Anne looks at summer plants for dry shady areas
QWe have a dry shady bed backed by a mature hedge with trees. Using lists of suitable plants I’ve attempted to introduce a few shrubs and perennials. Some have taken and provide spring interest, but how can I make this more attractive in summer?
Terence Smith, Tetbury, Gloucestershire
ADry shade is a good mimic of woodland conditions, where forest-floor plants come into leaf, flower and set seed from February to June. During this period the soil is still moist from winter rain and light penetrates to the ground before a leafy canopy from deciduous trees knits together.
After this, many plants go dormant, dying back to bulbs or tubers. The rest fall back on reserves of fleshy roots to tide them over the dry periods. In a dry, shady spot, even plants like pulmonaria and epimedium will lose their looks by July and August. For leaves to stay handsome, they need a moist, shady spot.
During spring, the stars of my dry shady border include Lamium orvala, whose dusky-pink blooms are much larger than those of weedy dead nettles. As spring turns to summer, Geranium phaeum opens maroon flowers. This is known as mourning widow or dusky cranesbill, though there is also a whiteflowered form. I mean to add G. nodosum, a rhizomatous spreading cranesbill with pale-pink blooms.
High summer is a challenge for which I have three solutions. Certain shrubs will thrive in dry shade, although their growth rate is slower than usual and they may suffer some dieback. The trick is to choose bright-leaved cultivars so they shine out from the gloom, such as a gold-leaved form of the Himalayan honeysuckle Leycesteria formosa ‘Lydia’ or gold-variegated hollies.
Ferns are a godsend, both for their spring unfurling and their structural summer fronds. Try varieties of the soft shield fern Polystichum setiferum, hart’s tongue (Asplenium scolopendrium) and male fern (Dryopteris filix-mas).
The most successful way of bringing summer colour is to plant up containers with shade-loving ‘bedding’ plants (begonias, fuchsias, impatiens, mimulus), place them in the border on bricks or pot feet for drainage and remember to water and feed.
Geranium Lily Lovell Lamium orvala (large red dead nettle) As our dry shady border moves from spring to summer, I’m removing old fern fronds, clipping away dieback on the leycesteria and adding containers