Gardening in shady spots April 13, 2017 10:04
It is a beautiful morning here. At some point today, I'm determined to get an hour out in that garden and get cracking. While I've been enjoying the sunshine, the warmer, sunnier weather has also got me thinking about the quieter, darker areas of the garden. The damp, shady little spots that get a little dappled light, if they are v. good and extremely lucky.
While I am a complete, unabashed sun lover, those shady spots in my garden hold a special place in my heart. For starters, they smell different. The air is fresh and a little damp. There is a little touch of magic about the way the lichen and moss grip to every stone and old tree stump. Little colonies of mushrooms appear at other times of the year. I love grabbing my stowaway chair and literally sitting in amongst it all, soaking it up.
But, what can you grow here? Well, as it turns out, quite a lot.
First things first. Step back a moment. Check where the shady spot actually is. Is it at ground level, but by the time you get to eye level, it is sunny? For me, it is worth taking note of these little details. In the dark confines of one part of my garden, my clematis montana 'Elizabeth' enjoys a cool, shady environment for her roots, while her mass of flowers bask in the light and warmth found in the hedgerow and tree branches overhead. The bonus for me is that I have a gorgeous, flower filled canopy over an otherwise dark area of the garden, which is lush and green with ferns (love these - check out this slightly obsessive pinterest board dedicated to ferns), hostas and a rambling, Hydrangea petiolaris. I'd really recommend this variety of hydrangea if you have a dark corner you wish to 'dress' with beautiful, delicate white flowers. It puts up with ALOT of shade in my garden. It is a little early for flowers yet, but with plenty of new buds forming, the signs are promising. When my clematis starts to wane, this lovely will start coming alive, again, injecting a little contrast into a predominantly green area. If you do decide to plant one, be warned - mine took a little time to 'get going'. It seems quite slow growing compared to other hydrangeas. But given that it puts up with a lack of light and sun, it is worth cutting it some slack and giving it a go.
Now, lets head back down to earth. Ground level. What is the soil like? If you are lucky, you'll have a shady area that is also quite damp. This is much easier to deal with than shady and dry. If you live in the UK, 'shady and damp' is a pretty apt description for much of the year, let alone a part of your garden! This actually provides a distinct advantage because we have plenty of native (and non-native) species that just come into their own in these conditions. Look to nature for plenty of advice on how to grow in these kind of conditions. Shady woodlands are a perfect example. At this time of year, bluebells are starting to transform our woods and coppices - creating dense carpets of blue flowers. The National Trust has a directory of where to find and enjoy bluebell woods in and around cities and towns, as well as in the countryside. Have a good sniff and mooch around one of these and you will find plenty of inspiration for a shady garden.
Now, let's get to the tricky one: shady and dry. Bugger. Hate this combo. A lot of spots under trees have this problem. Particularly around conifers. For me, this is the horticultural equivalent of those old wild west films. Anything goes. You just have to get stuck in, overlook the chaos and make the best of it. To increase the odds of success, as always, Mother knows best. In this instance, Mother Nature. Cyclamen, a nemesis of mine, is perfect here. There is a neglected, rough, dry old bank not far from my house which is full of tree roots and brambles. Cyclamen love it. In my garden? Under my tender, loving care? Not interested at all. But, if you can get these beauties going, you'll have an early shot of colour each year that will grow and spread beautifully.
Lady's mantle is another fantastic 'spreader' for a dry, dark spot. They are all over it like a cheap suit. Long live cheap suits, that is what I say. I think they are rather pretty myself. Plus, they can put up with quite a bit of abuse. So, if your shady, dry spot is regularly used as a football pitch, cricket ground or, to my recent horror, a racing circuit for a plastic police car and first bike (with devastatingly wide, plant smashing stabilisers, obvs) Lady's mantle will tolerate the odd 'offside' incident with remarkable candour.
Another plant that I have had some success with in these conditions is with my old comrade in arms - my camellia. She doesn't give a hoot about 'dry and shady'. Pah! Not a problem for this tough cookie. The flowers are of course, gorgeous, but I LOVE the dark, lush green foliage. Ensure you pick the right camellia for your soil conditions and situation and you'll have a friend for life.
Lastly, don't forget the tropics. I LOVE a touch of the exotic in my garden. Many plants from warmer climes are used to surviving under the dry, shady canopy of whopping great big trees and do really well here. Fatsia Japonica is a real favourite, with it's generous, open hand shaped leaves that just seem to want to grab you and give you a bear hug. Lovely.