SHADY GARDENS don't have a great reputation. All too often they come across as dark, dank and uninviting – not exactly three words to set your horticultural pulse racing. The good news is a shady space can quite easily be turned into a welcoming oasis with some careful design choices and a bit of smart planting.
In this layout I’ve removed the grass, which will never thrive in shade, and instead created a central seating and dining area. After all, on a scorching hot day, escaping to the shade for lunch can be the ideal option and, at dusk, shade-loving flowers often give the best colours and scent.
< THE PROBLEMS
- Lawn won’t grow in the dry shade below thirsty trees
- Garden is overlooked by neighbours
- Only shade-loving evergreens are thriving
- Fences look bare and garden feels boxed in
- Nowhere to sit and nothing to look at
1. FOCUS ON THE CENTRE The circular shape of the seating area helps distract the eye from the square fences and turns focus towards the centre rather than the edge of the garden.
2. BOUNCE THE LIGHT Small, pale-coloured ‘setts’ are perfect to make the circle – these small units can create curves without needing to be cut to shape, which saves both money and effort. They also give a solid edge, which retains the limestone chippings laid inside. These chippings are a great choice in shady sites for two reasons: first, they’re pale in tone, which means they reflect back a large amount of light, helping to brighten the area; second, the chippings create a textured surface, which means you won't face the slip-hazard problems you find with stone and wood in shade.
3. BUY WIPE-DOWN FURNITURE The pale-coloured metal table and chairs echo the shape of the terrace itself, throw back the light and, as a material, are easier to wipe down than wood which is important because you’ll find any furniture will 'green' in shade if you leave it out for weeks at a time.
4. ECHO THE CIRCLE The curves of the circle are also found in the low box hedging that hugs it in sections, as well as being echoed in the box balls dotted through the borders. This shade-tolerant plant is great for providing a kind of ‘green architecture’ that gives shape and interest to a garden even in the dead of winter.
5. MAKE FENCES 'DISAPPEAR' Clothing the fences in climbers hides the square boundaries as well as maximising planting space. Swathes of ivy can be effective but will often creep into beds and swamp other plants. Instead you could plant a more flower-focused combination of honeysuckles and clematis - you can even find one or two roses that will tolerate shade such as Rosa ‘New Dawn’.
BEST PLANTS FOR A SHADY GARDEN
Digitalis purpurea f. albiflora
Majestic spires and a plant that will happily self-sow its own replacements. Grow in a humus rich soil for flowers June to July. H1.8m (6ft) S60cm (24in)
Convallaria majalis (lily of the valley)
This is a delicate and highly scented plant for around edges of paths and patios. Prefers leafy, humus-rich soil but perfectly happy in shade. Flowers May. Also available in pink. H and S25cm (10in)
Lamium maculatum ‘Beacon Silver’
Pretty pink deadnettle ideal for quick-spreading ground cover, light-reflecting leaves. Prefers moist but well drained soil and flowers May to July. H15cm (6in) S60cm (24in)
Mahonia media ‘Charity’
Tall and handsome plant with holly type leaves and yellow winter flowers. Prefers fertile humus rich or well drained soil. Flowers November to March. Eventual H5m (16ft) S4m (13ft)
Viburnum opulus ‘Roseum’
The aptly named snowball tree has huge clusters of white flowers as well as berries to follow. Plant in a fertile moist but well drained soil for snowball flowers in May and June. H and S4m (13ft)
Small-leaved, slow-growing evergreen shrub ideal for topiary and low hedges. H and S5m (16ft) - trim annually to keep size
Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’
Delicate, forget-me-not style flowers above leaves splashed with white. Prefers humus rich, moist but well drained soil. Flowers April to May. H40cm (16in) S60cm (24in)
Attractive herbaceous perennial with 'corrugated' blue-grey leaves. Pale lilac flowers July and August. Protect from slugs!! H1m (3ft 3in) S1.2m (4ft)
Large evergreen fern for a shady, well drained border. Cut back old foliage in January. New fronds unfurl in April. H1.2m (4ft) S90cm (35in)
Polygonatum hybridum (Solomon’s seal)
Arching stems of flowers add a graceful note to beds. Prefers fertile humus rich soil conditions and flowers May to June. H1.5m (5ft) S30cm (12in)
Geranium phaeum ‘Album’
White version of the dusky cranesbill holds up graceful flowers above weed-smothering leaves. Plant in fertile well drained soil. Flowers May to June. H80cm (31in) S60cm (24in)