Creating a Basement Garden

Lack of sunlight need not prevent you from turning a basement into a colourful garden, if you use the available space for shade-loving pot plants or hardy climbers. Select plants with foliage in a range of shapes and hues to till awkward corners with fresh, verdant leaves. Blend pure white flowers with vivid, scorching reds and pinks.

Most of us have, at some time, looked down on a small basement as we walked along a city street to see a garden overflowing with foliage and flowers. Proof enough that with the right plants even a dark, shady corner can become a bright splash of colour.

The basement floor


This will be the most shady position, an ideal area to grow shade-tolerant evergreens with interesting foliage that will form a verdant background all year round. Small conifers or Box in tubs could be trimmed as topiary to provide interesting shapes. Include some flowering shrubs too, like early spring-flowering Camellia and later, sweetly-scented Mexican Orange with its dainty white flowers. Many Hydrangeas will put up with shade and reward you with large heads of pink, white, blue or wine-red flowers later in summer.

Using the walls

basement-climbing-plantThe surrounding walls can be used to great advantage, as plants here will receive more light and may even see the sun. Paint the walls white to help reflect any available light. You could even display an imaginary view by painting an arch or doorway on the wall, training climbers on vine-eyes around it and then painting in a distant view through the open ‘door’. A mirror, strategically placed, can also add light.

Climbers are a first choice for walls. Many of these enjoy having their roots in shade and their heads in the sun and so will grow well in large containers on the basement floor. Mix flowering climbers like Clematis and Roses with evergreens like Ivy and Honeysuckle – these will help to cover the walls in winter.

While climbers are growing, hang half-pots in the spaces in the walls, or build a shelf on which to stand containers of flowering and trailing plants.

Hanging baskets can provide annual colour. Use them for Primulas in spring or Pansies with small-leafed and variegated Ivies then replace with Petunias, Dwarf Morning Glory, and Fuchsias in summer, all of which will tolerate some shade.

Steps and doorways

Where there is room line the sides of steps with containers. If these lead down to a front door choose flowers in a colour scheme that tones with the front door itself. Pots in matching colours look best but large plastic tubs (such as those containing textured wall coverings) can also be used. Clean them well, make holes in the bottom for drainage and paint them to pick out flower colours.

Use any wall space around the door for troughs, half-baskets and hanging baskets and line boxes along window ledges. If you grow fragrant flowering plants near doors and windows the perfume can be enjoyed indoors as wellas outside on warmer summer days.


Extra decoration can be added to a basement garden by including rocks and pebbles in interesting shapes or colours and pieces of gnarled wood. A stone statue would add elegance – or you could even line gnomes up the step sides.

Even though space will be at a premium, careful consideration of the floor area and positioning of plants can allow you to make room for a seating area or perhaps an ornamental bird bath. A wooden bench or wrought iron seat could be positioned against the wall, with climbing plants trained to grow around it. An ivy could be encouraged to train up the pedestal of the bird bath.

Practical pointers

  • Make sure air bricks are lett uncovered, as lack of air circulation tinder inside doors can lead to wood problems such as dry rot.
  • Use trellis or horizontal lengths of wire to train climbers up
  • Stand pots on shingle to provide good drainage.
  • Keep a garden diary and note down when the garden lacks colour, so that when replacing plants you can choose how to fill the gap.

Shade-tolerant evergreens for the basement floor

  • tree-ivyLaurel has glossy bright green leaves and white flowers in spring.
  • Box has small glossy, green leaves and can be clipped to form in interesting shape.
  • Camellia lets broad, oval glossy and leathery leaves and red, pink or white flowers in spring.
  • Tree Ivy has large green leaves and small pale green flowers in autumn. Pinch out growing tips for a bushy plant.
  • Japanese Aralia, related to Tree Ivy, has large, deeply fingered and decorative leaves. ‘Variegated has white-margined leaves.
  • Skimmia has narrow leaves that fire aromatic when bruised and white fragrant flowers in clusters in spring. Roth male and lemale plants are needed to produce the red berries through winter.
  • Mexican Orange has shiny dark green leaves and fragrant white flowers in late spring.

Some suitable climbers

  • Berberidopsis corallina likes shelter and shade so is ideal for a basement. It has dark, leathery leaves and crimson flowers in late summer on drooping steins.
  • Ivy ‘Variegata’ has large leaves splashed with cream
  • Clematis is a vigorous climber with tenacious stems. Most will grow well with roots in the shade and flowers in the sun. ‘Nelly Moser’ has large blush-white flowers with a bright pink stripe, Tasurstern has large lavender flowers, macropottilo has tiny Hue, flowers in April or May. Both grow quickly and are covered in smallish, star-shaped flowers. C. napitulensis has yellow, bell like flowers.

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