Transform a dull, shady corner into a rockery for spring interest. Many shade-loving plants, such as ferns, ivies, and violas, love the cool, moist but well-drained conditions and will thrive here.
When to plant: Autumn.
At their best: Spring.
Time to complete: 6 hours: preparation and planting.
You will need: Topsoil (if not working on a sloping site).
Selection of plants to use: Attractive large stones, Bugle, Ajuga reptans, Creeping phlox, Phlox stolonifera, Dog’s-tooth violet, Erythronium, Hardy ferns, Hostas, Ivies, Hedera, Violas.
Prepare the soil
If you have a flat site, create a slope with weed-free topsoil in autumn, so it has time to settle. If you have a slope already, weed it thoroughly. Dig in some grit if the drainage is poor.
Select and place stones
Set rocks into the soil, with larger ones at the base of the slope and smaller ones at the top. Bury one third of each stone, and angle them so that rain will run off into the soil.
Check planting positions
In spring, buy your plants. Arrange them around the rock garden while they are still in their pots, to see where they will look best, before deciding on their final planting positions.
Plant and mulch
Plant in the pockets between the stones, then water well. Mulch with composted bark, or similar, to help keep moisture sealed in and to suppress weeds. Water regularly for the first year.
Ferns are a wonderful choice for shady areas. They will grow in the tiniest of dank crevices, as long as they have enough moisture and a glimmer of light. Sunken pits echo the way ferns sometimes lodge themselves in subterranean drains and peer up from the gloom. You can also try growing them under a bench, where little else will thrive.
For dry sites under trees or close to walls, try the male fern, Dryopteris filix-mas, or the evergreen hart’s tongue fern, Asplenium scolopendrium. The royal fern, Osmunda regalis, is perfect for damp areas and looks very effective planted near water.