Blank Canvas Needs Help!

(Zone 5a)

I have recently taken ownership of an abandoned Victorian house in central Vermont (Zone 5a) with a side yard that is reached by steps off the wrap-around terrace and I think it would be beautiful as an English cottage garden with large bushy plants & flowers. The soil is very rich but it is mostly shaded at the edges due to neighboring house, trees, etc. I can't count on much sun except in the middle which has a nice carpet of green grass.

I would love someone to help me with my plant purchasing for this spring... I am looking for big show with little maintenance. I really like the overflowing look. I have read many suggestions on this site, and I thought maybe someone would like to design this blank canvas! The rock wall on the right would be a great backdrop, and I will be painting the house's exterior wall on the left (now white) a colonial blue. This area is sort of private and enclosed, so I'm not worried about "matching" anything.

I'd love some help! (Huge Caveat: I'm on a very tight budget!)

Thumbnail by wcorbin
(Zone 5a)

Sorry - How rude! That last image is huge and will take forever to enlarge. Here's a reduced one with two views...

Thumbnail by wcorbin
Appleton, WI(Zone 5a)

Hi W,
I'll open things up I guess with a few questions.

Are the existing plants along the right side staying?
Are you looking for a border planting for around the entire yard there or just the one side?
you said it's about 50% shade or so?

There certainly are options, just want to know how much space you want left.

(Zone 5a)

Hi Al,

The "existing" things along the right side of the photo (South) are sort of miniature trees that area good privacy barrier in the summer, so I think they'll stay and just be trimmed cleaner. But on the ground below them, is just junk and I could clean it out. That whole side, though is shaded all day under the trees. The area between the ground and bottom of short trees is 3 feet high. I tried to just re-seed the grass under there, but it wont grow.

On the left side of the photo, by the house, the ground stays very wet. The roof runs water off about 1 foot from the wall and as you move toward the balcony, there is a big triangle corner under the dining room window (where the wood pile is now) - This says VERY wet and the ground is shaded from the balcony.

The dirt area at the bottom of the stairs was a ramp that I removed and it is very compact. I was thinking about putting a stone walkway or something, since its already packed. Then maybe sun loving big stuff on the left side and the grass is on the right, up to the shaded area. I don't really need much space - I'll maybe put a chaise chair and a cafe table, maybe a little pond???

Appleton, WI(Zone 5a)

OK - I got you a starting point to go thru and see if anything looks good.
These plants are pretty much the safest bet for your site.

Thumbnail by bigcityal
Long Island, NY(Zone 6b)

AL - that looks great. May I also suggest a vine on the fence? You can also dapple in some plumbago and impatiens.

New Haven, CT(Zone 6a)

Hey, Al, wanna draw me a plan too?
: )

For a cottage garden reference, I'd recommend Stephen Westcott-Gratton's "Creating a Cottage Garden in N. America"--I just got it myself, and it's been very helpful so far, though not surprisingly, a lot of the recs are for sun-loving plants.

Also, for shady, damp spots and the cottage-y look, DEFINITELY siberian irises (and maybe other irises as well). Some other shade plants that are the right "look":
myosotis + brunnera (for edges or filling in), polygonatum, astrantia (for some drama), astilbe, aruncus (for height and frothiness), lily of the valley (if you can keep it contained), dicentra (surround it by other stuff so it doesn't look bare when it dies back, or get d. eximia, whose foliage persists), plus tiarella would be great, and of course some ferns.

Don't forget bulbs as well. In fact, for getting started this year on a tight budget (oh, I can relate), here are my tips: buy some perennials from Bluestone (good plants for not a lot) or from Spring Hill Nursery (request their catalogue soon, and anything you order by april 19 is 1/2 price); get some seeds of annuals for this year to fill things in, and buy a bunch of bulbs in the fall. If you start out with a few things, you'll get more of a feel for the space, and by next spring (when you've hopefully either saved up more or amassed some gift certificates!), you'll have a better idea of what you need/want to put in to complete it.

Long Island, NY(Zone 6b)

wintersowing seed also saves alot of money - and gives you a huge return!

Southern, CT(Zone 6a)

I don't think you can beat Van Engelen for price with decent quality for bulbs.

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