Year-Round Colour under Tree Canopy


The Brief

Arriving right in the thick of a kitchen refurbishment, I was briefed to come up with a planting scheme to inject colour, light and scent into a previously unloved and heavily shaded area of garden. Positioned under a high tree canopy, the bed had become the focal point from the new kitchen and recently laid east facing morning terrace.

My client wanted a beautifully structured bed with year-round interest they could enjoy from the terrace and from inside the house. The tricky bit was achieving colour, light and seasonal interest in an extremely shady, sloping bed, overshadowed by mature trees and the difficult growing conditions underneath them! Additionally, the area links to the pool terrace beyond so my client didn’t want floppy plants spilling out onto the path and obstructing passage.

Whilst the client preferred colourful cottage garden plants like roses, alliums, agapanthus and tulips we had to be realistic about how they would fare in the shady, dry soil. The plan had to be chicken and dog-proof too!

My Design

My plan was to create a modern and elegant woodland scheme to fit beautifully with the new house renovations and terrace, a fairly formal and structured planting scheme to tie in with topiary on the pool terrace. Using plants awarded the RHS Award of Garden Merit to ensure quality and longevity.

I wanted to open up the view from the new morning terrace to the south of the garden, creating a long vista for a bigger, lighter space. This meant removing large overgrown evergreen shrubs left by the builder. As well as using plants with differing leaf shapes, textures and sizes, I suggested incorporating white, variegated plants and white flowers to throw light back under the tree canopy.

Despite the shady aspect, the front of the bed was really bright, perfect for contrasting, sun-loving plants so I wanted to maximise the potential in these areas. Rather than work with the constraints of the slope I suggested raising the level at the rear with oak sleepers and new topsoil, to achieve a more level bed for planting. With large shrubs at the back to create more immediate impact against the tall, established beech hedge.

For immediate, year-round height and interest I proposed the installation of 3 timber obelisks in the middle of the bed, repeating the materials already used in the pool house and the clients’ existing Versailles planters. The obelisks offer the perfect climbing surface for attractive floriferous and scented climbers, adding more colour and scent.

The bed has strong structure with lots of winter and autumn interest from bark, coloured stems, berries, soft moving grasses, late flowering flowers, leaf colour, evergreen interest and box topiary. Flowering bulbs in spring, colourful hellebores and the delicate star-shaped white flowers of the Amelanchier lamarckii. Summer brings swathes of perennials with flowers and scent, soft grasses, bulbs and floriferous climbers.

Using plants that thrive in the difficult conditions has resulted in a full and layered array of colour, shape, texture and movement. Attracting wildlife and emitting a heady scent which really adds to the delights of the morning terrace.

Even providing the perfect venue for my client’s daughter’s 21st birthday celebrations!

Planting Reviews
Although the client has their own gardener to continue ongoing maintenance, since the bed was planted, I’ve carried out two seasonal reviews to check how the plants are growing, address any gaps or congested areas, see if anything needs replacing, improving or pruning.


“Nicola’s ideas were creative and thoughtful. The quality of the plants she procured were top notch. She has transformed what was a nondescript part of the garden into a lovely feature. She listened to our ideas and prompted us with suggestions of colour and plants that we now enjoy all year round.”

Mr & Mrs H, Compton

< Back to Portfolio