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Need help designing small shade garden

 
Posts: 205
Location: Northern California Mediterranean climate zone 10b
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Hi all,
I'm trying to do something with the backyard of my building.  The building itself is 3 stories high, and borders the west and south sides of the yard.  My neighbor's house is 2 stories, and borders the east side.  To the north is a 7' wood fence.  There's lots of light, but only a few hours of sun in the morning, in the summer.  That's when it's actually sunny.  In addition, there is a 30' cedar tree which shades the north end of the plot.  A lot of the summer is overcast (I'm right at the beach, in San Francisco).  I'm in zone 10b, Sunset zone 17.  No snow or freezing, rarely gets above 75, altho we do have some hot days.  No rain from May through October, but I can water.

I'd like to build a little forest garden around the cedar tree.  Sort of like a glade in the forest type of thing.  I'd like an open central area where I could put a bench or a chair, and sit and read or knit.  

Most of my experience is in growing food.  I've never designed an ornamental garden.  I need help in picking plants and in placing them.  I'd like it to be colorful and smell nice.  I'm thinking coleus, caladiums, begonias, astilbe, bleeding heart, ferns, flowering maple, Scotch moss, honeysuckle.  I need ideas for height, like a small, pretty tree that flowers or has pretty colors.  Japanese maple?  FLowering cherry? Maybe something that gives fall color, altho that can be dicey here, since it doesn't get cold.

I drew this sketch of the plot, with the measurements added.
P1080486.JPG
yard diagram
yard diagram
 
pollinator
Posts: 337
Location: Chicago
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I always love walking through the gardens out in San Francsico, but have never lived in that climate so am not sure what plants do best.  Why not take a stroll through Russian Hill or down around Pine Grove Park and see what people have growing in their yards? You could also get suggestions at the Botanical gardens.
 
Lori Ziemba
Posts: 205
Location: Northern California Mediterranean climate zone 10b
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Mk Neal wrote:I always love walking through the gardens out in San Francsico, but have never lived in that climate so am not sure what plants do best.  Why not take a stroll through Russian Hill or down around Pine Grove Park and see what people have growing in their yards? You could also get suggestions at the Botanical gardens.



I have a pretty good list of smaller plants.  What I really need is help with design, i.e.-placing things to make a pleasing whole.  Guess I'm better at the trees, rather than the forest!  I would love for someone to take my drawing and add in plants in their proper placements.
 
Mk Neal
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Think of how you will experience this garden.  Do you want to be able to sit under the tree, or in the center of the garden and be surrounded by plants on all sides?  Or do you want to fill the whole space with layers of plants to provide a pleasant view from the house?  Any eyesores you want to screen out with taller plants, or views you want to highlight or frame?
 
Lori Ziemba
Posts: 205
Location: Northern California Mediterranean climate zone 10b
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Mk Neal wrote:Think of how you will experience this garden.  Do you want to be able to sit under the tree, or in the center of the garden and be surrounded by plants on all sides?  Or do you want to fill the whole space with layers of plants to provide a pleasant view from the house?  Any eyesores you want to screen out with taller plants, or views you want to highlight or frame?



I'd like to sit in the middle, more or less.  The area is surrounded by the house, LOL.  There's no view except for blank house walls.  The plants would be the view.  It might be nice to screen out the rest of the yard to the north, to create a private spot.
P1080492.JPG
[Thumbnail for P1080492.JPG]
 
Posts: 133
Location: Dry mountains Eastern WA
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So here’s the way I work out a garden.  In my past life I worked in production greenhouses and because I was young and stupid on my off hours I planted for clients.

Start with the most important area.  So if you’re going to sit in the middle What are you going to sit on and what Main focal point are you going to have/see.  Choose the initial focal point; you will have more than one.  A tree, a pond, a different water feature Or maybe a small raised bed or a piece of art or....start with that focal point.

Then, where are you going to walk?  I think a pathway or walking open space adds to the way a garden looks. Get to your focal point physically and visually. Now you have part of the garden laid out. You have a place to sit, a focal point and a path. Remember to use texture in all your hardscape/ paths. Smooth and rough. A smooth bench.  A rough pebble pathway. Etc.

Will there be other focal points?  Yes. A specimen plant, a trellis against your blank wall/fence. Choose another focal or two ( odd numbers) and choose how you’ll get to them. Think about your open space again; your “ hardscape” and how that will visually get you to your lesser focal points. Lay that out.

Now you have several focal points and some open space.

Group plants around your focal points to enhance your pathways and your focal points.

My friends with formal gardens use lines and circles to enhance or get to their focals.  Cconcentric circles of plants around a focal or lines of plants to a focal.  Even on a less formal garden grouping plants gives impact.  Grouping height.  Grouping color.

Think about the eventual height of the plants you are planting. And think about color.  Do you want a restful landscape? Pinks and blues? Or a riot of color, red, purple, orange.

Think about when plants will bloom and what they will look like before and after blooming.  Will you have to cut them back? Or will they have great foliage before and after. I like to plant so things come in waves. A wave of yellow bulbs followed by a wave of red whatever; a wave of orange in the fall.  Something grouped so that each season you have color massed.

Don’t make your garden all one height.  Use tall and short. Very tall and very short.

Have hidden surprises. One great specimen plant or a piece of art you have to look for. Maybe a great painting on a wall partially hidden.

Don’t clutter. Don’t “ cutesy” it up. It’s a garden. Focus on plants.

The sound and smells of your garden add to the feel.  A very fragrant plant near your bench. A hidden wind chime.

Quit when you’re done.  And don’t try to do a whole complete garden in one year.  Give things room to grow. And see what you love . And you may have to move things.  Although I hAte moving things.

Some planning is essential. You have a drawing...draw and lay out to scale initially your focal and paths.

And most of all..plant what you love.




 
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Wow Janet!! That was exactly what I have been looking for!! Thank you so much!
 
Lori Ziemba
Posts: 205
Location: Northern California Mediterranean climate zone 10b
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Thanks!  Lots to think about.
 
Posts: 42
Location: Vancouver, Washington
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I really like Janet's post. Best to figure out where the eye will focus on first and build from there.  Step by step. When building a bed, I start with the biggest plants first, which are usually in the back of the bed.  What works with the area, colors, shapes and height?  You want plants that will fill it in well, whose final space needs and shape will not need constant work to keep where you want them.  Once you have that vision (and can find the plants you want), move on to the adjacent areas.  You can always use annuals to fill in until you have worked it all out.  It's a journey :)
 
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