Unless you have rolling acres and very deep pockets, it is unlikely that you will have a garden that has everything you could desire. Most of us have to do the best we can with the mix of climatic and soil conditions that nature provides, and try to create the rest by innovation. In my very exposed garden there is very little shade and the thin sandy soil is not conducive to growing the majority of shade loving woodland plants, which like moist, humus rich conditions. Therefore when I was given the opportunity to create a shade bed, I was not going to allow the possibility of being able to grow some of the bulbs which require moist shade slip through my fingers. Some of these can be grown successfully in pots, but some, such as Trilliums, do better in the open garden.
When we built the alpine house there was sufficient space to run a long narrow border down the length of the compound next to the solar panels. These face due south and are set at an angle to the vertical to maximise their exposure to the sun, consequently on their northern side they cast a shadow. In theory, all that was required to create the right conditions was to dig out the sand and replace it with a good depth of suitable growth media. We mixed well-rotted manure and seaweed, with garden compost and added some of our sandy machair soil and neutral grit to lighten the mix. It was finished with a top-dressing of coarse, shredded bark and an edge of driftwood logs.
Naively, I had thought that as the bed was sheltered by the alpine house and the solar panels, with a fence at either end, this would provide sufficient shelter from the wind. In fact I had created a wind tunnel. Once again the head gardener/master builder came to the rescue and the new bed was enclosed in a timber structure, of sufficient strength to withstand hurricane force winds, covered in mesh. As ever “cometh the hour, cometh the man”.
Progress has been slow, but after 3 years, the bulbs that have survived are starting to naturalise. The stalwart Galanthus nivalis has been slower than anticipated to settle, G. elwesii is still sulking and G. woronowii is doing well. The erythroniums have formed large clumps in just a couple of years and yesterday I noticed the first trilliums pushing up through the bark mulch. It is still early and although it may be balmy in the south, here off the north-west coast of Scotland it is still wet and windy. However, as the snowdrops fade, there are signs that the shade border has more to offer.