The Side Border

“The Side Border” is a short narrow border that runs along the side-access of the house. It faces south, but there’s a great big house right in the way so it gets little sun and is usually shady. The wind tends to whistle down it too.

When we first arrived, this border was full of weeds, rubbish, carex grass and arching high overhead were two large buddleia shrubs and a ceanothus that was attacking the guttering.  The space was dark, claustrophobic, unsightly and a right old mess.

I quickly went to work taking out the large shrubs that were simply unsuitable for that position and clipped back plants that were overhanging the fence to open up the area and just see what I had to work with.

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It stayed like this for some time as I worked in other parts of the garden but eventually I got fed up of seeing the weedy mess everyday so I cleared it back to bare soil, including removing some rather stubborn stumps.

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That’s much better. Since this was a shady spot, there would be lots of opportunity for hostas, ferns and a climbing hydrangea to find a home. These plants are part of the nomadic patio pot collection. The ferns and climbing hydrangea in particular were beginning to suffer somewhat under the increasing glare of the sun as spring moves into early summer. I suspect they would be much happier moved to this shadier spot from the exposed patio.

As has always been the case, it wasn’t a matter of digging a few holes and plopping the plants in. A fair amount of preparation would be needed before even one could go in. Firstly, that mouldy fence needed re-painting. As I scrubbed the mould off the wood in preparation for repainting, I discovered that the fence was previously only painted up to half way along. Three coats of green exterior wood paint later and the fence was sorted. Luckily the wood is still sound and the posts sturdy.

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The soil here is very light and sandy, creating the dreaded “dry shade” conditions that few plants can tolerate. Since this border is small, I decided to raise the level so I could dump a whole load of compost and well-rotted manure to improve the soil and increase water retention. By adding more and more organic matter over time, I should be able to get a lovely rich soil here and a high density of plants.

Raising the border meant I could finally use a roll of log-roll edging that had been sitting, waiting for a purpose for nearly three years; it was part of a border extension plan in the previous garden that I decided not to do. Its length was just right, it was as if it had been waiting all this time for this particular moment to arrive.

Both the fence and the log rolling was protected from the soil by using plastic lawn edging roll as a barrier to stop the moist soil being in constant contact with wood. There was an issue with the path edge, as the concrete frays roughly into the border, I wasn’t able to put the log rolling against the edge, but had to set it back. A flash of inspiration meant I simply got some gravel from the drive and filled in the gap between the edge of the path and the log rolling, creating a neat finish.

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The spade was used to take out several wheelbarrows worth of sandy soil to be replaced with a mix of compost and rotted manure, topping the level up to hide the lawn edging. I dug down pretty deep to break up compacted soil/sand and to try and get out as many stones and broken concrete bits. I took time over this part of the job as I will only be doing it once, so best do it well.

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Adding slow-release fertiliser (I use bonemeal), general purpose fertiliser (such as Grow-more), potash (to help with those flowers for the hydrangea) and mixing in well finally gives a brand new border ready for planting.

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That didn’t take long now, did it? Now for the base plants:

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The climbing hydrangea has been in its pot for so long it’s even flowered in it. There are more ferns and many more hostas to choose from if I don’t fancy these colours, but they should contrast well against the dark green of the fence. I may even try to squeeze in Christmas Box seedlings, but they are still small. You might spot the clematis and think it unsuitable for the shady border but the fence extends out along the width of the very sunny patio, that section gets at least half a day’s worth of direct sun and so I’ve chosen Clematis “Miss Bateman”, brought with us from the previous garden and there is a new acquisition of Rosa Madame Alfred Carrière, a venerable and beautifully scented white climbing noisette rose suitable for a north wall. This rose was spotted during a garden visit and its fragrance captured the other half’s admiration so we’re happy to have one of our own to enjoy.

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The stumps I had previously dug up found use as structures for the ferns to be planted around after having been given a pressure wash to clear soil from the roots.

While I was “shopping” among the patio pots, I decided that there was space for a few more hostas and after looking at the sorry state of the dicentra suffering in the hot sun, I decided to make room for all three of them too. After planting up the border and watering well, the only job that remains is to set vine eyes and wire into the fence to support the rose and clematis as they grow. Luckily the clematis was long enough to reach the top of the fence and be tied into the overhanging cotoneaster from the other side.

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There. Border restoration work done. Together with “that front border” that makes two borders restored. The amount of work needed just to get this little section along side a path done is indicative of the more general work that will be needed to bring this garden up to scratch. By choosing to work on the most visible and visited areas first, I’m getting the most “bang” for my gardening “buck”.

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It will be interesting to see whether the rose, climbing hydrangea and clematis are happy in their new home and whether there is enough moisture in the soil to keep all these thirsty plants happy during drier spells. For the moment though, I’m going to pull up a chair and have a good sit down after all that work.

12 Comments


  1. Well done! When you do a job, you do a job! You were very thorough. If it were me I probably would have cut several corners, but you will benefit by doing it right in the beginning. And the border looks great already.

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    1. Hi Jason, thanks, believe me it was tempting to skip the boring and tedious bits, especially when all I wanted to do was planting, but I justified it by telling myself that I will only be doing it once and so it’s best done properly, I’m a big believer in that sort of philosophy.

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  2. That was a lot of work but really worth it. It is a great improvement and, with the plant selection you made, maintenance should not be a problem.
    In my previous garden I had a nice climbing hydrangea. Here I have not had much success with them (tried it 3 times), and have no idea why. It might be too dry to them.

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    1. Hello Alain, I couldn’t believe how much work it was for such a short narrow strip and a tiny part of the overall garden, but it has made a big impact and it’s a high visibility/high traffic area. I hope the climbing hydrangea takes off, but I’ve been told they are slow to establish so patience will the the key to this one.

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  3. Morning Sunil! Looking good! and I must say that if it was my garden, I would have laid a membrane and covered it with gravel ….. but of course, now it’s done, it’s fabulous. What do you use to keep slugs out? (That’s one of the reasons I don’t grow hostas – the other reason is that my entire garden is hot and dry) I don’t use slug pellets and have just found something called “slug wool” which you put round plants and evidently they can’t travel over it. Well, that’s the theory, anyway, but as I have just bought 2 new violas, I will give it a try. It’s glorious just now, isn’t it? Take a couple of days off and put your feet up!

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    1. Hi Mrs Mac, at times it felt I should have just concreted it over, but I had an idea for a shady ferny hosta-ry border and when I want something, well you know the rest. I use slug pellets to keep slugs off the hostas (the label says they’re pet and wildlife friendly for some reason that I can’t recall). It could be the time of year, but when we first moved in, they seemed to be everywhere and so I got into the habit of taking a pot of bleach water around with me so I could quickly do away with any that I spotted on my rounds, but recently, they’ve almost all but disappeared from the areas of the garden that I’ve been working on. Perhaps they’ll reappear in Autumn? Hope not.

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  4. It looks great! How satisfying to see a job through to completion, having used plants from the patio. Interesting use of the roots as architectural accents. Very clever! 🙂

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    1. Hi Tammy, I’ll let you in on a secret, using the stumps wasn’t clever, it was laziness, I couldn’t be bothered to take them to the tip so I just put them in the border with the plants, that way, I didn’t have to worry about how to get rid of them.

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  5. That’s an amazing transformation; I’m impressed by how many plants you managed to fit in there. I have very sandy soil, and I agree that preparing the soil for plants is 90% of success. Especially with plants that like moisture, I find it helpful to bury a soaker hose under mulch and connect it to a hosepipe to water for 1-2 hours a week during dry periods (although, come to think of it, you might not get any dry periods in England 🙂 ).

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    1. Hi Jean, I do tend to cram plants right in and these were mostly adult sized. I’m known for my high density, intensive planting! I just like borders to look cosy. Hopefully the border will be relatively good at retaining moisture, otherwise the hose pipe and tap are conveniently only around the corner.

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  6. You have made a small piece of Eden here in a very unexpected spot ! It is beautiful : )
    I love your choice of plants .. they will fill in and look so lush and beautiful.
    I very ingenious plan to green up a barren spot .. I would pull up a chair as well just to gaze upon a wonderful project well done !
    Joy : )

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    1. Hello Glenn, thank you for your kind comments. That side border is only a path between the front and the back but it is seen so often that I thought it was worth making it look nice. I hope the planting stays lush and green and the climbing hydrangea and rose do well, I’ve put enough effort into the soil for it!

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