Plants for shady spa­ces

The shadier parts of a gar­den can be chal­leng­ing. But they also present an op­por­tu­nity to cre­ate some­thing of sub­tle beauty and so­phis­ti­ca­tion - a cool re­vi­tal­is­ing space to re­treat to on hot sum­mer days.

Go Gardening - - Editorial -

Some of our most stun­ning fo­liage plants are pur­pose built for low light sit­u­a­tions, their leaves de­signed to catch the light. Big and shiny, fine and lacy, or frilled and crin­kled, they fill a gar­den artist’s tool­box with richly con­trast­ing shapes, tex­tures and colours. Flow­ers are fewer in a shady gar­den, but they’re by no means ab­sent. There are loads of shade plants to try. Here are a few of the clas­sics.

Cold-hardy ‘wood­land’ peren­ni­als that thrive in moist but well-drained, hu­mus rich-soil and look beau­ti­ful planted in groups un­der de­cid­u­ous trees…

Hostas of­fer an ex­cit­ing choice of leaf shapes with colours rang­ing from bright chartreuse through icy blues and some strik­ing var­ie­gated forms. They range in height from ground hug­ging to over a me­tre tall.

Heucheras, tiarel­las and heucherel­las come in an as­tound­ing range of colours. These pop­u­lar fo­liage plants cope with a range of light con­di­tions but per­form best with pro­tec­tion from af­ter­noon sun. Gen­er­ally, the darker the fo­liage the more sun tol­er­ant they are. Most will tol­er­ate dry pe­ri­ods once es­tab­lished.

Helle­bores, also known as win­ter roses, are long-time favourite flow­ers for dap­pled shade un­der de­cid­u­ous trees and shrubs. Per­fect planted in groups

with hostas and spring bulbs, they flower in win­ter and spring. Their healthy green fo­liage is beau­ti­ful too.

Ligu­lar­ias pro­vide fan­tas­tic con­trast, ac­cent and drama. The va­ri­ety ‘Britt-Marie Craw­ford’ is a favourite with large dark bur­gundy leaves. L. re­in­formis (trac­tor seat ligu­laria) has huge kid­ney-shaped leaves in highly lac­quered for­est green. Ligu­lar­ias grow 60cm to a me­tre or so tall and look fab­u­lous with ferns. Some are now re­clas­si­fied as Farfugium.

Brun­nera ‘Jack Frost’ is loved for its heart-shaped leaves with sil­ver and mint green mark­ings. Sprays of bright blue for­get-me-not flow­ers ap­pear in mid to late spring. It is easy to grow in all but the dri­est shade.

Ferns are among the most beau­ti­ful and un­der­utilised plants for cool shady spa­ces. They blend per­fectly with flow­er­ing plants such as clivias, daylilies, ren­garenga and helle­bores. Some will grow in dry shade once es­tab­lished, but most ferns re­quire hu­mus rich soil, which holds mois­ture with­out be­com­ing

Coleus are colourful sub­trop­i­cal plants, mainly grown as an­nu­als and easy from seed. They’re great as short-term fillers among shade lov­ing peren­ni­als. They com­bine beau­ti­fully with im­pa­tiens and are great for pots.

Bromeli­ads make ex­cel­lent container plants. Most re­quire good drainage and are in­tol­er­ant of frost. Of the many dif­fer­ent bromeli­ads, the Ne­o­regelias and Vreisias are among the eas­i­est to grow.

Clivias are among the few spec­tac­u­lar flow­er­ing plants that thrive in the shade of trees. Once es­tab­lished, they tol­er­ate dry shade. The mod­ern hy­brids that have been de­vel­oped from the na­tive South African species have wa­ter logged. There are ferns for ev­ery cli­mate.

Pul­monaria (lung­wort) is a hardy ground­cover peren­nial, which forms a low leafy clump of pretty, sil­ver spotted leaves. Flow­ers in shades of blue, pink or white ap­pear in spring. Look for mod­ern va­ri­eties bred for su­pe­rior mildew re­sis­tance.

Shade lovers for warm sub­trop­i­cal gar­dens or a shel­tered frost-free lo­ca­tion...

the most spec­tac­u­lar flow­ers, in rich shades of or­ange, red or yel­low, with thick strappy leaves.

Renga lily ( Arthro­podium cir­ra­tum), or ‘NZ Rock lily’ lights up the shade with foun­tains of lit­tle white lily flow­ers in spring and sum­mer. Among the best plants for mass plant­ing un­der trees, cul­ti­vars like ‘Mat­apouri Bay’ and ‘Avalanche’ are favoured for their thick leaves and com­pact habit. Pro­tect from frost and snails.

Other NZ na­tives for shade in­clude Mazus rad­i­cans and Pra­tia an­gu­lata (panake­nake), two pretty flow­er­ing ground­cov­ers that thrive in damp soil. Also for damp shady ground are Gun­nera prorepens and Fuch­sia procum­bens, a ground­cover with ex­quis­ite minia­ture fuch­sia flow­ers. For a spa­cious sub­trop­i­cal gar­den, con­sider the beau­ti­ful lush ground­cover, Paratani­wha ( Elatostema ru­go­sum). Its large, promi­nently veined leaves are bronze green with pur­ple high­lights. One of the many na­tive ferns, hen and chick­ens ( As­ple­nium bulb­iferum) is a good choice for dry shade, while kiokio ( Blechum no­vae-ze­landiae) is a su­per tough fern that grows in sun or shade and is great for frost free coastal gar­dens.

Above: Hardy NZ kiokio Right: Hostas, renga lilies, ferns, heucheras and pul­monar­ias beau­tify a walk­way be­neath de­cid­u­ous trees.

Bromeli­ads, hostas and lime green coleus Clivias

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