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Shade-loving plants to light up your garden.

Byline: By Peter Surridge

There are two principal kinds of garden shade: the pleasant, dappled sort under which a wide range of flowers will thrive, and dense shadow only a few plants can tolerate.

The first is typified by deciduous trees with a light canopy of leaves even in summer, such as birch and flowering cherries, while the second has the sun blocked by a thick screen of evergreen foliage - maybe Leyland cypresses - or by walls or fences.

If your garden has become too shady and you want to let in more light so that a wider range of plants can be grown, take these guidelines into account...

* Remove or minimise the causes of shade.

Where there's a solid barrier that cannot be moved - a wall, for instance - it can be painted white or cream to a height of 2m (6ft 6in) or more to reflect more light into the dingy area.

If the problem is an overhanging tree with a dense canopy, consider having some of the lower branches removed and the remainder thinned by a tree surgeon. Evergreen trees which blot out the light from a large part of the garden must earn that right by their beauty. Give the chop to unattractive specimens and replace them with trees that are suitable for the size of your garden and come into leaf late, such as robinia, or cast only light shadow like laburnum, rowan or apple, either an ornamental crab or one that will provide home-grown food as well as looking good. Lane's Prince Albert, a cooking apple that grows well in the North, makes a shapely tree and covers itself with beautiful, red-ringed white blossom in spring.

* Water regularly. It is no good depending on rainfall to irrigate plants against walls or fences because they are shielded from most of it. Plants under trees or against hedges have the same problem. So drench the soil the day before any new planting, mulch in spring to conserve moisture provided by winter rains, and be prepared to water during any dry spells in summer.

* Feed generously. Trees and hedges also lap up nutrients. Aim to overcome this by digging in plenty of organic material - well-rotted manure or garden compost - when planting and feeding with a general fertiliser in spring for at least two years.

* Choose the right plants. Many flourish in shade, though fewer will put up with accompanying dryness.

Spring bulbs like snowdrops, crocuses and daffodils are the best starters, especially under deciduous trees where they can bloom before the canopy of leaves casts a shadow. But their performance soon ends and then, with the trees in leaf, the true challenge begins.

Other bulbous and rhizomatous plants can take up the baton. In early spring bergenia, aka pigsqueak or elephant-ears, opens pink or purple blooms, followed by Solomon's seal, which grows arching stems dangling numerous white, bell-shaped flowers. For summer, there are purple and yellow Iris foetidissima and arum lilies, while autumn displays are provided by free-flowering little Cyclamen hederifolium and naked ladies, Colchicum autumnale, sometimes wrongly called autumn crocuses.

A useful selection of smaller, hardy perennials will tolerate most types of soil and also manage in quite heavy shade. For blue spring flowers, plant anchusa with spiky leaves or ajuga, the low-growing bugle, which extends flowering into summer. As long as the ground is damp, all kinds of primroses, including the delightful candelabra types, will thrive, so will pulmonaria or lungwort, with blue or pink flowers in April. Euphorbia robbiae, one of the cultivated spurges, produces yellow or green bracts in May and mixes well with Lamium maculatum, a species of dead-nettle but attractive for all that. The leaves are silver and green and the spring flowers can be white, yellow or mauve. A low, spreading type, it makes a natural-looking edging, though it does become a little scruffy later in the year.

For summer, hostas are among the most effective shade plants with variegated or blue-tinted leaves and white or mauve flowers. They combine well with the many shade-tolerant kinds of rhododendron (pictured). As long as the soil can be kept fairly moist, several other flowers will thrive in summer, including polygnum or knotweed and meconopsis poppies, among them the yellow Welsh and blue Himalayan kinds (pictured).

Good shrubs for shade include the spotted laurel, Aucuba japonica, Berberis linearifolia, a tough evergreen barberry with orange spring flowers and purple berries, Viburnum tinus, an evergreen with clusters of white winter flowers, and butcher's broom, Ruscus aculeatus, a 30cm (1ft) shrub with insignificant flowers but red berries on female bushes in autumn, and, for partial shade, Choisya ternata, the Mexican orange blossom, with glossy leaves and white flowers.

Corners of patios and courtyards - the trendy term for back yards - are often so densely shaded by walls that the gardener gives up on them. There are two ways of brightening those areas with pots and tubs.

First, a container can be planted with bright summer bedding, kept in a sunny, sheltered spot until the flowers are opening, and then moved into the shady position.

Secondly, plants that tolerate shade can be chosen for the container. These will tend to be perennials grown for their foliage, some of which might need protection in winter, but their long term attractiveness will compensate for that.

A classy container, such as a glazed pot or varnished tub, will set off this kind of collection. Try a plant with veined, silver or grey foliage, like Hosta `Blue Bush', which also produces lavender-blue flowers, or Brunnera macrophylla `Jack Frost', with blue forget-me-not flowers. Either of these will look striking fringed with a purplish-brown ophiopogon grass. In a larger tub, combine the large, architectural leaves of Fatsia japonica with trailing grasses and ivy.
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Copyright 2004 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Apr 17, 2004
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