the list must be read in conjunction with information on relative hardiness.

Some Plants Tolerant of Heavy Clay

Herbaceous perennials and bulbs

Acanthus, Alchemilla, Anemone x hybrida, Aruncus, Bergenia, Caltha, Carex, Deschampsia, Epimedium, Euphorbia robbiae, Helleborus, Hemerocallis, Hosta, Lamium, Molinia, Panicum, Polygonatum, Primula (many), Prunella, Rheum, Rodgersia, Symphytum.

Trees and shrubs

Acer, Aesculus, Amelanchier, Aucuba. Berberis, Betula, Carpinus, Chaenomeles, Chaemaecyparis, Choisya, Colutea, Cornus, Corylus, Cotinus, Cotoneaster, Crataegus, Deutzia, Escallonia, Eucalyptus, Forsythia, Genista, Hamamelis, Hibiscus, Hypericum, Ilex, Juniperus, Laburnum, Lonicera, Mahonia, Magnolia, Malus, Philadelphus, Pinus, Populus, Potentilla, Prunus, Pyracantha, Quercus, Rhododendron, Ribes, Rosa, Salix, Senecio, Skimmia, Sorbus, Spiraea, Taxus, Thuja, Tilia, Viburnum, Weigela.

Gardens with Extremes of Acidity or Alkalinity

There is a major dichotomy between gardens that display extremes in soil pi I. I or in practice, whilst there are a great many plants that are tolerant of high acidity, rather few are seriously intolerant of it. Or, to put it another way, a plant that will grow well in an alkaline soil will very often grow well in an acidic soil; the reverse isn’t nearly as true, especially with perennials. Very few herbaceous perennials and bulbs must have acidic conditions. 1 think that this difference arises because of the peculiar chemistry of an alkaline soil. Some plants simply cannot take up iron from an alkaline soil; but there’s no comparable chemical problem in acidic conditions.

The lists here therefore are necessarily rather limited but give suggestions of plants for soils at the extremes of the pH spectrum.

Some Plants for Gardens with Highly Acidic Soil

Herbaceous plants and perennials requiring high acidity

Carexpendula, Dicentra, Fritillaria (some), Osmunda, Pachysandra, Tricyrtis, Trillium.

Trees and shrubs requiring high acidity

Acacia, Andromeda, Arctostaphylos, Calluna, Camellia, Cassiope, Cleihra, Daboecia, Desfoutuiuea, Emboihrium, Empetrum, Erica, Eucryphia, Fothergilla, Gauliheria, Kalmia, Ledum. Leucolhoe, Licjitidamber, Magnolia, Myrica, Nyssa, Peniettyu, Phyllodoce, Pieris, Rhododendron, Stewartia, Vacciniuw.

Some Plants for Gardens with Highly Alkaline Soil

Herbaceous perennials and bulbs tolerant of high alkalinity

Acanthus, Achillea, Aconitum, Anchusa, Anemone x hybrida. Arum, Bergenia, Brunnera, Campanula (some), Centranthus, Corydalis, Dianthus, Doronicum, Eremurus, Eryngium (some), Geranium (many), Gypsophila, Helenium, Helleborus (some), Heuchera, Kniphofia, Linaria, Lychnis (most), Paeonia, Saponaria, Scabiosa, Sidalcea, Stachys (most), Verbascum.

Trees and shrubs tolerant of high alkalinity

Acer, Aesculus, Aucuba, Berberis, Buddleia, Buxus, Caragana, Carpinus, Ceanothus, Cercis, Cistus, Colutea, Cotoueaster, Crataegus, Cytisus, Deutzia, Elaeagnus, Euonymus, Fagus, Forsythia, Fraxinus, Fuchsia, Genista, Hebe, Hibiscus, Hypericum, Juniperus, Laurus, Ligitsirum, Lonicera, Mahonia, Malus, Olearia, Philadelphus, Phillyrea, Photinia, Pinus, Potentilla, Prunus (some), Rhus, Rosa, Rosmarinus, Sambucus, Sarcococca, Senecio, Spartium, Spiraea, Symphoricarpos, Syringa, Taxus, Thuja, Vinca, Weigela, Yucca.

Walls in Shade

I’ve linked these sites together, for although their problems are rather different in cause, the plants that will tolerate one will often-tolerate the other. The partially shaded wall presents a problem because it is subject to rather little sun in winter and plants that grow there must therefore be very hardy. The wall in full shade is a difficult situation by contrast simply because it does receive sun; early morning sun in winter when plant tissues are frozen therefore thaw out and damage quickly. If you require wall shrubs for these situations, you will generally find that those on my list of plants for exposed gardens will be generally reliable.

Climbers for Walls in Shade

Akehia, Celustrus, Clematis (some), Hedera, Hydrangea, Muehlenbeckia, Parthenocissus, Schizophragma.

26. July 2013 by admin
Categories: Awkward Shaped Gardens, Garden Design | Tags: , | Comments Off on Gardens | Specific Problem Sites


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