Posted: 28/02/2014 at 09:27
Hi Catherine, although you're north facing you could try Phormiums if you like them. They prefer a sunny position but I've grown them in shadier spots and as long as the drainage is good, they do well. Some of the yellowy/creamy/green varieties will brighten the area too, on dark days I've also used Hebes in the same way - you'll get the structure but fewer flowers. Shrubs like Sarcococca(Christmas box) should be fine too, and you can keep them trimmed to a nice shape if you want a structural look like box but without the expense. Pittosporum is evergreen - lots of colours and shapes with those. not 100% hardy everywhere so just check that. I've got Pernettyas (called Gaultherias now) here which are happy with shade and are evergreen - berries on those too. Hardy geraniums will grow almost anywhere so they would provide you with colour - loads to choose from - and they'll fit your cottagey theme. If you site them at the edges of the wall, they'll often tumble down too. Pachysandras and Tiarellas are low growing and evergreen. Dicentras ( Bleeding Heart) Heucheras, and Polemoniums (Jacob's Ladder) are very useful perennials for shady aspects and Hostas if you can cope with Mr Slug and his friends! Lots of bulbs will be happy there too.
Hope that gives you a couple of ideas - there will be loads more ideas from others here