Plants for shady gardens

  • Foxgloves
  • Solomon’s Seal
  • ferns
  • hellebores


  • daphnes
  • viburnums
  • hosta


“Number one in the top ten of shade lovers is, of course, the fern. As woodlanders, ferns love shade and damp, and there are countless different forms to choose from. My particular favourite is the Japanese Painted Fern. Its frilled leaves are a miraculous mix of silver, green, grey and violet. The overall effect, which is silver, illuminates any dark corner.

I am not usually fond of variegated leaves, particularly if the plant in question also has brightly coloured flowers (what fresh hell is this?) but a touch of cream or silver – or even lime yellow – does wonders in lighting up a shady nook.

So among the ferns are a couple of Acers, or Japanese Maples, which do well in pots and add some much-needed height to that corner. A garden needs variations in height to look its best; a landscape of plants of exactly the same height would be a very dull thing indeed.

Acers, quite apart from liking shade and pots, come in a lovely variety of colour, from deep purple through to lime green. Their fan-shaped leaves move prettily in the breeze and they are obliging enough to put on a firework display of orange, red and gold in the autumn.

So I have planted two: Acer Palmatum Green Glory, with lime green leaves unfurling in crimson, and Acer Palmatum Butterfly, one of the smallest in the variety (so particularly well suited to a pot), which has very finely dissected leaves edged in cream that live up to their promise of fluttering.

Because I like a shrub or tree that does double duty by working its thing in both spring and autumn, I have added an Amelanchier Lamarkckii. It is as pretty as a bride in spring, when it is wreathed in white flowers, then cloaked in glory as its leaves turn crimson in the autumn. It is actually a small tree but is taking its chance in a large pot.

Or, rather, I am taking the chance for it, so we shall see how it goes if kept well-nourished and watered. At its feet I have planted snowdrops and lily of the valley, a troupe of bridesmaids to accompany its wedding veil next spring.”



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