Shine on shade

A shady garden doesn’t have to be dull, you can still create a stunning design with spectacular lawns and cosy patio with romantic lighting and as long as you match plants to the growing conditions you can have year-round colour and interest…here’s how

Dry shade

Gloomy gardens and parched soil beneath trees often become dead zones, but this doesn’t have to be the case if you plant well and stick to a pallet of fresh green evergreens with a varied and interesting outline and ground-covering herbaceous perennials.

The plants being used to create the outline of the display will need a head start on the rest, to avoid being swamped so ideally plant the borders over two consecutive seasons. The soil must be in good heart with plenty of organic matter added before planting and mulches used to ensure better moisture retention.

In the dry shade beneath trees plant shrubs such as mahonia, rubus, ruscus sambucus, skimmia, syphoricarpus and Hydrangea arborescens Grandiflora and under plant with ground-hugging ajuga, alchemilla, epimediums, bergenia, hellebores, lamium, pulmonaria and soft shield ferns. Make the emphasis on plants with shiny leaves and white or pale-coloured blooms and to lift the garden out of the gloom

Productive dead zones

In shady spots, dig deep to relieve compaction and incorporate plenty of organic matter when planting and especially if you want to grow moisture-loving hostas. On the veg plot, do the majority of your planting in spring with short season vegetables, such as lettuce, peas, radishes, spinach, beets, onions, garlic and broccoli, which thrive in three to six hours of sun a day and to keep down weeds and conserve moisture at plant roots top dress with light coloured mulch to reflect light.

Buildings create rain shadows where soil remains dry and their concrete foundations suck moisture out of the earth so it’s advisable to plant at least 40cm away from the base of the walls 

Rain shadow

No-fuss flowers need to be undemanding perennials that provide colour year after year without any intervention and can be relied on to produce a glorious garden. In an alleyway between buildings the soil is in a rain shadow and usually shady and dry, so you will need to look for woodland plants that will thrive in dry shade such as bugle, lady’s mantle, dead nettles, periwinkle and bergenia as well as ivy or if the soil is sun baked, choose succulents that have a in-built water supply such as sedums and grassy leaved plants that perform in most hostile conditions.

Clematis colour

Keep clematis happy in the dry shade found at the base of a wall by digging in plenty of moisture-retentive well-rotted garden compost into the planting hole and mulch with gravel

A good planting scheme is multi-layered and one of the most versatile shade-loving plants for weaving into flowerbeds and borders to create a tapestry effect is clematis. Known as the Queen of Climbers they can be used to clothe bare walls, scramble up into trees and shrubs to extend the season of interest or left to work their way through ground-hugging varieties to give extra flower power at soil level. Clematis love to have their heads in sun and the roots in shade, so mulch the bare soil around the plant with pebbles or bark nuggets which won’t suck the soil dry like ground cover plants would.

Must-have plants

Colour enriches our whole world and brings the garden to life. Introduce white into a shady spot and you’ll literally be bringing light into the garden and use shades of yellow throughout the borders to illuminate the dullest spots with artificial sunshine. Beat the winter blues by planting spring-flowering bulbs in autumn and you’ll be uplifted by their bright colours in the New Year.

Plant azalea in dense shade, and they won’t bloom but in dappled sun all day or sun in the morning and light shade in the afternoon they’ll thrive. Azaleas do well in moist, acid (pH 5.5 or so), well-drained soil with lots of organic matter, such as peat, compost, chopped leaves, or ground bark

Add impact in spring with pots of golden yellow daffodils. Choose the dainty daffodils Jenny, Jack Snipe and February Silver for pots and use them on the patio and to add a splash of colour to beds in dappled shade. Inject energy into evergreen planting schemes with ivory-white tulips such as the classic feather-edged White Parrot, long-stemmed lily-like tulip White Triumphator and elegant Spring Green that slightly feathered petals each with a bright green central band.

Slim Shady

Break up the rectangular feel of a slim garden with curving shapes, which flow at an angle from the house across the garden to suggest breadth. Carefully position specimen trees or large shrubs to enhance the drama of the curves and diagonals. Decorate fences with climbers to hide the boundaries and give the feeling of depth and lift narrow borders out of the gloom in summer with plants with attractive foliage such as hostas, spurges and ferns.

Make the most of a narrow plot by creating flowing curves and using light coloured paving or gravel underfoot

The orientation or aspect of a garden will dictate the best spot for sitting areas and other features that call for a sheltered or sunny position. Watch the way the sun and shadows move across your garden throughout the day and in the different seasons and mark out the shadiest spots for making woodland borders. Take photographs to capture and record the magical moments in your garden.

Love your lawn

A green pool of lawn provides a calm simple centrepiece to a garden. Its smooth, even texture makes a perfect foil for planting as well as a user-friendly surface with a tactile quality that can be enjoyed barefoot. The delicious smell of freshly mown grass is also an unforgettable sensual pleasure! For a hardwearing lawn it’s important to choose grass that is resistant to wear and tear, drought tolerant and suitable for shady areas.

The exact type of shade you have is also important when choosing grass seed for shade.  Shade will always occur on the north side of buildings.  Because the sky is still clearly visible, quite a lot of light will still fall in such an area and it will be easy to get any slightly shade-tolerant grass like fescues to grow there.

The shade underneath trees, where the foliage of the trees not only blocks the light but also filters out the very wavelengths needed by the grass, is more difficult to deal with.  Here only the most shade-tolerant species will survive, and even then the lawn may be thinner. In that situation remember to mow the grass a little longer, as longer grass will always look lusher!

When you walk barefoot on grass, the level of endorphins (feel-good hormones) in your body increases. Research also shows that walking barefoot on grass helps to decrease stress level by 62 percent

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