When talking about plants with new clients, one of the things that I hear from people most often is ‘I’m terrible with gardening - I just kill plants’. People often think that they are are terrible at looking after plants, when actually what has happened is that they have accidentally put a plant in a spot where the conditions just aren’t great for its survival. Even knowing something about plants, I’ve done it myself - thinking “I know that my garden is predominantly in shade, but this bearded iris/echinacea/agapanthus is just so lovely that I’ll just try planting it in this spot and maybe it will work”. Ninety percent of the time it doesn’t. It either clings on for a season and then disappears, begins diminishing straight away, or in the case of my iris, produces loads and loads of leaves in an attempt to harvest more sunlight but none of the beautiful blooms that I was hoping for.
Getting plants to grow is often a case of being green-minded, rather than green-fingered, and thinking laterally to try to create the look that you want with plants that are more suited to your aspect and soil. You may not easily be able to grow a particular type of plant, but there may be something that gives the same effect but is more suited to the conditions in your garden.
As an example, Iris germanica, the bearded iris will generally need at least six hours of sunlight per day to bloom well. If you have a garden that’s partially shaded (with fairly moist soil), you could try a Siberian Flag iris, Iris Sibirica, which is perhaps not as showy, but lovely all the same. If your garden is totally shaded all day, Iris cristata, the Dwarf Crested Iris will still do well in full shade, and you’ll grow to love its diminutive beauty.
If you’re not sure where to start with a particular plant, have a think about the types of places that it grows in the wild, or the climate that it originally comes from. A plant like Agapanthus, which originates from South Africa, evolved in a sunnier, hotter climate than ours. Growing it in the UK, it makes sense then that it will need full sun, and will fare less well in colder areas of the UK.
Lastly, if you love a particular style of planting, but your garden isn’t suitable for growing that type of plants, it’s better to embrace what you have rather than trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. If you have a shady courtyard garden, you might not be able to grow a showy riot of colour, but you can create a wonderful, lush green environment, and flowering woodland plants often have a delicate, less obvious beauty.