Most gardeners have at least one difficult spot in their garden. One of the most challenging is the shade cast by buildings and trees. A shady spot can be difficult for plants as it creates a cool environment and is often coupled with dry soil or very damp soil. However there are many plants that will tolerate these conditions so those areas needn’t remain bare!
Dry shade often occurs in urban gardens at the base of walls that face away from the direction of the wind, so are sheltered from the rain. Dry shade also occurs beneath large trees with shallow roots. The leaves prevent rain reaching the ground and the soil moisture is further depleted by the shallow root system of the tree. These problems may be further exacerbated if your soil is sandy or shallow and chalky.
The most important thing to do before planting is to improve your soil’s ability to hold water by digging in lots of organic matter (such as well-rotted manure or compost) during the spring or autumn. It is also worth adding a mulch around the base of your plants in the spring or autumn, after the soil is damp from seasonal rainfall. Suitable mulches include organic matter, decorative stones, gravel or bark chips. Another trick is to create a wide planting hole and line it with perforated polythene. Mix the excavated soil with well-rotted manure or compost before backfilling the hole. The polythene should help retain more water for the plant. Remember that new plants will have no established root system so will need consistent watering in their first season.
Damp shade naturally occurs in areas of woodland or forest. Areas of damp shade are cool and moist environments, often suiting foliage plants such as ferns and Hostas well. In your garden these conditions may occur near water or if you have clay soil, which retains moisture well. As most plants suitable for damp shade are from woodland habitats they require a moist but well drained soil which is rich in organic matter.
As with dry shade the most important thing to do before planting is to improve your soil by digging in plenty of organic matter such as well-rotted manure or compost. If you have heavy clay soil this will help improve drainage. It is also worth applying a mulch of organic matter around the base of your plants annually in the spring. This will break down over time and further improve your soil structure.
See below to find out more about plants that are suitable dry shade and damp shade:
|Bulbs for dry shade||Interesting Features||Bulbs for damp shade||Interesting Features|
|Anemone nemorosa (Windflower)||Cardiocrinum (Giant Lily)|
|Colchicum (Autumn Crocus)||Eranthis (Winter Aconite)|
|Cyclamen coum||Erythronium (Dog’s-tooth Violet)|
|Galanthus nivalis (Snowdrop)||Fritillaria camschatcensis (Black Sarana)|
|Hyacinthoides non-scripta (English Bluebell)||Galanthus nivalis (Snowdrop)|
|Scilla bifolia (Alpine Squill)|
|Annuals and Biennials|
for damp shade
|Digitalis purpurea (Foxglove)||Begonia|
|Lunaria annua (Honesty)||Impatiens walleriana (Busy Lizzies)|
|Primula (Polyanthus group)|
|Viola x wittrockiana (Pansy)|
|Perennials for dry shade||Interesting Features||Perennials for damp shade||Interesting Features|
|Alchemilla mollis (Lady’s Mantle)||Astilbe (False Goat’s Beard)|
|Bergenia (Elephant’s Ears)||Astrantia major (Hattie’s Pincushion)|
|Brunnera macrophylla (Siberian Bugloss)||Bergenia (Elephant’s Ears)|
|Convallaria (Lily-of-the-Valley)||Carex flagellifera (Sedge)|
|Dicentra (Bleeding Heart)||Convallaria (Lily-of-the-Valley)|
|Dryopteris filix-mas (Male Fern)||Geranium sylvaticum (Wood Cranesbill)|
|Epimedium (Barrenwort)||Hosta (Plantain Lily)|
|Euphorbia amygdaloides (Wood Spurge)||Milium effusum ‘Aureum’|
|Geranium nodosum and Geranium phaeum (Cranesbill)||Primula (Primrose)|
|Liriope muscari (Big Blue Lilyturf)||Pulmonaria (Lungwort)|
|Luzula nivea (Snowy Woodrush)||Thalictrum (Meadow Rue)|
|Tiarella cordifolia (Foam Flower)|
|Uvularia grandiflora (Large Merrybells)|
|Shrubs for dry shade||Interesting Features||Shrubs for damp shade||Interesting Features|
|Daphne laureola and Daphne pontica||Buxus sempervirens (Common Box)|
|Eleagnus x ebbingei (Oleaster)||Camellia|
|Garrya elliptica (Silk-tassel bush)||Fatsia japonica (Japanese Aralia)|
|Hypericum calycinum (St John’s Wort/Aaron’s Beard)||Hydrangea|
|Sarcococca (Sweet Box)||Sarcococca (Sweet Box)|
|Symphoricarpus (Snowberry)||Skimmia japonica|
|Climbing plants for dry shade||Interesting Features||Climbing plants for damp shade||Interesting Features|
|Celastrus orbiculatus (Oriental Bittersweet)||Akebia quinata|
|Cotoneaster horizontalis||Hedera helix (Ivy)|
|Euonymus fortunei (Winter Creeper)||Hydrangea petiolaris (Climbing Hydrangea)|
|Lonicera japonica ‘Halliana’, Lonicera x tellmanniana and Lonicera periclymenum ‘Serotina’ (Honeysuckle)||Pileostegia viburnoides|
|Parthenocissus tricuspidata (Virginia Creeper)||Schizophragma hydrangeoides (Japanese Hydrangea Vine)|
Every garden has a north-facing surface to contend with and one of the most common queries is which plants can be grown to cover it? Although climbers are the obvious choice, many shrubs are ideal trained as wall shrubs. Bear in mind that many plants will require support wires or a trellis in order to climb whereas others naturally cling to a surface (e.g. Ivy).
|Plants for north-facing walls||Interesting Features|
|Celastrus orbiculatus (Oriental Bittersweet)|
|Chaenomeles speciosa or Chaenomeles x superba (Japanese Quince)|
|Clematis alpina, Clematis armandii or Clematis montana|
|Euonymus fortunei (Winter Creeper)|
|Hedera helix (Ivy)|
|Hydrangea petiolaris (Climbing Hydrangea)|
|Lonicera japonica ‘Halliana’, Lonicera x tellmanniana and Lonicera periclymenum ‘Serotina’ (Honeysuckle)|
|Parthenocissus tricuspidata (Virginia Creeper)|
|Schizophragma hydrangeoides (Japanese Hydrangea Vine)|
Many edible plants can be grown in partial shade although deep shade won’t yield good results. Some plants actually perform better with some shade from intense heat and sunlight. Although many fruiting plants are happy to grow in shady conditions they will often produce a lower yield of fruit. If a garden fence is casting the shade you can always grow climbing beans against it which will grow towards the light.
|Herbs for shady gardens||Vegetables for shady gardens||Fruit for shady gardens|
|Sweet Cicely||Swiss Chard|
|Runner beans (light shade)|
Plants and gardens have always been a big part of my life. I can remember helping my Dad to prick out seedlings, even before I could see over the top of the potting bench. As an adult, I trained at Writtle College where I received my degree, BSc. (Hons) Horticulture. After working in a specialist plantsman's nursery, and later, as a consulting arboriculturalist, I joined Thompson & Morgan in 2008. Initially looking after the grounds and coordinating the plant trials, I now support the web team offering horticultural advice online.