Life can be ferntastic on the dark side
THE MAGICAL PLANTS TO BRIGHTEN UP THOSE CHALLENGING SHADY SPOTS
CHOOSING the right plants for shady spaces is a dilemma every gardener is confronted with.
It may be deep shade where an entire site faces north. Or maybe much of it is shrouded with tall tree canopies. Or it could be a dapple shaded spot under birch trees. But whatever shade it is, it exercises the minds of the nation’s gardeners – and is often considered the greatest gardening challenge.
Not for me though… I find it a delight as most often shade loving plants have a wonderful freshness about them.
Even the thought of a dark damp place immediately brings ferns to my mind. They conjure up feelings of a leafy woodland floor, of a trickling stream under a dense tree canopy. There is nothing like the unravelling of their brown hairy fronds that open up into bright green lacy leaves.
Dryopteris filix-mas or the Male Fern is one of the oldest in existence and one of the most beautiful. Its leaflets are deeply toothed and they can remain standing all
through the winter in milder locations. They are elegant yet robust and tower at almost a metre high.
Woodwardia unigemmata is lime green with large gracefully arching fronds, and Polystichum setiferum is wonderfully tactile with intricately toothed, almost fluffy fronds. Ferns sit beautifully next to the elegant evergreen heart shaped leaves of Epimedium ‘Sulphureum’ that are joined by sprays of bright yellow flowers in the spring on tiny fine stems.
Other epimediums have white and pink flowers and fantastic bronze foliage. I find these very useful under the dry shade of my front garden birch trees, alongside anemones and bluebells.
Another small plant that can carpet a shaded area to perfection is Trillium chloropetalum, an absolute jewel in the shade.
Upstanding flowers in shades of wine sit directly on leaf rosettes in sets of three that display varying degrees of marbling.
If you have large areas to cover under tree canopies, the large heart-shaped and deeply textured Trachystemon orientalis can quickly form a dense ground cover and are useful plants for strong contrasts with other shade plants.
Interplant with Erythronium ‘Sundisc’, a bulb with reflexed yellow flowers on tall brown stems that naturalises wonderfully or with Polygonatum x hybridum (Solomon’s Seal), a perennial that thrives in the shade, has tall arching stems with deep green leaves that dangle white bell flowers on its underside throughout May and creates a real surprise in a shady area.
Foliage is everything in a garden – beautiful leaf shapes and colours stand tall all through the year long after flower blooms have passed so shouldn’t be overlooked.
Kirengeshoma palmata has distinctive irregularly cut maple-like leaves that are held on dark purple stems up to almost a metre high.
They look fantastic with lower, more rounded foliage plants as they provide interesting verticals and produce butter yellow flowers
from big fat buds in late summer to autumn.
Rodgersia podophylla is great in a damper shade, its leaves emerge tightly folded and gradually uncurl into deeply pleated lobed leaflets in bronze to red shades. It again will add drama and beauty to the shade.
Another plant to try is one that was highly prized by Beth Chatto in her extraordinary woodland garden in Colchester, Essex.
Veratrum album is a perennial with brilliant broadly elliptic pleated leaves and in early summer a robust two-metre tall flower stem shoots up and bears hundreds of star-shaped greeny-white flowers – it looks magical.