What’s not to like about shade plants? Those dimly lit areas of our gardens, that rarely see daylight, can often be the hardest to landscape. But you needn’t throw up your garden gloves in frustration – well not yet, anyway.
While moulds, fungi and lichens grow rampantly in these much maligned garden zones there are plants which desire a shaded area just as much – if not more. Take a trek through a rainforest sometime and observe the under-story plants that cheerily settle for an existence devoid of natural light. It’s as though illumination were the arch-enemy of these floral specimens and lurking within the partial darkness was the obvious defense.
Yet, with all this adaptation forming their structures, there are key characteristics that define what makes a foolproof shade plant. It’s these characteristics that should help your next nursery or garden centre trip become an easier decision making process – with far better results!
Characteristics of Shade Plants
Shade plants always exhibit light (as in “not heavy”) foliage with a greater surface dimension than most others. Point in case: compare a rose bush that requires heaps of sunlight with a hosta that thrives on limited exposure to bright lights. This greater surface area has the ability to photosynthesize with far lower amounts of sunlight. In proportion to the plant’s size, its foliage will always be overstated and un-bulky.
If flowers exist they are either profusively soft and light or rare and obnoxiously sanguine. A plant that doesn’t need too much energy to produce blooms will always perform much better as a shade plant – or at least one that is tolerant to shade. And rarely will these blooms offer a fragrance – again, more energy required.
But shade plants won’t just grow in anything. They devour low pH, humus-ey soils. Back to the rainforest trek we started with and you can imagine that under-story plants live off the nutrients provided from their taller cousins. Composts, and rich acidic soils exist in these areas and define the best growing enviroment for shade lovers.
If you haven’t fallen in love with shade plants yet then stick around as I offer a few options for even the darkest corners of your garden. No garden can exist without a pesky shade area and if you’ve gardened for a while you’ve probably stuck a headstone over a few of your nursery purchases.
Types of Foolproof Shade Plants
A personal fave of mine is the Hellebores sp. Simply put, a shaded area should not be devoid of a few different hellebores. Their moping heads, disdainfully staring at the soil beg you to pick them up and enjoy their friendly faces. Coated in chocolate hues, lime greens, or water-colour mahogany they are a shade plant that cannot be denied.
While I’m preparing for the rebuke of The Deep Middle’s, Benjamin Vogt, I am a big fan of hostas as a shade plant. These are clearly the ubiquitious plant to grow in shaded areas and offer a sense of presence and textured colour rivalled by few other shade lovers. Their deep blue and vermillion hues cast them as the star of dimly lit areas – even without the presence of a single bloom.
It’s only recently that I’ve fallen in love with heucheras. Initially I wrote them off as an African-violet-wannabe but they’ve since proved their place in my gardens with pastel shades and textures not displayed by many shade plants. Plus, their late spring/summer flowers perched above a stem seemingly unfit to perform such an activity seem extravagant – yet delightful.
An oldie but a goodie. Philodendrons have seen a resurgence in many contemporary gardens because you just can’t beat a plant that continually performs. It’s a mainstay in shaded areas offering beautiful deep green leaves that look almost fern-like without being a fern.
This list is obviously not exhaustive but if you’re needing some more ideas check out sago palms, ferns, bromeliads, tillandsias and a raft of other plants that you’re likely to find in a rainforest habitat. That shaded area no longer needs to cause you such angst.
Love to hear to your thoughts and solutions for shade plants and what’s growing well in your garden.