Planting in dry shade
Planting in dry shade
As many of you know my garden is shaded by huge oak, beech, holly and scots pine, with an undercanopy of big old rhododendrum ponticum. These mature trees sit on the south boundary of the plot so for half the year we have almost no sun. In spring before the leaves are on the oak and beech there is plenty of light but by August with a full tree canopy and the sun lower in the sky I have to move a chair round the garden to sit in patches of sunlight. You may be able to thin and lift the tree canopy in your garden, sadly I can’t because they all have TPO’s.
The plants of course can’t move to find a patch of sunlight so they have to be shade tolerant – and there are plenty that love these lower light levels, some will even grow in dark dry corners.
A problem that often accompanies shade under trees is impoverished dry soil full of roots and the soil must be improved if you want to give the plants half a chance. Shade from a buildings or a wall is usually dry and often full of builders’ rubble and foundations. I always dig a bigger hole than I need for any plant and add plenty of compost. At least Ascot’s light poor Bagshot sand soil has one advantage -it is fairly easy to dig – not like London clay.
Poor dusty Ascot soil
If an area has been thoroughly cleared of roots and rubble (I am still amazed to find half bricks and lumps of concrete in areas that have been dug before!) I dig in compost, leaf mould, rotted manure, spent grow bags etc. Around a big tree it is fine to raise the soil level slightly, say 100mm, to give yourself some decent planting pockets, but more than that will damage the tree.
Lesson one. It is not worth speeding money on the plant and not improve the soil
Trees for dry shade include Amelanchier, Acer (Japanese maple) and Sorbus all of which have pretty foliage and good autumn colour. Amelanchier will flower well in quite dense shade and the Sorbus produce berries. Acers of course are stunning foliage plants and will tolerate dry(ish) shade though I do put the hose on ours periodically during a very dry spell.
Spring foliage on Acer Shirasawanum Aureum
Good evergreen shrubs include Viburnum, Skimmia, Holly, Viburnum, Pieris, and of course Camellia, Rhododendron and Azalea japonica in our acid soil. (The best hedges for dry shade are Laurel, Holly or Yew or box up to about 1m high.). Deciduous shrubs tolerating low light levels for summer flowers are Weigela, scented Viburnums, Philadelphus and Fuchsia and Philadelphus coronaries aureus has beautiful lime green foliage to brighten up dark corners too.
Amelanchier in bud
Camellia Adolphe Adusson
it is easy to make a dry shade area interesting in the spring…most shade plants flower early in the year before the tree canopy closes over. In my garden the first things to bloom are the cyclamen at the base of the oak tree sometimes just after Christmas, followed by the Hellebores. Helleborus Corsicus and Orientalis are excellent performers and readily self seed to give you more plants for your friends. I find they look good with emerging hosta and fern foliage…all green but with different textures. Dicentra, Pulmonaria, Aquilegias and Brunnera will do fine if you get them off to a good start with decent soil and a splash of water but this dry spring has been difficult for the plants- normally the April showers keep them looking fresh but I noticed even the Rhododendrons at Savill Garden yesterday were drooping.
Brunnera Hadspen Cream
Hosta, foxgloves, iris, Aquilegia
Lesson two. Even plants for dry shade need the occasional can of water, particularly in the first year.
I am planting a large area for a client in the shade of a massive copper beech tree and am using Arum pictum, Tellima and Geranium Spessart for almost evergreen ground cover with Euphorbia robbiae, Epimedium x versicolour sulphureum and Bergenia Bressingham White to brighten things up in the dark. Geranium Nodosum has lovely mauve flowers and Geranium Patricia is magenta …many of the Geraniums will tolerate the shade especially G. Macrorrhizum varieties.
Pulmonaria Blue Ensign has startling flowers (blue of course) and P. Opal a paler bluish pink. Many of the Pulmonarias have mottled foliage which stays looking bright all through the summer. Brunnera Dawsons White has similar white splashed leaves and blue flowers – a very pretty little perennial. Have a look at Bob Brown’s website for Cotswold Garden Flowers a nursery in Worcestershire www.cgf.net. He describes, comments on and scores out of ten a multitude of perennials – I often follow his advice. Look at his entry for Pulmonaria Opal and you will see what I mean.
Pulmonaria and ferns in deep shade
In this client’s garden I am using Polystichum and Dryopteris ferns to give a change of texture with Hostas Francee and Captain Kirk. Hosta normally need damp soil to thrive but I find with good moisture retentive soil and the help of the odd can of water they will just about manage my dry shady areas and give great large leaf contrasting foliage. Good spikes of colour come from Digitalis Suttons Apricot, a great pink performer. Digitalis purpurea (foxgloves) will self-seed really even in dry shade so you need to look out for the seedlings and pot them up or transplant the following spring (they are biennials)
Lesson three. Right plant, right place…do not use a sun loving plant in the shade.
I have been asked to provide ‘Summer colour’ which is quite a difficult challenge in full shade. On the outer edges of the border where there is morning sun I am using Hemerocallis, Crocosmia, Asters and Campanula with Japanese Anemones towards the back for great autumn flowers in pink and white. They will not flower as well as in a sunnier area but should give a bright splash against the dark background. Nearer the border front I am using Fuchsia Genii, with startling lime foliage and bright pink flowers, Veronica Georgia Blue and Geranium Brookside (blue again)
Hemerocallis, Crocosmia and Achillea in semi shade
Japanese Anemone Honorine Jobert
The bulbs I find will tolerate shadyish areas are Narcissus Tete a Tete and Camassias (not forgetting bluebells…love them or hate them!) but these will not manage in really dark areas. What you can do of course is use pots of bulbs and move them into the light to photosynthesise and then flower the next season.
Beautiful blue Camassias
Some of you may remember the area I cleared last autumn and planted with an Acer Corallinum. I have bought a few bits, moved and split some old ferns and Hostas, transplanted primroses, Geraniums and Aquilegias..it’s just starting to get going.
Woodland in Spring
I am opening the garden for charity on Bank Holiday Monday May 30th from 11am till 5pm – come and have a cup of tea with me and tell me what you think!
Judy Bryant, Southgate, Hurstwood, South Ascot.
01344 621927 or 07791 083 992