What’s going on in Torquay? – tips on planting in the shade

My apologies to holiday Googlers everywhere.  This is not about the south coast of England’s famous watering hole, but about a small bit of my garden, somewhat dismissivly described by a non-gardening friend as ‘looking like Torquay‘ when it first started to evolve.  If you look at the pictures you will probably see why.

I absolutely love my Torquay – it looks infinitely better than it did when I moved here just over 2 years ago.

Then it was a deeply shady area of straggly and dead grass, with some sentimentally planted ex-Christmas trees plonked into the dry, acid soil, together with a lanky and yellowing caster oil plant and not much else.

The cause of the problem is a vast, spreading yew tree that hangs over it completely.

The die was cast, I suppose, by my removal men, who dumped some of my larger urns and pots of box balls and spiky things (that had been strategically placed around the much larger acreage from which I was moving) conveniently under the tree which is just inside my front gate.

There they stayed – and I got rather used to them as the main item in view from my kitchen window.

In the next few months I dispatched the remains of the grass, hauled out the Christmas trees, the caster oil plant and whatever else was struggling away, levelled the original pots an urns, generally sorted them out and added a tree fern that I was given and a Melianthus major.

I then made a plant-free pathway around them by putting composted bark down to make a natural ‘woodland floor’ and started adding more eye-candy  to the surrounding area – a pleasing population of shade-tolerant shubs, dug in with masses of leafmould and subject to much first-year TLC.

Most of these have glow-in-the-shade white flowers or strongly contrasting foliage, while the whole place gets enlivened throught the seasons by first snowdrops and wood anemones, then hellebores, then white honesty, then white sweet rocket and (mostly) white foxgloves and finally lilies and white nicotiana silvestris.

Maintenance is realitvely easy – but I do have to remember to water the central bank of pots and urns more or less all the year round.


10 thoughts on “What’s going on in Torquay? – tips on planting in the shade

  1. I have recently discovered how effective white flowers are in a shady area. I wonder whether you would have thought to plant the same things in this area if the removal men hadnt put the pots there!

  2. Probably (she replied, smugly). I learnt all about yew shade in my last much larger garden, where the previous owner had many years before planted a Hebe rakaiensis and some Eurphorbia amygdaloides ‘robbiae’ and various other less successful scraps of stuff. By the time I picked up the baton the hebe and euphorbia had spread themselves out right to the outskirts of the canopy, the scraps had all but given up, leaving a space in the middle – where I put an old wooden chair. It looked good, but I hardly ever used the chair because the yew made such a mess. This, in my new small garden is better, and much more fun. Who needs two and a half acres anyway!

  3. I absolutely love Torquay, and all that it stands for, so I can hardly think of it as an insult. I spent ages at Hampton Court admiring the Sun’s wall of begonias!

    But I think your assemblage is much classier than Torquay. (Although they do have traffic roundabouts with echiums on there, which is cool.) I bet they don’t have Kirengeshoma though. It’s a really good solution.

  4. I love what you have done here. This is a great way to show others how to plant in shade. I love the contrasting foliage and the white flowers. The woodland path. It is enchanted. Very bright and thriving.
    Very best Regards,

  5. I read that Helen had to suddenly & sadly downsize- why was this?
    Folowed her since she was near my Cousin Chrissie in Wandsworth Common.

  6. Isn’t it funny how things that seem problematic so often turn out to be the most satisfying. My garden has a very high fence on one side so it’s total shade on the left and belting sun on the right. When I first started gardening I, of course, preferred the frilly, sunny side. Now my favourite is the solid, quietly elegant shady side. You are lucky to have foxgloves and others flowering – mine too shady though I have a small patch of native British orchids which I bought from a specialst at Hampton Court one year.
    There is only one thing better than a tree fern: two tree ferns.

  7. Hello dear Helen

    I don’t seem to have your direct email address.

    Just to let you know that I’ll be in Plymouth from next Saturday. We open ‘King Pelican’ at the Theatre Royal on 5th March and play until 21st… just in case you’re passing through!

    I hope all’s well with you.

    Lots of love

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