Planting For Shade
A south facing garden may be one of the top ‘wants’ when purchasing a house, but to me it’s not ‘the be all and end all’. Gardens with other aspects – even north – can be just as practical, if not more so. Yes, it’s nice to have a sunny garden, but it is also beneficial in many ways to have shady areas. Whether it’s a place to sit comfortably when the sun is too hot (it can happen!), somewhere to have the kid’s trampoline/climbing frame/sandpit – without having to worry about them spending too long in the sun, major sun cream application, ‘Where’s your hat?’ etc etc…
My first garden was northwest facing (we couldn’t quite stretch to one of the houses with a south facing garden on the other side of the street!). After the initial slight feeling of disappointment with its aspect, I quickly grew to love it. Throughout the day there was always a sunny patch one place or another, which made it super practical for the young family that we were. The warmth from the sun was available, but whether we chose to be in it or not was our decision. I was able to experiment with plants for shade and part-sun. I didn’t have the chore of daily watering in summer to keep these plants alive, and it opened my eyes to the fact that there are so many fabulous plants for this kind of garden!
My current garden gets a lot of sun, but there are two beautiful (yet ginormous) trees on its boundary which means the bottom half of the garden is shaded from the sun more and more as the afternoon goes on. Nevertheless I am happy about this – I love so many shady plants that I’d be upset if I had nowhere to put them!
Here are a few of my absolute favourite plants for full shade (less then 3 hours of sunlight a day) or partial shade (3-6 hours of sunlight a day). Its useful to know whether your shade is dry or wet – dig down a few cms and check how moist the ground is underneath. Then when choosing plants make sure you get the right ones for your conditions.
There are many different varieties of Euphorbia (also called spurge). Euphorbia amygdaloides var. robbiae is great for dry partial shade or under planting of trees. The combination of glossy dark green evergreen leaves and the bright lime green/yellow flowers above are a striking sight in the spring garden.
Hellebores (Lenten rose, Christmas rose) are beautiful – another fabulous winter/spring plant with year round glossy green foliage and flowers in a range of colours including pink, yellow, white and purple. They rise up on stems over winter and can flower beautifully until early summer – another great plant for spring interest. Some people cut the old foliage off once the flower stems appear, leaving them to take centre stage. Soil should be well drained (neither too dry or too moist).
Not to be confused with the house/bedding plants that are wrongly known as geraniums (actually called pelargoniums), geraniums are hardy herbaceous plants that often have a long flowering season – some from spring to autumn – and come in a variety of cooler colours – blues, whites, pinks and purples. There is a geranium for every garden – sun, shade, dry, and damp. Geranium Rozanne has stunning violet flowers from June to September and thrives in well-drained partial shade. Rejuvenate by removing the old flower stems mid summer and it will go on to provide colour in to autumn. Another favourite of mine, for its small deep purple (almost black) flowers, is Geranium phaeum (although it only flowers for a short time – late spring/early summer).
Hostas (plantain lily) are summer flowering, large leaved plants that love partial to full shade. They are incredibly easy to look after and are available in a variety of leaf colours, sizes and shapes. Emerging from the ground in mid spring, and dying back in winter, their early summer bell/funnel shaped flowers develop on tall stems, growing up to 1.5m high. Be warned though – slugs and snails LOVE these plants so if you have a major slug problem it is advisable that you keep your hostas in pots to limit the damage. Beautiful alongside other shade lovers such as heucheras and ferns.
Hydrangea anomala subsp. Petiolaris (climbing hydrangea)
This is a beautiful climber suitable for a north facing or any partially shaded spot. It also thrives in sunnier areas so isn’t just relegated to shade, although flowers don’t last as long in hotter spots. It’s reasonably slow growing but the beautiful lace-cap white flowers that appear mid summer are totally worth the wait. It climbs using aerial roots so will clamber up a wall or along a fence on its own – no assistance needed!
Other perfect plants for shady areas include aquilegias, alchemilla mollis, heuchera, ferns, astillbe, bergenia, and brunnera.