Full Member
Posts: 10
Joined: Mon Jun 22, 2009 11:21 pm
Location: Brooklyn

Amateur garden design advice

Hi, I recently moved into an apartment with a very small (400 sf) and shady garden. Except for the deck, most of the garden gets from 4-5 hours of direct sunlight or half a day of tree shaded sunlight. The garden faces west, but buildings, fences and trees block most of the sunlight. The soil ph is about 6.5.

The garden already has some shrubs and plants, but they don't seem to be organized in either an aesthetic way or placed in an optimal growing location. There's a rose bush that is rather leggy next to a rose of sharon that is taking over the space. Overall, the garden seems uneven. It's either overgrown or under-cultivated.

I really need advice on how to nurture and prune the plants in residence and green this space with perennials, ferns, shrubs, and good ground cover plants that are well suited for the space. I've done some work and found some perennials that should do well in shaded zone 6 garden.

Here are pictures (that aren't great) of my garden. I drew a really bad diagram of my garden, but I forgot to include the small coniferous tree. The small hydrangea (at least that is what I think it is) is next to this tree. I also think the rose of sharon is the unknown shrub.

If anyone has thoughts, I'd love to hear them.

The Helpful Gardener
Posts: 7493
Joined: Tue Feb 10, 2004 2:17 am
Location: Colchester, CT


Interesting space; very challenging with the change of levels and narrow entry area to the "bigger" space...

I would love to find out what you tree is; it will be the central plant in the garden any way you cut it, so best to know what it is...more images would be helpful there...

Ferns is a great place to go in a depleted soil (plants look undernourished and I suspect a pretty spent soil). A soil test would be a great idea... try [url=]your state extension service[/url]. Adding lots of humus to the soil would be a good idea; perhaps space for a compost tumbler might be a good idea? Really green too... :mrgreen:

The evergreen is a dwarf Alberta spruce, NOT a great choice for such a shaded area, and you are correct about the Rose Of Sharon and the hydrangea. Lots of pruning info on this site; just use the site search box on the top of your screen and you can access hours of reading there...

I would concentrate on the alley with your tree at first; it is the biggest design challenge and the axis around which the rest revolves... mihgt I suggest a Japanese style path to allow for some plantings in fairly close proximity to stepping stones. Perhaps some Japanese painted ferns? Lovely and easy to grow; I have always loved this plant and combine it with lots of other plants, but particularly love it with [url=]Heuchera 'Plum Pudding'[/url]. Combine that with a [url=]Hosta 'Ginko Craig'[/url] and perhaps some [url=]Lamium 'Purple Dragon'[/url] and a lot of [url=]Ophiopogon 'Nana'[/url], used as a turf around the pavers with pockets of the others in strategic spots...

That'd be a nice start... almost a tapestry from the porch... and low enough where it all would feel ground-coverish without restricting a cramped space even more...

Scott Reil

Full Member
Posts: 10
Joined: Mon Jun 22, 2009 11:21 pm
Location: Brooklyn

Thanks Scott, (Great name by the way, that's my name)

Your advice is much needed. I actually compost now, but at my local farmer's market. I'd like to compost in my new garden provided that I can find a bin that isn't too large.

Re Tree, I'll post more pictures of the tree.

Thanks again,


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