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Made for Shade: Shade Loving Plants for Every Corner of your Garden

Hosta Sieboldiana Elegans

All green plants depend on sunlight for energy and life, but every garden will inevitably have shadier areas where the light is blocked by trees or buildings. While lack of light can cause challenges, they can be overcome with thoughtful plant choices. Understanding different plants’ responses to light allows you to plan around the various types of shade you might encounter in your garden and unlock the creative opportunities they present.

Plants can be categorised as ‘shade avoiders’ or ‘shade tolerators’ to varying degrees, depending on their responses to detected changes in red and blue light. Some may be more adapted to modifying their growth habits than others. Matching the degree of shade that a plant can tolerate with the amount of light available is key to a successful garden.

Types of Shade

Identifying the different types of shade in your garden will help to determine the best places for different plants to meet their needs.

Dryopteris erythrosora

  • Light shade: an area open to the sky but blocked from direct sunlight by an obstacle. Most plants will grow well here but there may be reduced flowering

  • Partial or semi-shade: there is some direct sun but possibly for less than half the hours of daylight. Shade loving plants should thrive here, though with significantly less flowering

  • Dappled shade: an area where sunlight is filtered through a light canopy of leaves, for example. Again, shade-loving plants should thrive, but may need extra watering

  • Moderate shade: a site receiving only two or three hours of direct sunlight each day at the peak of summer. Shade tolerant plants will survive here but are usually grown for foliage rather than flowers. Be aware that soil conditions may be worse in moderate shade, so plant pots may be preferable to planting in the ground

  • Deep or heavy shade: areas under conifers or evergreen trees, for example, where it is dry and sheltered year-round. Only a limited selection of extremely shade tolerant plants are likely to survive here

The likelihood of plants flourishing in each degree of shade coverage also depends on whether the soil is damp or dry. Dry shade presents gardeners with extra obstacles. It is typically found in areas directly obstructed by high walls, or under trees with roots which remove the moisture from surrounding soil. Finding plants which will tolerate this type of shade is difficult but not impossible.

Many plants have adapted to tolerate dry and shady sites.

The following are all available to purchase from The Walled Garden at Mells:

Tiarella Pink Sky Rocket

  • Tiarella Pink Sky Rocket – a hardy shrub which thrives in dappled partial or full shade

  • Hosta Grossa Regal, Hosta Wide Brim and Hosta Sieboldiana Elegans - hardy and reliable, hostas are shade-loving perennials requiring almost no special attention. They are typically known for their leaves but sometimes flower in summer months.

  • Alchemilla mollis (aka. Lady Mantle) – good perennial to grow as ground cover in dappled or partial shade

  • Heucherella Kimono PBR and Heucherella Alabama Sunrise – heucherellas are compact perennials. They're ideal for partial shade but will grow in any amount of sunlight as long as they are well watered

  • Epimedium x rubrum – an evergreen perennial with heart-shaped leaves, perfect for shady garden borders, dappled partial or full shade

  • Woodruff – this herb adds interesting texture to shaded areas with its aromatic foliage. It is often planted as ground cover in sites of partial to full shade

  • Digitalis purpurea (aka Foxgloves) – a woodland plant with pleasing purple blooms. Providing the soil is suitably moist, it can survive in anything from full sun to full shade

  • Dryopteris The King and Dryopteris erythrosora– light ferns which thrive in partial or dappled shade, great for garden borders

  • Geranium Cambridge – geraniums bring colour and interest to shaded spots

  • Actaea Brunette – an unusual perennial which yields elegant white or purple blooms late in the season. It thrives in dappled or partial shade, sheltered from too much direct sunlight to protect the delicate flowers

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