Designing a shade border with Sally Gregson

Garden courses

Ref: S1D10892

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About this course

Study a shady border in West Dean Gardens and draw up a planting plan for your own shady garden.

Course Description

Learn how to draw up a planting plan for a shady border or garden, using West Dean Gardens as an example and inspiration. You will discover different types of shade and suitable planting, visit an identified site at West Dean Gardens and review the existing planting, measure/analyse the area and note existing trees/shrubs, take soil samples, work out the structure, test the pH of soil and finally draw up planting plans for the proposed area.

Different sorts of shade and considerations you will learn about include:

Shade under trees and shrubs, which creates an informal woodland atmosphere.

• Often dry with competition from roots, but may have less exposure to wind.

• Seasonal shade under deciduous cover, which is good for spring planting.

• Removal of lower branches and tree limbs to lift the canopy can reveal opportunities.

Shade cast by walls, hedges and fences creates a directional shade, not overhead.

• Consider orientation.

• Often problem of ‘rain shadow’, so plant forward at least 30cm and mulch.

• Cross-winds can cause problems and may need wind block planting.

• Hedges also have roots so bring borders forward to allow a path for hedge maintenance.

Pergolas and tunnels lead the eye and the feet through the garden.

• Quick way to create shade in a sunny garden as the contrast is tangible.

• Green is cool and refreshing in the summer, use spring flowers.

• The wider the path, the slower the feet. Emphasise this with regular pattern repeats such as box balls at intervals or the uprights of pergola/tunnel.

• The smaller the pergola, the fewer the varieties of climber used for maximum impact.

Enclosed town gardens lends feelings of sanctuary and can feel like an outside room.

• Can easily look untidy and messy so keep the design simple.

• Pots, furniture, hard surfaces need to be of similar materials.

• Note where the sun and shade is at different times of day.

• Keep the planting to a limited palette, don't forget green is a colour too.

• Use lighting for effect.


Before making a shortlist of possibilities, you will learn how to identify the pH of your soil, correct planting, mulching, and possibly irrigation for both damp and dry soils and use of annuals. You will also discover how to prepare the ground before planting with organic matter.

Your final planting plans will to include:

• Final lists.

• Combinations.

• Sourcing of plants (Plantfinder on-line).


Timetable for one day courses

Students should arrive by 9am for registration.

Classes are from 9.15 - 5pm

Lunch is included.

Course Materials

What students need to bring

  • Warm and weather proof clothes, as part of the day will be spent in the gardens.
  • A tablet if you have one could be useful for researching plants and suppliers. If not bring some nursery catalogues if you have them at home.
  • Any plant reference books from home.
  • Garden magazines that you find inspirational.
  • Circle guide.
  • Scale ruler
  • Coloured pencils may be useful.

Available to buy

  • Available from shop:
  • Tracing paper
  • Notebook, pens, mechanical pencils/coloured pencils
  • Large A3 drawing pad or large sheets of paper
  • Eraser
Please note: The course will be held in the Sculpture Courtyard and the Old Dairy about 10 minutes walk from the main College building. We return to the main College for lunch.


Sally Gregson

Sally has been tutoring gardening courses at West Dean for over five years. She trained professionally at Hadlow College, and runs Mill Cottage Plants in Wookey Somerset.

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