Any plants that like to grow in a shady area are a welcome addition to the garden. The lushness of shade-loving plants is a glorious sight in the heat of the Australian summer. Perennials for semi shade have fresh foliage each year and many flowering perennials enjoy a little shade. I particularly want to cultivate semi-shade to provide a place for the exquisite Meconopsis betonicfolia (Tibetan Blue Poppy) and pink M. nepaulensis, dainty columbine-like Semiaquilegia, Erythronium species (Trout lilies) and Trillium species.
I have planted a Magnolia denudata (which is covered in white tulip-like flowers in Spring), a white Robinia – with flowers like a wisteria – and a fast-growing, beautiful maple, Acer rubrum `Scanlon’, beneath which hellebores, hostas, Epimedium and primroses flourish. My favourite crab-apple, Malus floribunda – which has deep pink buds opening to white blossom – waits to be planted and I plan to dot several white dogwoods, an Amelanchier and a Magnolia cambellii about the garden also.
Plant varieties for Shade
Flowering Plants for shade and semi shade include a fairly large variety of flowering perennial plants, ground cover plants as well as feature plants
Nerines also grow well in pots and make a good floral display in a container near the door or on a patio. These are a bulb that prefers to be left undisturbed, so only divide one they have become overcrowded. Nerine flexuosa ‘Alba’ is an autumn flowering white nerine. Nerine Fothergill Major is an orange-red early flowering variety, late summer.
Lots of different species and cultivars, look for Nerine bowdenii, Nerine bowdenii “manina forest” form, Nerine filamentosa, Nerine fothergillii major and Nerine kregii with its fascinating twisted leaves.
Deciduous trees provide such a lovely, filtered shade that many perennials thrive beneath them.
Some perennials are deciduous in Winter – such as hostas – so Winter-growing bulbs such as snowdrops (Galanthus) planted between clumps, extend the season.
Crab-apples, for example, flower in Spring and have colourful fruit and leaves in Autumn, then let the sun through in Winter to allow perennials such as Winter Rose (Helleborus) to gain some needed Winter sunshine.
My hellebores are not watered in Summer yet flower reliably each year, from June until, well, November last year, but usually September, in pinks, plum, white or green.
The sky-blue tubular flowers of Corydalis flexuosa can appear almost year-round over dainty, ferny foliage. It reaches 25cm high in a moist semi-shady spot and is planted at Stephen Ryan’s garden (of Dicksonia Rare Plants Nursery), as a swathe representing a stream sweeping under a bridge – a magical sight.
Summer sees hostas flowering, my favourite being Hosta grandiflora which has pure white, perfumed trumpet-shaped flowers over apple-green foliage.
Most of these handsome clump-forming perennials have wonderful dappled leaves, paddle-shaped, with lemon, grey or white variegation.
Hosta sieboldiana has lilac flowers over blue-grey leaves, puckered like seersucker. Hostas thrive in semi-shade, requiring some watering in Summer, and I grow several in pots, placed around the front door each Spring until late Autumn.
Snail control is important to prevent unsightly leaves with holes for the remainder of the season.
Dicentra spectabilis (Bleeding Hearts) and D. formosa (Ladies’ Lockets) flower in late Spring and early Summer with elegant arching stems of heart-shaped flowers. Both are happy in a moist, shady spot and D. formosa is fairly drought-tolerant. Lush ferny leaves die back in Winter so I interplant with snowflakes or miniature daffodils to give interest in Winter and early Spring.
Feathery plumes of small flowers give Astilbe (False Goatsbeard) a distinctive appearance in early Summer. The divided leaves are fern-like and need moisture in the warm months. White and pale pink varieties light up a shady corner.
Many lilies flower in Summer and I love Lillium martagon which is a delicate-looking species with small, dainty pink flowers on 1m stems which rise above surrounding hellebores or hostas like fireworks. A beauty for semi-shade.
Autumn brings Japanese Windflowers (Anemone x hybrida) with pretty pink or white flowers on 1.2m stalks but – and a big but – these spread for miles and so are best planted in isolated beds, rather than allowed to swamp the entire garden. Another useful thug is the Snow Poppy (Eomecon chionantha) from China, with pure white flowers in Spring, over lush, scalloped kidney-shaped leaves – a beautiful plant for an isolated spot or in pots, requiring regular watering.
Other shade loving plants and perennials for dappled shade or morning sun include
- Thalictrum T.dipterocarpum (Lavender Showers) and T. aquilegifolium (Meadow Rue) with dainty flowers to 1.5m over maidenhair-like foliage;
- Cimicifuga (Bugbane) with magical white skyrockets of flowers – worth seeking out.
- Toad lily (Tricyrtis) has unusual, spotted flowers on arching stems in Spring but may look tatty by mid-Autumn.
- Many geranium such as G. pratense are happiest in semi-shade and look wonderful edging a border.
- Anemonopsis macrophylla has beautiful lilac-pink flowers over divided leaves in a sheltered spot away from hot winds.
- Patrinia triloba has dainty yellow flowers in Summer over handsome, glossy, ivy-shaped leaves, forming a pretty groundcover.
- Soloman’s Seal (Polygonatum multiflorum) has arching stems of green-tipped white bells in Spring.
- Tellima grandiflora has green bells on 50cm spires in Spring.
- Tiarella and Heuchera have spikes of tiny bells in Spring and many varieties have interesting and colourful leaves also, such as Heuchera `Rachel’ with burgundy foliage. Heuchera `Grace’ has graceful clouds of tiny white flowers in late Spring.
- Veronicastrum virginicum has dainty spires of palest blue flowers to 1m in late Spring and early Summer.
- Ladies’ Mantle (Alchemilla mollis) likes a moist shady spot where it will flower in Spring: a foam of tiny pale green flowers over beautiful grey-green, scalloped leaves.
- Rogersia and Aruncus (Goat’s Beard) are statuesque perennials while Atriplex may be grown for its attractive berries and divided foliage.
- Iris japonica and the smaller I. cristata relish semi-shade, with pale blue flowers in Spring. I. gracilipes has gorgeous lilac flowers, ideal in a shady rock garden. I. japonica can take over a little but is easily pulled out and it is so hardy in difficult, shady places, as are violets.
- Bulbs to try in semi-shade include species tulips (if given Winter sunshine), Fritillaria, Scilla, Eranthis,Chionodoxa, Anemone nemerosa
- Cyclamen, a love of mine. From C. hederifolium in Autumn to C. coum in Winter and C. repandum and C. libanoticum in Spring, all are dainty gems with lovely leaves, often splashed silver. C. hederifolium album is a beauty which lights up a shady spot and C. repandum grows well in full shade. C. graecum can tolerate more sunshine than other species.
- Permanent evergreen height may be achieved in semi-shade by using shrubs such as Correa, Kalmia, Daphne sp., dwarf Rhododendron or Kerria japonica.For tall ephemeral accent, try tree paeonies (two thousand years ago, the Chinese called these satiny-flowered, perfumed beauties ‘the king of flowers’); Veratrum with beautiful pleated leaves; Eremurus (Foxtail Lilies), Macleaya cordata (Plume Poppy) with gorgeous, silver-backed, glaucous scalloped leaves; or lemon-flowered Kirengashoma palmata from Japan.
Most of these perennials require only an annual haircut – a small price for a lush, beautiful place to sit on hot Summer days.