City gardeners often lament that with each passing year their gardens are becoming more and more shaded. Others complain similarly that surrounding buildings block the sunlight. When dealing with shade, lack of light is not the only factor to consider. Often, inadequate moisture is a concern, too. The canopy of a large tree or the overhang of a house can act as an umbrella, deflecting rainfall away from the ground beneath it. Soil fertility may also be a problem. The roots of trees and shrubs quickly use up available nutrients in the soil. Most shade tolerant plants prefer a well-drained, fertile soil, so if your soil is sandy or clay-like, add lots of organic matter such as peat moss, compost or well-rotted manure.
Choose Shade Lovers
The trick to creating a beautiful, made-for-the-shade garden is to choose plants that enjoy that environment. And, there are lots of plants that tolerate low light and some that actually thrive in it. The trick is to know which plants are most likely to succeed. Here are some of my favourites:
For colour throughout the season, annuals can’t be beat. Impatiens are a dependable standby. To light up a shady nook, I like the robust New Guinea types that sport brightly variegated foliage and neon colors. If you are looking for something new, then try Kong coleus. With its mammoth foliage (available in red, scarlet, rose and multicoloured varieties), it will add razzle-dazzle to any shade garden. Another new must-try is begonia, “Baby Dragon Wing.” This is a new mini form that is easy to grow, very heat tolerant, and blooms continuously. For something a little different, try Mimulus (monkey flower). The blooms have interesting spots and come in a variety of colours. Another new introduction is the “Moon” series of torenia. This plant loves the heat and has large trailing flowers that are ideal for baskets hung in the shade. Choose from shades of indigo, white, rose, pink and violet.
One of my favourite shade perennial standbys is the maidenhair fern (Adiantum pedatum). Although delicate looking, it is really very tough. It is happiest in moist, rich, well-drained soil. If you are looking for an attractive ground cover, try bugleweed, especially under trees where grass is difficult to grow. “Chocolate Chip” is a newer variety that has narrow foliage and a dwarf, very tight growth habit. Lady’s mantle (Alchemilla) is a flower arranger’s dream with its greenish grey foliage and chartreuse flowers. The variety faeroensis Pumila is a dwarf variety with a very tight mounding habit. Ornamental grasses are very popular right now. However, there are few that grow in shaded conditions. Carex, although technically a sedge, is a good substitute. It has grass-like finely textured foliage that arches into moppish mounds. And what would a shade garden be without hostas? Thumbelina is a dainty little plant that has medium green leaves with a creamy-white margin and lavender flowers. If you’d like a climber, then hydrangea, (anomala petiolaris) is a good choice. This woody climbing vine blooms in June with fragrant white flowers and glossy dark-green leaves. When established, it can cover a wall space of 10 metres.
With a little bit of forethought it is possible to create a lovely shade garden by choosing the right plant for the right place. There are dozens of different plants to choose from. Most garden centres have a section devoted to shade loving plants. You’ll have no problem finding varieties to suit your taste and garden. The real problem will be trying to limit how many you buy!