Peter Cun­dall: On the best spots for shady char­ac­ters

When asked for a so­lu­tion for land­scap­ing a steep, gloomy site on the south­ern side of a home, PETER CUN­DALL turned to Tas­ma­nia’s nat­u­rally oc­cur­ring cool-tem­per­ate rain­for­est for in­spi­ra­tion

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - TASSIE LIVING - with Peter Cun­dall

The ef­fect was en­chant­ing ... the own­ers were de­lighted say­ing it was like liv­ing in a rain­for­est

Many years ago I was asked to land­scape the south­ern side of a new home. It had been con­structed on a dif­fi­cult, steep site. This meant great masses of soil and clay had to be ex­ca­vated from the side of the hill to cre­ate a level base.

The house fin­ished up deeply em­bed­ded into the slope, although there was still a size­able space between the rear of the house and a newly-cre­ated bank. Un­for­tu­nately this area was par­tic­u­larly gloomy and re­mained al­most per­ma­nently wet due to con­stant seep­age from above. De­spite this, the own­ers wanted a se­lec­tion of in­ter­est­ing plants to be viewed from the rear win­dows.

My so­lu­tion was based on ob­ser­va­tions while walk­ing through Tas­ma­nia’s cool rain­forests where a wide range of un­der­Beard storey plants thrive in ex­tremely shady con­di­tions with vir­tu­ally no top­soil – just rot­ting veg­e­ta­tion. So I de­cided to plant a small rain­for­est in the shel­tered moist gloom at the back of the new house.

Af­ter in­stalling sub­soil drainage pipes, I planted a clus­ter of large tree ferns, sur­round­ing and un­der-plant­ing them with dozens of smaller ground ferns and a few ex­otic un­der­story plants such as Lamium (Var­ie­gated dead-net­tle) and Aaron’s (Hyper­icum ca­lycinum). Most were planted in ir­reg­u­lar groups and many care­fully in­serted into soil pock­ets in the wet clay bank.

Fi­nally the sur­face was cov­ered with a thick layer of rot­ting, acidic or­ganic mat­ter, mainly pine bark and an­cient saw­dust. A cou­ple of moss-cov­ered logs were then added and fi­nally, gar­den light­ing and a sprin­kler sys­tem in­stalled. The ef­fect was en­chant­ing. The own­ers were de­lighted say­ing it was like liv­ing in a rain­for­est.

That was 40 years ago. Last time I saw the gar­den was about two years ago and it had hardly changed. The only main­te­nance needed was to oc­ca­sion­ally prune off dead fern fronds.

Few plants tol­er­ate gloom so at first

these places ap­pear dif­fi­cult to land­scape. Yet ex­ces­sively shady spots can be found in ev­ery gar­den, be­neath large ever­green trees or shrubs or ad­ja­cent to south­ern sides of build­ings.

Of­ten deeply shaded ar­eas de­velop over many years as dom­i­nant plants grad­u­ally mo­nop­o­lise the light. Most or­na­men­tal plants are af­fected be­cause they need some sun­light in or­der to flower and in too much shade pro­duce only leaves. Ex­cess shade is the most com­mon rea­son why many plants ei­ther fail to flower or stop do­ing so.

Even hardy bulbs such as daf­fodils and jon­quils grad­u­ally cease to bloom when over­hung by large, ever­green trees or shrubs.

Most large-leaved rhodo­den­drons are nor­mally planted in shady places, yet fail to form flower buds in deep shade, in­stead pro­duc­ing only growth buds. This fail­ure oc­curs even more so with other so-called shade lovers such as camel­lias and aza­leas.

One so­lu­tion is to ruth­lessly prune away over­head branches or even take out en­tire plants to al­low in more sun­light. An al­ter­na­tive is to lift suf­fer­ing plants and re­plant them where there is more light.

Other prob­lems associated with plants in too much shade in­clude many fun­gal dis­eases. Stressed roses try­ing to grow in shade are al­most al­ways at­tacked by pow­dery mildew, apart from pro­duc­ing few blooms.

Pests such as green­house thrips also love dry shade. They mul­ti­ply rapidly, turn­ing the leaves of rhodo­den­drons, aza­leas, vibur­nums and Lily-of-the-Val­ley tree, sil­very as they suck out sap.

Good con­trol is achieved by reg­u­larly wet­ting the bone-dry un­der­sides of leaves where these mois­ture-hat­ing pests live.

Black sooty mould on camel­lia or citrus leaves is a clear in­di­ca­tion of soft scale in­fes­ta­tion. These pests thrive on branches and leaves which re­ceive less sun­light. Spray­ing with white oil gives only part con­trol in such con­di­tions.

Plants which are most able to tol­er­ate deep shade in­clude most ferns, Au­cuba japon­ica (Ja­panese Lau­rel), Lamium spp. (Var­ie­gated Dead­net­tle) Hed­era spp. (Ivy) and Hyper­icum ca­lycinum (Aaron’s Beard).

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