A shady border – the best (and easiest) part of your garden?
My shady border is probably better for longer than anywhere else in the garden. Although I do far less work in it – less planting and weeding – than I do in the sunnier borders.
If you look up ‘plants for shade’, you usually will see barely repressed pity for those with shady gardens or borders. The implication is usually that this is the ‘difficult’ part of your garden, and that you will struggle to make it even look acceptable…if only all borders could be in full sun, our gardens would be perfect…
But which border do you have to weed most often? The sunniest or the shadiest? In this garden, it’s certainly the sunniest. I’ve spent 10+ hours weeding the sunny border this year, and it’s still bursting with weeds. They come back vigorously to enjoy the sunshine. The shady border does have weeds in it, but they are slower growing.
In which border do flowers last longer? While my sunny border flowers go over at astonishing speed, the shade garden side offers a long, leisurely season of enjoyment. At the moment, the shady border has Solomon’s seal, saxifrage ‘London Pride’ and lily of the valley in flower, while the last hellebores are just going over.
And which border is best all-year round? Definitely the shady one, as far as I’m concerned.
Plants for shade
But aren’t you restricted in choice when it comes to plants for a shady border?
I was originally going to call this ‘the best plants for a shade garden’ or some such, but the more research I did on plants that were suitable for shady gardens, the longer the list grew. It’s much, much too long for one post.
But, just for starters: lamium, hydrangeas, tiarellas, astilbe, Japanese Anemone (esp Honorine Joubert), skimmia, cyclamen, alchemilla mollis, acanthus mollis, hardy geraniums, ferns, hellebores, persicaria, eupatorium…
The fact is that some plants do better in full sun and others in shade or part-shade. Either way, your choice of plant is restricted by aspect. You will generally see more plants for ‘full sun’ in plant brochures, but a friend of mine thinks that’s a bit like the label on clothes that says ‘dry clean only.’ It’s generally ‘safer’ advice.
I’ve got a group of Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ who absolutely adore my ‘full shade’ border. I’ve tried to relocate them to where they’re supposed to be – in full sun – but they keep coming back. Oddly enough, however, they don’t like either of the semi-shady beds. I think plants just don’t read their own labels sometimes…
There are some more excellent plants for shade here in this video from The Horti-Culturalists YouTube channel. And there’s more about different kinds of shade and how to choose plants for each one in this post.
Do you need more shade in your garden?
As two friends and I were going round the wonderful Jardin Agapanthe in Northern France, we all mused that we needed more shade in our garden. Le Jardin Agapanthe is an example of a garden where the owner deliberately created shade – it could have been an open expanse of sunny and colourful borders. It’s actually a layered plantaholic’s delight.
But isn’t a shady border boring?
Many exotic plants are shade-loving because a jungle is quite a shady place. Those who create exotic gardens in temperate climates make excellent use of shade-loving plants to create a lush atmosphere.
Shape and shade
If I’m being honest (rather than biased towards shade), I have to admit that there is a wider range of brightly coloured flowers suitable for a sunny border. However, the strength of a shady border is the wide variety of leaf shape and the different shades of green you can get when you focus on leaves rather than flowers. That’s also why a shady border can look better in winter – leaf shape and shade can retain its interest for longer than flowers, which are reliant on colour for effect.
So before cutting down that tree, think about how much easier a shady garden is. Weeds don’t grow so fast. It’s more private. Plants that do flower often last longer. There’s a huge range in leaf shape and colour. And because it’s often more reliant on plant shape than colour, a shady border is more likely to look good all year round.
See the Middlesized Garden in early May in video
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