Peter Cundall: How to get the best out of shady characters
Gardening guru Peter Cundall explains how many beautifully flowering plants don’t need full sun to thrive and many grown in Tassie do well under the dappled shade of trees
While most of the plants we grow, thrive in full sunlight, it’s a well-known fact that many of the most beautiful flowering plants thrive best in the dappled shade of trees. The most valuable, gentle sunlight they need is received during the early parts of the day, with good shade during afternoons. Few plants produce flowers in deep, sunless shade.
Azaleas and rhododendrons always succeed in the soil beneath most deciduous trees because of the acidic conditions and decomposed fallen leaves. Rhododendrons with very large leaves thrive and flower to perfection in very shady corners, although extra deep shade produces growth buds but few flowers.
The majority of rhododendrons, especially those with small leaves are fully at home in full sun, although flower trusses may become bleached and fade quickly. Exceptions include Pink Pearl which blooms gloriously in full sunlight.
Among the most beautiful of all woodland shrubs is Pearl Flower ... no wonder it was nominated as the Plant of the Century by Britain’s Royal Horticultural Society
Kurume azaleas are also at their best growing in direct sunlight. For dappled or semi-shade the Satsuki hybrids are unbeatable. These are worth searching for because they produce clusters of huge flowers in early summer when most other azaleas have long finished blooming.
Deciduous azaleas - usually labelled ‘mollis’ in many garden centres - are wonderful for light shade. They look particularly good growing beneath Japanese maples because they flower just as the first colourful maple leaves appear.
Many deciduous azaleas on sale are grown from seed and still produce spectacular displays of golden, orange, red or apricot blooms. Mollis azaleas are difficult to propagate from cuttings, unless young soft shoots taken in spring are used.
After lower leaves have been removed, a dozen soft-wood cuttings can be inserted close together into a 150mm pot filled with a moist mix of pit sand and cocopeat. If kept out of the sun and both pot
and cuttings kept enclosed in a clear plastic bag, roots begin to form in weeks.
There’s a brilliant woodland shrub called Enkianthus campanulatus. Despite its long name this wonderful plant is ideal for most cool-climate gardens. Any protected, cool, slightly shady and acid-moist conditions are perfect as long as drainage is good. In spring, the branches are festooned with creamy bells, each marked with crimson stripes. This 3m tall shrub is perfect for growing among rhododendrons and ferns.
The Japanese Star Anise (Illicium anisatum) is another woodland beauty. Being very slow growing means it takes a very long time to become a tree. The aromatic, star-shaped fruit are slightly toxic, so avoid using them.
Viburnums of all kinds tolerate light shade. Most elegant of all is V. tomentosum Maresii, is a small, wonderfully-attractive tree with unusual, horizontal branches. In spring the overlapping sprays of bright green leaves are laced with lovely flat, snow-white flowers, lighting up the light shade in which it thrives.
The Chinese Snowball (V. opulus Sterile) flowers during November. It grows contentedly, even when crowded among other shrubs, but reaches into sunlight in order to flower. The flowering bracts look as though someone has adorned this large shrub with snowballs. Easily grown from semi-ripe cuttings taken in early summer.
I’ve often seen the plant known as the Sacred Flower of the Incas (Cantua bicolor), growing and flowering beautifully in light shady conditions. The long trumpet flowers can be yellow and white, pink, rosy-purple or striped even on the same shrub.
Luckily this rather straggly plant thrives in Tasmania and is often under planted with Spanish bluebells which flower at the same time.
Among the most beautiful of all woodland shrubs is Pearl Flower (Pieris x forrestii). Growing up to 2m tall it becomes covered with drooping clusters of pearlywhite flowers in mid-spring, surrounded by bright red new leaves. Total enchantment. No wonder Britain’s Royal Horticultural Society nominated this amazing shrub as the Plant of the Century.
All these plants can go in right now into any lightly-shaded but empty spots in your garden. And they make fantastic Christmas presents.