We all have a bit in our garden which is in the shade. The bit that faces north and gets less light than the other parts. My heart used to sink when I thought about my shady border. What on earth could I plant in the shade of the fence and then when next door’s trees came into leaf the extra shade created by their canopy?
Of course some shade is heavier than others. So that created by the fence, although heavy in the winter when the sun is tracking low in the sky, in May, June and July as the sun is right overhead, the fence creates very little shadow. Luckily the trees when in leaf have a light, airy canopy so create a dappled shade that is lovely to sit under on a hot sunny day.
If you live in the city, as I do, the surrounding buildings may cast shade which could be quite heavy or it may be the result of lots of trees. This means the understory can be alive with flowers in the spring all reaching for the light before the canopy closes when only the very hardiest shade-lovers exist. But even then there are plants that love these conditions.
So what can we grow in these, seemingly, inhospitable conditions?
My shade is coupled with London clay and, although I have added lots of compost and leaf mold to open up the structure of the soil, it still tends to be heavy. When I inherited the garden there was a large clump of Helleborus x hybridus. It loves the shady spot it was planted in and seeds itself around with joyous abandon. I have added some more specific glamorous varieties that lighten up the garden from late January and are still flowering as I write.
In the area closest to the fence which is pretty much in shade for nine months of the year there are ferns. Osmunda regalis is a real statement fern growing to 1.2m tall, it’s elegant new growth unfurling from the end of April. Another that likes the heavy, damp conditions is Matteuccia struthiopteris or Shuttlecock fern. As the name implies it has tall light green fronds in the shape of a shuttlecock that lighten up any dark corner.
On the fence, and now on the wall, I planted a Hydrangea petiolaris. I was warned this climbing hydrangea takes its time to establish and I have had to be patient but last year it took off like a rocket. This year is going to be even better with flower buds in evidence all over. All hydrangeas are tolerant of some shade but the climbing variety positively thrives and when the white flowers open this dark area will glow.
The elegant, drooping leaves of Lamprocapnos spectabilis, or what we all know as ‘Bleeding Heart’, followed by either the pink heart shaped flowers, or the charming white form, which like the hydrangea glows in the lower light. Mine start out in deep shade and end their life in sun and thrive in these conditions.
Gardening can be trial and error, and I have done much of that in my time, but if the plants you choose like the conditions they are planted in, they will reward you with a beautiful garden even if it is that shady bit that seems impossible.