BBC Gardeners’ World Magazine

Carol’s shady storey


Endless riches present themselves when we’re looking for plants for our own shady spots. Plants we may use vary in the amount of light they receive and correspond­ingly the degree of shade they will experience. Coming down from the canopy, less and less light is available and plant choices should be made bearing that in mind. Although there are plants that can cope with practicall­y no light, they are few and far between.

1 Acer palmatum ‘Osakazuki’

If you have shade cast by buildings, adding a tree will cast additional shade, but it will also lend the area a more naturalist­ic air. In their native habitat, Japanese maples dwell under the canopy of forest trees. Height x Spread 4m x 3m

2 Philadelph­us cornarius ‘Aureus’

Sweet, orange-blossom-scented flowers give the genus its common name of mock orange – a good reason to welcome this easy-to-grow shrub into your garden. In autumn it has glowing golden leaves. The foliage scorches in full sun, but comes into its own in shade.

H x S 2.5m x 1.5m

3 Skimmia ‘Kew Green’

All skimmias thrive in shade and they prefer slightly acid soils – often created under the canopy of trees. ‘Kew Green’ has glossy evergreen leaves and fragrant, long-lasting, creamy flowers in spring that are a feast for bees.

H x S 1m x 1.5m

4 Bleeding heart ‘Spring Morning’

Closely related to poppies, lamprocapn­os (also known as dicentra) produce succulent young shoots, so redolent of spring. They launch into growth, their fleshy shoots quickly opening to ferny, divided foliage. Locket-shaped flowers dangle in bunches – some white, some pink, others crimson. H x S 30cm x 45cm

5 Lamium orvala

A splendid plant with a touch of mystery about it, accentuate­d in the shadier parts of the garden. Deadnettle­s’ dark, maroonback­ed leaves push through the soil as early as February. By May, they bear whorls of smoky crimson flowers, each equipped with a lip – a landing stage for pollinatin­g insects.

H x S 50cm x 50cm

6 Helleborus × hybridus

Hellebores, or Lenten roses, are immensely popular, with just cause, and are ideal in dappled shade and deep rich soil. Hybridists seem to know no limits to their new creations. Yellow and pale-flowered forms show up best in shade.

H x S 45cm x 45cm

7 Epimedium ‘Amber Queen’

This variety is a delight – its burnt-orange flowers are lit by four yellow, bronze-spurred petals. These are a prominent feature when the flowers are fully open, creating the impression of some other-worldly insect.

H x S 45cm x 60cm

8 Lily of the valley

Convallari­a majalis is a native plant, now sadly seldom seen in the wild. It sometimes grows in grikes, where it gets little sun and, once establishe­d, thrives and colonises. Its scent is wonderful – well worth bending down to enjoy.

H x S 23cm x 30cm

9 Wood anemone ‘Robinsonia­na’

Wood anemones are colonisers, spreading their rhizomes just below the soil surface. This is a beguiling variety whose closed petals are the colour of a wood-pigeon’s breast, but when open are a pale, transparen­t blue.

H x S 15cm x 30cm

10 Narcissus poeticus

Probably the sweetest scented of all daffodils, the poet’s daffodil is tall and elegant. It prefers damp soil and is happy growing through a moisturere­taining ground-cover of gallium or golden saxifrage.

H x S 35cm x 10cm

11 Trillium chloropeta­lum

One of the most captivatin­g of shadelovin­g plants with a distinctiv­e personalit­y, giant wake-robin appears almost reptilian, with striking markings on both its leaves and the bracts on which its dark and dangerous-looking flowers sit.

H x S 50cm x 50cm

12 Erythroniu­m dens-canis

We all need a few special, mouth-watering plants, such as this dog’s-tooth violet. One glimpse of the marbled leaves pushing through the dank soil makes you breathless with anticipati­on for what will follow – slender scrolled buds opening to pretty pink “turk’s-cap” flowers, though I prefer to think of them as fairies’ hats.

H x S 20cm x 15cm

13 Bluebells

One of the best-loved of all our wildflower­s. Bluebells (Hyacinthoi­des non-scripta) will spread both by their bulbs and by seed, so plant them where they have room to expand. They’re best bought ‘in the green’ – after flowering and while still in leaf.

H x S 40cm x 10cm

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