SHADE DWELLERS

A shady patch of soil - on the cool side of the house, un­der trees or along a south fac­ing wall - is an op­por­tu­nity to grow some of our most beau­ti­ful plants.

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Leaves that evolved to catch the light give us richly con­trast­ing shapes, tex­tures and colours - big and bold, glossy, fine and lacy, or frilled and crin­kled. Flowers are more re­strained in shady spa­ces, but they’re by no means ab­sent.

Cold-hardy plants for shady spa­ces, par­tic­u­larly un­der trees, in­clude glam­orous ‘wood­land’ plants such as hostas, ferns and helle­bores. Boldly colour­ful Heuchera and Heucherella also fit this scene. Di­cen­tra (bleed­ing heart) is one of those trea­sures that’s much eas­ier to grow in Dunedin than it is in Auck­land. But many ‘cool-climate’ plants can be grown in a warm climate when given some shade.

Where there is a warm shel­tered spot with no frost, the choice of shade lov­ing plants ex­pands to the sub­trop­i­cal trea­sures like vireya rhodo­den­drons and clivias in rich orange or yel­low. With thick, strappy leaves, clivias look amaz­ing mass planted un­der trees, as do NZ na­tive renga renga lilies with their masses of lit­tle white lily flowers. Strongly struc­tural bromeli­ads make ex­cel­lent con­tainer plants for a shady front porch. Or for quick colour in pots, try im­pa­tiens or cy­cla­men.

NOT ALL SHADE IS THE SAME…

All plants need light for pho­to­syn­the­sis and no plant will grow in com­plete dark­ness, but many are adapted to life with less sun. ‘Full shade’ ex­ists be­neath the spread­ing canopies of ma­ture trees or be­side a tall wall or hedge. De­cid­u­ous trees cast full shade dur­ing summer but let the light through in win­ter, hence many ’wood­land’ plants do their flow­er­ing in very early spring. ‘Heavy shade’ be­neath ev­er­green trees or a build­ing that casts its shadow all year-round is the hard­est to work with. One so­lu­tion is to grow plants in con­tain­ers that can be moved to a brighter lo­ca­tion to give them some time in the light.

It is far eas­ier to find plants for ‘par­tial shade’, where they get three to six hours of sun each day. Many will grow well in part or full shade, but they’ll re­ward you with more flowers if you give them more sun. Be­cause to pro­duce the en­ergy it takes to make a flower, a cer­tain amount of sun­light must first be trapped in the leaves.

OPPOSITE, CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Clipped Buxus with white Astilbe; Heuchera 'Fire Alarm’; cream Clivia flowers; Epimedium sul­phureum ground­cover, rhodo­den­dron flower. RIGHT: Heucherella 'Stop­light' com­bines nicely with Tiarel­las and Hostas

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