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I have a bed that is next to a wall, the bed is on the east side of the wall, NW England. As the bed has been dug out, I can control what soil I put in. Will heathers cope with not being in sunlight all day?

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The two genus generally classed as heaths, lings or heathers are Calluna or Erica. Calluna won't tolerate lime in the soil, but there are some varieties of Erica that will, though generally, the larger proportion do not like it. What all these plants have in common, though, is a liking for an open and sunny position - given your bed faces east, although it may get quite a bit of sun in summer, given the longer days, in winter, it will only get morning sun. If the aspect is open in front of that bed, and there's nothing that may shade it, like surrounding buildings or trees when the sun is low in winter, you might get away with it. You could try one or two to see what happens, but I'm not sure I'd recommend you plant the whole thing with heathers, unless it is very open.

Regarding soil conditions, if you know your soil is alkaline, even if you 'import' ericaceous soil to fill the bed with, over time it will revert to more or less the ph of the surrounding area anyway. If your soil is neutral, then there's a better chance of success for longer.

UPDATED ANSWER

Other ideas for planting - primarily, low maintenance shrubs, mostly evergreen, mixed colours, with bulbs and ground cover. You've said the bed is 3 feet deep by 15 feet long, it has a wall behind it and a driveway nearby. 15 feet long, whilst it might sound a lot, isn't actually - if you imagine the average smaller shrub gets 3 x 3 feet high and wide or more, you can see 5 shrubs that size will fill the border from side to side and front to back. So when you check out the plants listed below, consider not only their leaf size and shape, colour, growth habit, whether they're deciduous or evergreen, but also their spread, to make sure you don't have to go out with a machete after 3 years. Here's a list of ones to consider - I certainly am not recommending you get them all, but have a look at the list, decide what you like, then try to decide how to arrange them in your border. It's easiest to do that on a piece of squared paper, drawn to scale. All are hardy, the majority evergreen - where exceptions are listed, its mentioned

Sarcococca varieties

Skimmia varieties (be sure to get a male and female plant if you want berries)

Euonymus fortunei varieties - Blondie is a particularly brightly coloured one.

Osmanthus goshiki

Mahonia aquifolium

Liriope varieties (some have variegated leaves)

Iberis sempervirens

Berberis (deciduous) atropurpureum 'nana'

Brachyglottis 'Sunshine'

Miniature daffodils such as 'Tete a Tete'

Crocus

Crocosmia 'Lucifer'

Hebe youngii (listed H4 hardy, meaning you might lose it in a very, very cold winter)

Euonymus alatus (deciduous)

Yucca flaccida 'Golden Sword' (listed as full sun, but they tolerate some shade)

Phormium 'Sundowner' - has dark red and light red streaked leaves, listed as full sun, but colour's better in part shade

Phormium 'Cream Delight' or 'Yellow Wave' - again, colour is best with some shade.

Phormiums may die in a very severe winter (as in the one we had in 2010)

Ground cover: Campanula portenschlagiana (syn 'muralis' NOT C. carpatica or any of the other ones at the garden centre), Ajuga reptans, Lamium 'White Nancy' or 'Beacon Silver'

You could also add Verbena bonariensis in between plants towards the back - a tall, light, wiry, narrow perennial which seeds itself - original plants may die in a very wet and cold winter (f you live in or near Manchester, wetness will probably be a consideration).

If you think the soil is acid enough, you could add Rhododendron, azalea type, but most of those are deciduous.

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  • As there is a driveway on one side of the bed and a wall on the other side, any imported soil will only be in current with the current soil at the bottom. I have bug out to about 1 foot deep. – Ian Ringrose Apr 2 '16 at 15:44
  • Can you think of a better option then heather to give year round interest? – Ian Ringrose Apr 2 '16 at 15:45
  • yea, absolutely - how big's the bed? And do you only want low growing stuff, not higher than, say, 3 feet? Less? – Bamboo Apr 2 '16 at 16:45
  • The bed is 3 feed wide by 15 feet long, we don't want anything that will overhand the driveway. Height wise we don't want much over 3 feet, but 2 or 3 plants could be higher. – Ian Ringrose Apr 2 '16 at 17:26
  • I'll have a think, pity its only 3 feet from front to back, hard to get any kind of layered effect with a border that narrow... think I'll have to add a list of names to the main answer rather than under comments... what about exposure, is the area very exposed to cold winds? Are you anywhere near the coast (warmer nearer the coast)? – Bamboo Apr 2 '16 at 17:45

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