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Shade Loving Plants

October 31, 2015

Written by Fergus Mason.

When it comes to planning a new garden, or just adding new plants and borders to an existing one, there are usually plenty of different factors to take into account. You may have areas that luxuriate in full sun, are boggy and wet, or are so well drained and dry that plants at home in the most arid of deserts feel perfectly at home there. No matter what the conditions there is something that will grow and flourish.

Something that often goes overlooked is shade. That shade could be created by your home and outbuildings, or might simply be patches of ground beneath larger plants and trees. Perhaps it’s our instinctive feeling that sunlight is what matters most to plants , and that those shady parts aren’t worth worrying about. In fact there’s no shortage of interesting and fun plants of all sizes that can occupy these shadowy parts of our garden, adding texture and interest to places that might otherwise remain bare. A well balanced garden will be home to shrubs, trees, creepers of all shapes and sizes, giving a layered depth to our green surroundings, and that includes the shady corners.

Before embarking on your search for what to plant in these seemingly tricky areas it helps to understand what type of shady area you are looking to populate. Most gardeners break these down into four main types –

Once you have identified the area you are dealing with you can move on to the other complexities that these shady areas can bring. It is not unusual for the ground very close to walls and solid structures to be very dry, especially if the wall is protecting the area from the prevailing wind; this will also mean it receives less rainfall. Planting a foot or so away from the wall aids this, as will encouraging your selection of greenery with a good mulch. This will allow more water to be retained for use by the plant.

Planting beneath very dense evergreen trees, such as conifers, can present unique challenges. Not only do these spots tend to be dry due to the umbrella-like coverage of the tree, but the carpet of needles results in what can be rather acidic soil as they rot down into the earth. Fortunately there are plants that can thrive in acidic conditions, although this type of area really is for those who like a challenge. More success will be had around the fringes of the shaded area, especially on the side that gets the prevailing winds (and thus rain). Holly, yew and ivy are worth a look, and with some care and good compost on well prepared ground you could see some impressive results here.

A handy tip for any canopy-shaded area is planting in fall. This means that the new plant has a better chance of settling in with some fall and winter sunlight before the larger plants regrow their leafy canopies in spring. Mulching and watering in the dry months will also increase your chances of a healthy plant once the shade returns in full.

Above all, don’t neglect those dark and seemingly uninhabitable spaces on your property. With a little care and some effort you will end up with a display you can really enjoy. To get you started here are a few plants that are worth looking at, but this list is by no means exhaustive. And if you are thinking you can’t be productive in these darker spaces, things like redcurrants and rhubarb, beetroot and lettuce can fare well.

Shrubs:

Grasses:

Bulbs: