On the North Side of the House....

Hens and chicks in a tree stump log. 
My ramshackle front yard garden sits north of the house. The earth is partly shaded, and stays frozen until late spring. It is hard with clay and robbed of moisture by birch and spruce tree roots.  Quite inhospitable, but still an ornamental garden is possible. 

My first challenge was to find plants that thrive in the exact conditions they will grow in. This is trial and error, but it helps to observe what neighbours have been able to grow under similar conditions.  Here's a few low maintenance ideas for a cold, mostly shaded garden with dry, clay soil.

Hostas in shade. Spot the bunny sheltering from the rain?

Silver Mound (Artemesia), Pink Moss Phlox and Siberian Iris return each year in the areas with a little sun.  Hostas and Lamium grow in the deepest shade. Cranesbill, a type of perennial geranium, thrives, but it will take over by freely reseeding. Oregano has taken firm hold. 

Last year, I planted a few succulents and sedums. They grow in a broken clay pot, dug into the ground so only the rim shows - a mini garden within the garden. Potting mix replaces the clay soil inside the rim. Only the 'hens and chicks' and hardy sedums survived the winter.

Succulents in buried clay pot.

When the ground is inhospitable and annual flowers struggle to grow in the hard dirt, put out a few pots of flowers, above or buried into the ground, for bursts of color. Use tricks to conserve water, like a hidden reservoir of water under the pot.  Mulches of bark retain moisture too.  Watch each spot in the garden for the amount of daily sun, and plant accordingly. 

'Wave' petunias thrive in pots, but require some sun and frequent watering. Although impatiens are extremely frost sensitive, they have lovely soft colors and thrive in shade. They don't need daily watering, but they do best in moist soil, so don't let them dry out completely.

A few marigolds manage to bloom - and in the sunniest part - portulaca struggles to grow directly in the ground. 


A low creeping blue juniper grows towards the limited sun. A recent addition is a dwarf balsam fir. 

Impatiens -great for shade, but frost tender.

Marigold flowers in an old tree stump. 
Experiment. A marigold was plopped into the centre of an old log and 'hens and chicks' went into another. 

 Hypertufa is strong, durable and light. I made these containers 10 years ago. Sedums are perfect in hypertufa because they are shallow rooted, hardy and grow in poor soil.
I don't have a stunningly beautiful front garden, but I like it. Over the years it has evolved. Now it is cluttered with old tree trunks, rocks, re-purposed clay pots, hypertufa planters and a few pots of  bright flowers. 

North facing low maintenance Edmonton garden

Impatiens in deep shade, and wave petunias in the pot that gets some sunshine