Garden Design (2015)
A slate seat enclave shaded by surrounding birch trees is enlivened by a wide range of spring-flowering plants, including dainty Epimedium and pink-flowered Bergenia and Lamprocapnos, while the unfurling fronds of Dryopteris ferns add fresh appeal.
DESIGN BY ANDREW FISHER TOMLIN
COOL LEAFY landscapes have a charm all of their own, combining deciduous trees’ seasonal show of blossom, foliage, fruit and stem, with continuous colour from evergreens, while dainty woodland flowers lend decorative highlights beneath the canopies.
Most, if not all, gardens have areas in shade, or at least where light is significantly diminished for part of the day. Cast by trees and hedges, or buildings and other structures such as fences in urban areas, shade imposes a unique set of circumstances that many plants favour, and these valuable species can be harnessed to enliven gloomy spaces in the garden.
Shade-tolerate plants usually inhabit woodlands in the wild. Some are deciduous, growing and flowering in spring before the tree leaves unfurl and then dying down; others are evergreen and just sit out the low light conditions by growing slowly. Those that have adapted to live under or very close to the trees are also tolerant of drought, competing with the larger plants’ roots, while the leafy canopies above them act like umbrellas, shielding them from rain. Other shade-loving plants grow at the woodland edges, just beyond the tree canopies where the soil is moist and enriched with leaf litter.
“Spring-flowering perennials make colourful partners for bulbs in shady borders. Choose the reliable pink Geranium macrorrhizum; Brunnera ‘Jack Frost’, with its icy green leaves and clear blue flowers; the orchid-like blooms of Epimedium x versicolor ‘Sulphureum’, which appear ahead of new foliage; and aquilegias.”
ANDREW FISHER TOMLIN
Plants for woodland glades
The subdued light and moist soil at the woodland edge provide optimum conditions for the widest range of plants. For designers, this is an important ecological niche, presenting the greatest potential for exciting combinations and plant breeders have now developed a range of colourful shrubs, climbers, herbaceous perennials and bulbs that will light up even the darkest areas.
Many shade-loving plants are low growing perennials, which form clumps or creep through the soil via stems above or below ground. Useful for carpeting areas beneath trees and shrubs, they include dead nettle (Lamium), male ferns (Dryopteris filix-mas), Vinca minor, Geranium phaeum and Sarcococca humilis, and form a thick layer of weed-suppressing leaves. Many plants that thrive in shade have bold, shapely foliage, which may be variegated or, occasionally, silvery. Examples include Astelia, Heuchera, Aucuba and Pulmonaria, although few plants with colourful leaves tolerate very dark sites.
Many woodland plants flower in spring, and often sport white or pale petals or perfumed blooms that can be located easily in the darkness by pollinating insects. These include the shrubs Camellia, Rhododendron and Pieris, as well as bulbs, such as daffodils, snowdrops, hardy cyclamen and bluebells. In summer, hydrangeas, Geranium phaeum varieties, Anemone x hybrida and others, pick up the baton when the spring-flowering shrubs and bulbs start to lose their lustre. A few plants, including the scented Mahonia x media and Christmas box (Sarcoccoca), exploit the winter months, producing blooms when there is little competition for light and filling the cold air with delicious perfume.
Many climbing plants for shade are as attractive as their sun-loving relatives. Some are self-supporting, using stem roots to adhere to walls or fences. These include the ivies, the climbing hydrangea, Hydrangea petiolaris, and its close relative Schizophragma integrifolium. Others, such as Parthenocissus henryana, with its decorative divided foliage, stick with suckers. Shade-tolerant twiners will need support, and include honeysuckles, such as Lonicera x tellmanniana and L. henryi, spring-flowering Clematis alpina and C. macropetala, as well as some large-flowered forms, such as pink-striped Clematis ‘Nelly Moser’, white ‘Marie Boisselot’ and purple-red ‘Warsaw Nike’.
Alchemilla mollis; Anemone x hybrida; Arundinaria murielae; Astilbe species and varieties; Athyrium varieties; Aucuba japonica and varieties; Bergenia varieties; Brunnera macrophylla varieties; Buxus sempervirens; Camellia japonica and C. x williamsii; Daphne laureola; Dicentra species; Digitalis purpurea varieties; Dryopteris species; Helleborus x hybridus varieties; Epimedium species; Fatsia japonica; Galanthus nivalis; Geranium phaeum varieties; Heuchera and heucherella varieties; Hosta species; Hydrangea species; Hypericum androsaemum and H. calycinum; Lamium maculatum varieties; Lamprocapnos spectabilis; Luzula nivea; Mahonia japonica and M. x media; Phyllostachys aurea and P. nigra; Pulmonaria species and varieties; Rhododendron species and hybrids; Rubus odoratus; Sarcococca species; Tiarella species and varieties; Tricyrtis species and varieties; Viburnum species; Vinca minor
Check plant labels to ensure you are growing your chosen plants in the optimum amount of light for those particular species, as some will only tolerate light shade. Soil moisture requirements also vary depending on the plant, and plants, such as rhododendrons and camellias, require acid soil. You can include moisture-loving plants under trees if you install raised beds filled with good quality garden soil, but remember to water them during prolonged periods of drought. Also improve soils with an annual mulch of home-made leaf mould, made by composting autumn leaves in a strong plastic bag, tied at the top and punctured with holes, then left to rot down for a year or two. Alternatively, mulch with well-rotted compost or manure.
Simple planting of white-stemmed birch and shade-tolerant ferns bring this tiny timber-decked courtyard to life.
DESIGN BY STUART CRAINE
Shade-tolerant plants, such as bronze-leaved Heuchera and Bergenia with its round foliage, clothe a shady green wall installation and continue into the garden below.
DESIGN BY PATRICIA FOX
The canopies of a number of hardy evergreen trees and shrubs have coalesced to create a sheltered, shady retreat in this narrow town garden.
DESIGN BY CLEVE WEST
An elegant, but shady, façade is made more imposing by the careful positioning of two clipped standard laurels underplanted with a froth of variegated ivy.
DESIGN BY JOHN BROOKES
A shady terrace becomes a leafy jungle with potted tree ferns of various heights and a range of shade-tolerant perennials.
DESIGN BY DENISE CADWALLADER
The lower leaves of black bamboo (Phyllostachys nigra) have been removed to reveal its glossy stems.
DESIGN BY DAN PEARSON
This moist, shady border behind a tall wall has been transformed with Japanese maples, ferns and rhododendrons.
DESIGN BY JAMES SCOTT
Urban gardens often have shady spots created by adjacent buildings, offering space for leafy woodland plants.
DESIGN BY CATHERINE HEATHERINGTON
Moist shady areas around tall buildings make ideal homes for a range of textural plants, such as sedges and hostas.
DESIGN BY MERILEN MENTAAL
Before the leaf canopies of trees reduce light levels, naturalised bulbs such as daffodils provide colourful displays.
DESIGN BY ARABELLA LENNOX-BOYD