Let there be bright

Use vibrant plants to brighten up the shady parts of your garden
Garden recliner
© GAP Photos/Elke Borkowski
Lack of sunlight need not limit the variety of plants you can grow
A shady garden — or shady corners — can look sensational, provided you pick the right plants and give them the best possible conditions.

Raise light levels by painting walls or staining fences in light, bright shades. Raise fertility levels in the soil by digging in plenty of compost and well-rotted manure, especially in the dry, rooty ground under trees. And thin out tree canopies to change shade from dense to dappled, which will greatly increase the amount of plants you will be able to grow.

Use evergreen shrubs to brighten dim, dark patches of ground. Elaeagnus ebbingei stalwarts Gilt Edge and Limelight, with their gold-variegated foliage, are invaluable in lighting up shady sites. Choisya ternata, with fragrant white flower clusters in spring, and Mahonia japonica, with its rich yellow scented flowers in winter and spring, will both thrive in shade.

Camellias prefer dappled shade and demand a sheltered position that does not get early morning sun. For truly dense, dark corners, evergreen butcher’s broom Ruscus aculeatus, which has small white flowers and large red fruits, comes to the rescue.

Provide dappled shade for early-flowering perennials with easy-going deciduous shrubs kerria, flowering currant Ribes sanguineum and guelder rose Viburnum opulus.

If you want shady ground covered fast with trouble-free plants, seek out Ajuga reptans Burgundy Glow, which excels at forming a mat of colourful foliage and deep blue flower spikes over any old patch of poor soil. Aptly named elephant’s ears, the glossy evergreen Bergenia cordifolia, will do similar on a larger scale, throwing up welcome rose-pink flowers from late winter.

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Periwinkle — Vinca minor is less rampant than major — will anchor itself into sloping ground, covering it with trails of evergreen leaves and small blue, violet or white flowers in spring.

Which climbers thrive on a shady wall?


Bring in Hydrangea petiolaris, which, once it gets going, will provide a wall of fresh green leaf and lacey white blooms; keep it happy by mulching to retain moisture.

Honeysuckle thrives in light shade through the countryside, so relishes the same conditions in the garden. Learn to love ivy: the pretty, small-leaved kinds in different shades of gold and green that, planted cheek by jowl, make a terrific tapestry of foliage.

Climbing roses that will bloom in part shade include the great French beauties Mme Alfred Carriere and Mme Gregoire Staechelin. For prolonged flower power, let shade-loving clematis viticella varieties scramble through their framework or grow them solo to cover walls in a flowery purple or burgundy cloak.

If it’s fruit you fancy, a fan-trained morello cherry will do brilliantly on a cheerless north wall. Extend the flowering seasons, too, by planting plenty of bulbs in shady areas to shoot up between larger plants from spring to autumn.

Giant lily Cardiocrinum giganteum, which has masses of white trumpet flowers on 10ft stems, makes a magnificent splash in summer shade. The classic tiger lily, too, will thrive in light shade, as will the ancient martagon lily, throwing up spikes of dusky maroon or white turkscap flowers in early summer.

Come spring, you are spoilt for choice with shade-loving early snowdrops, blue or white daisy-flowered Anemone blanda, crocuses, which thrive in poor soil, blue-spiked Scilla siberica and dog’s-tooth violets, which need fertile, well-drained soil to produce their beautiful blooms with swept-back petals.

For autumn flowers, plant bulbs of both colchicum and cyclamen, which appreciate well-drained ground.

Make a stunning woodland scene...


Campanula persicifolia
© GAP Photos/Friedrich Strauss
The purple blooms of Campanula persicifolia favour dappled shade
... in spring by planting shade-loving perennials such as dark-flowered Helleborus orientalis and dainty sky-blue Corydalis flexuosa, backed up with unfurling ferns, hostas and Bowles’ Golden Grass, which serves up sunshine in its near-luminous leaves.

Revive the nosegay by planting sweet violet Viola odorata, primroses and cowslips in patches of moist soil, along with spotted-leaf lungwort pulmonaria. Lily of the valley will naturalise in drier, more difficult soil, and, later in spring, showy dicentras, with their locket-like flower sprays, can take centre stage.

Magical aquilegias, in a glorious medley of colours, self-seed happily in the shade and neatly bridge the gap between springs and summer. Encourage, too, foxgloves to naturalise, adding plenty of mulch if you settle the young rosettes, this autumn, in the rooty shade of trees.

Campanulas blue and white make a striking picture grown en masse in dappled shade, as do the deep pink spikes of purple loosestrife Lythrum salicaria Feuerkerze. Both are content in dry or moist ground.

When summer flowers fade, statuesque Japanese anemones take over — Honorine Jobert is an all-white stunner — and if you let them, their suckering shoots will spread across bed or border. Believe me, you could do worse.

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