Shades of beauty revealed
DEALING with a shady garden is often seen as diffi cult but this is defi nitely not the case. In fact, over our hot dry summers the gardens with shade can fare the best.
Very few gardens are really in full shade, there is always a modicum of light and there are a larger number of plants that will fl ourish in shade than you may think.
In horticultural writings from gardening books to nursery plant tags you most often will see the term “open sunny position” used to describe the optimal growing requirements of the particular plant being profi led. Nearly all plants need sunlight to survive and the majority perform their best in high light conditions, thanks to the process of photosynthesis where plants turn sunlight into energy – the more light, the more energy.
I can’t go past the freakish looking gunnera with its spiky stems and impressively large leaves
However, there are plants that have adapted to little or no direct sunlight and have developed to be more effi cient with the light they receive.
There are some plants that are exclusively shade- loving or sun- loving but most fall into the grey area where they will tolerate differing levels of light.
Many plants will tolerate shade but their growth may be slowed and stretched and as a result of their weakened state they tend to be more susceptible to pest attack.
Some will do well in shady areas but may fail to fl ower, such as the bearded iris, but a slightly different species, the Siberian iris, will fl ower quite happily in shade.
There are many shade plants whose displays of fl owers will brighten up even the gloomiest of gardens. Shrubs like the waratah, the native mint bush, fuchsia and azaleas all fl ower beautifully and because of their size they can be used to cover ugly fences or walls that are in shade. Astilbe would be one of my favourite shade- loving plants, especially the Japanese form with its mass of crimson fl ower spikes.
The many shades of the different heucheras make for a stunning display if you are after some coloured foliage. There are delicate- looking woodland plants like anemones and bulbs such as snowdrops and lily of the valley. Even good old alyssum fl owers well in the shade.
Another important factor when selecting plants is whether it is dry shade such as underneath large gums, or wet shade, usually in heavier soils that drain poorly.
Daphne and boronia are strikingly fragrant shrubs that will perform well in dry shade. Tufty liriopes, lomandras and dianellas can be used to fi ll out dry, shaded beds with year- round green foliage.
There are many plants for wet shade like ligularia, primulas, native violet and hostas although I can’t go past the freakish looking gunnera with its spiky stems and impressively large leaves.
Ferns are the stalwart of the shady gardener. I like to use larger ferns like dicksonia or the cyathea as a mid canopy while Blechnum species can be used to great effect as an under planting. Soft creeping plants such as baby’s tears or Corsican mint create a beautifully verdant base.
For gardeners with little light and not much soil, clivia, primrose and cyclamen are all great for pots.
Remember, plants lose less water when shaded so they may need less water.