In Praise of North Facing Gardens

A few years ago I wrote a guest blog about my north facing garden and how to make the most of all the positives (and there are many). After a year of lockdown, in which the garden has been my place to relax and unwind, I thought it might be fun to review my gardening year. And National Gardening Week seems like a perfect time to do it.

For those of you that follow me on Twitter @renaissancegd you may have noticed that I regularly post using the hashtag #mylittlegarden and I also write a weekly blog to join in with the Six on Saturday meme created by The Propagator. My aim is to show what can be grown in a small north facing plot in the middle of suburbia, and to challenge the myth that a south facing plot is essential to garden happiness.

Over the years my garden has evolved in response to the demands of family life. Originally catering for the needs of small children, it became a place of relaxation for two busy working adults who wanted lots of colour but needed low maintenance. Now it’s back to a space where grandchildren have room to play and can also learn about plants and wildlife.

It has three seating areas despite its modest size (I firmly believe that every garden needs at least three!) The main patio makes the best of the morning sun but being north facing also provides some shade at midday in the height of summer. The arbour in the bottom corner is great for morning coffee from spring through to late autumn and provides a different view across the garden to a small water feature. And the paved circle faces west and is perfect for catching the evening rays.

So how has my little garden kept me entertained in the year of Covid-19? I’ll start at the beginning……

March 2020

At the end of March 2020 the whole country went into lockdown. As we could only leave home for exercise and essential shopping, having a garden became a real bonus. Fortunately, spring had arrived, the weather was good and the garden was poised for action. Everything was bursting with life: just as life as we knew it started to grind to a halt.

The tulips were almost open.

The narcissi and hellebores were flowering away, just as they always do.

And little gems could be found in quiet corners.

April 2020

The reality of lockdown had set in. New design projects just weren’t forthcoming so I had time to enjoy spring at home. The tulips were stunning and I was so glad I planted so many bulbs the previous autumn.

I always have a combination of tulips in pots in various parts of the garden, and a border display that makes the most of a sunny south facing bed.

Having this bonus time on my hands meant I could watch out for the wildlife and an Orange-tip butterfly visitor to the Forget-Me-Nots was a real treat.

May 2020

My one and only job in this month was planting perennial borders in a garden I had planned the year before. I called it my Lockdown Project and you can read about it in a previous blog. I returned to see the garden in question earlier this week, as we are entering the final phase of the design after the house renovations have been completed.

Back to my own garden and the plant stars ranged from the alliums, Purple Sensation in this case,

to Geranium phaeum ‘Lily Lovell’ that flowers in the darkest of corners,

and the poppies whose name I have long forgotten.

June 2020

We still couldn’t socialise with our families, but at home the garden was blooming and there was much to enjoy and be thankful for. I also started to get enquiries from potential clients interested in redesigning their gardens. Lockdown had definitely renewed people’s enthusiasm for gardening. Happy days!

A favourite June flowering perennial in my garden is astrantia and it’s a plant that I also like to use in many planting schemes because of it’s long flowering season. I prefer the red varieties, but there are also pink and white ones that flower equally prolifically. It’s fair to say that I like to use plants that I’m confident will give good value for money in terms of the of length of flowering time, and astrantia is definitely one of them.

Geranium ‘Red Admiral’, which isn’t red at all, but definitely has the wow factor, is one of the many stunning geraniums that I was introduced to at Bluebell Cottage Gardens and it’s definitely a ‘good doer’.

And in June, the lavender was in bloom next to the arbour. A perfect spot for a moment or two of quiet contemplation.

July 2020

At the start of the month there was a brief period when we could meet family in the garden and we thought that was the start of the end of lockdown. How wrong we were….

In the meantime Clematis ‘Madame Julia Correvon’ adorned the arbour regardless of the shenanigans of the virus and our politicians.

The verbena brought in the butterflies.

And the agapanthus provided the blues.

August 2020

The lifting of restrictions was short-lived for us folk in Greater Manchester and it was to remain that way for the rest of the year and beyond. Then one windy day another disaster struck and my sunflower was no more.

But the butterflies kept visiting.

And the gaura was beautifully wafty.

All was relatively well in my little garden world, especially as we could look after our granddaughters thanks to the childcare bubble rules.

September 2020

The start of the month saw our two eldest granddaughters return to school, and the countdown to autumn had begun. Late summer flowers flourished and provided ongoing colour. Penstemon Raven, which had grown in a shady spot, really came into it’s own.

The asters also started to flower. I love this variety although it’s name is a bit of a mouthful. Aster amellus ‘Veilchenkonigin is relatively small and doesn’t need support, so it regularly finds it’s way into my planting plans for late summer and autumn colour. As I specialise in designing and planting small gardens, this compact variety is just perfect.

And as I haven’t shown you a picture of one of my roses yet, here’s Rosa ‘Handel’ which was the first to bloom in early summer and was still supplying flowers in late September.

October 2020

October brought some autumn sunshine and the leaves started to change colour on the Amelanchier.

Geranium Rozanne, which is another favourite ‘good value for money’ perennial, was still blooming.

And there were little golden apples on my crab apple tree.

November 2020

This was the month when we should have been enjoying an annual jaunt to Tenerife. Instead the highlight was the planting of spring bulbs and relishing the relics of summer planting. I decided that I needed more dahlias than just this supermarket offering for 2021 and I’m pleased to report that the tubers are growing well as we reach the end of April.

Mahonia is always a real star of the November garden and this one is visible from the dining room window. I always think it’s important to consider the view from inside the house when planning the planting.

The cotinus is at it’s most beautiful in November, but I had to do battle with the aforementioned mahonia to get this shot.

December 2020

Whilst everything was quiet in the garden, there was still pottering to be done when the weather permitted. I had help as always from a little feathered friend….

So it seemed very fitting that a bird bath would be a good Christmas present for me and the birds.

This wasn’t it’s permanent site but I just wanted to show off the first of the hellebores as well.

As the year came to an end, another full lockdown began, and then it snowed…..

January 2021

January was also very cold but I’m glad I didn’t cut back the asters as they look rather pretty in frost and snow.

As the garden centres were classed as essential shops, I bought a little pot of Cyclamen Coum to go with the first of the snowdrops.

And there was the occasional ray of sunshine.

February 2021

February brought more early bulbs and the prospect of spring on the horizon. The crocus were very popular with the bees and we saw enough sunny days for them to venture out.

Hellebore ‘Penny’s Pink’ played a starring role.

And I discovered a new February favourite in Iris ‘Alida’.

March 2021

And then March returned and we had gone full circle. With one vaccination done and the second due in a week’s time, there is much to be thankful for……. and it’s spring again!

If you made it to the end, thank you very much for taking the time to read about my little garden year. It doesn’t matter how small your garden space is, nature and gardening can bring happiness in times of adversity.

Happy gardening 2021!

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Garden designer, photographer and blogger

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Alison Moore

Alison Moore

Garden designer, photographer and blogger

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