Shad­owy char­ac­ters

You can’t rely on the weather for a per­fect patch so in­vest in shade-tol­er­ant plants...

Rutherglen Reformer - - House & Home - Diar­muid Gavin With Diar­muid Gavin

De­spite hav­ing our fair share of rain through the sum­mer months, this sort of rain doesn’t al­ways dampen the soil.

In places where there is an over­head um­brella or canopy of leaves, mois­ture is spread too far from the roots of un­der-plant­ing. I’ve got a rib­bon of birch trees in my front gar­den, spec­i­mens I had used at a Chelsea Flower Show ex­hibit many years ago. The con­di­tions be­low these trees, de­spite the down­pours, could be de­scribed as a dust bowl.

No amount of rain seems to pen­e­trate the ground and the nor­mal species cho­sen for places of shade don’t thrive.

So if you’ve got some of these ex­treme con­di­tions, which plants will do well dur­ing the sum­mer months with a lack of mois­ture?

While many plants will grow hap­pily in moist shade, the com­bi­na­tion of poor light and dry soil is a real chal­lenge.

This could be at the base of conifers, at the bot­tom of an old wall fac­ing north or un­der the full canopy of de­cid­u­ous or ever­green trees in the height of sum­mer.

First of all, you can try to im­prove the soil by adding com­post, soil con­di­tioner or well- rot­ted ma­nure. This will help its struc­ture and re­tain any avail­able mois­ture.

If you’re try­ing to plant be­neath trees, you need to be aware of their shal­low roots. Don’t panic if you sever one as it will prob­a­bly re­gen­er­ate, but do try to avoid do­ing so. The best way to do this is to use small plants you can tuck into the gaps be­tween roots. As ju­ve­nile plants es­tab­lish them­selves, they will find their way around the root sys­tem.

Choose plants that are pot­ted in a soil-based com­post as peat com­post dries out very quickly. Wait un­til early au­tumn be­fore you plant so that new ones get a chance to set­tle in while there is some avail­able mois­ture. Wa­ter in well and spread mulch be­tween the plants.

You will also need to keep an eye on them in sum­mer, and wa­ter if you think they are suf­fer­ing. For best re­sults, in­stall some sim­ple ir­ri­ga­tion, such as lay­ing down a seep hose which will leak wa­ter into the sur­round­ing soil.

So what can you plant? You want to choose plants that can tol­er­ate shade and drought, and that will colonise and form a mois­ture-re­tain­ing mat.

Epimedi­ums are a good place to start – they have at­trac­tive fo­liage and in spring bear pretty del­i­cate flow­ers. ‘Sul­phureum’ has beau­ti­ful yel­low flow­ers. Cut back dead fo­liage in spring, tak­ing care not to snip off bud­ding flow­ers.

Vin­cas or peri­win­kles are great at form­ing mats in dry con­di­tions and have an abun­dance of white or mauve flow­ers in spring.

Ferns go beau­ti­fully with trees to form wood­land-like gar­dens but you do need to be care­ful in your choice as many ferns re­quire mois­ture.

How­ever, some of our na­tive ever­green ferns will do very well in dry shade, such as hart’s tongue fern, As­ple­nium scolopen­drium, Polystichum setiferum, the soft shield fern and the com­mon poly­pody Poly­pode vul­gare.

You will still need to wa­ter them in un­til they get es­tab­lished, but they are very drought-tol­er­ant once you get them es­tab­lished.

You some­times see them grow­ing out of walls as well so they’re not fussy about soil re­quire­ments.

Bulbs pair well with ferns, and I’ve found the dwarf daf­fodil ‘Tete a Tete’ and English blue­bells very re­silient in the dry soil un­der my birch trees. You could also try Cy­cla­men hed­er­i­folium here – not just for the bright flow­ers but also the at­trac­tive fo­liage – and some Anemone nemorosa bulbs this au­tumn ( give them a soak be­fore plant­ing so they don’t go into the ground bone dry). I’d also rec­om­mend hardy gera­ni­ums, such as Gera­nium phaeum ‘Al­bum’ which rapidly forms gen­tle mounds cov­ered in white flow­ers to brighten up the shadi­est spot.

Hart’s tongue fern does well in dry con­di­tions

Blue­bells

Cy­cla­men

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