THE SHADY GARDEN

Shade has always been prized in the garden, in the cool British Isles as well as in the hot countries of the world. Plants look beautiful in dappled light, and leafy arcades, orchards twittering with the song of birds, woodland glades and sheltering arbours have always been the stuff of poetry. In novels, the shrubbery is a traditional scene for flirtation, and a shady oak or cedar a choice spot for a picnic. The shade of walls or buildings can be equally alluring, and a courtyard or a town terrace can make an attractive home for plants, perhaps enhanced by the trickle of a little fountain. Indeed. Ground open to the sky, though enclosed by walls, may get a high concentration of light, so that the town gardener can have flowers as well as greenery. The only shade which defeats the gardener is a dense canopy of evergreens shutting out all the light all the time, but deciduous trees are not a problem, for they will let in the light in winter, and spring plants can grow and flower before the leaves of the trees come out. Sometimes, a stripping of the lower branches will allow more light to penetrate than if a tree is left un-pruned. That great American plantsman. Lannmg Roper, was a champion of this method.

Shade-loving plants are by nature woodlanders, and those plants will do best which are related to the shade-loving plants of the wild. The woodland floor under most deciduous trees, particularly oak. Is cool and moist, and fed by its own decaying leaves, but though some plants will accept the drier shade of. Say. A 8 chestnut tree, with crackly leaves which do not rot, they may need the help of an occasional moisture-retaining mulch of leafmould or compost.

Shade-loving plants often have recognizable characteristics. Some, like rodger-sias, have evolved large leaves which make the most of the available light. Some, like honeysuckle, are climbers which like their roots in the shade but will not flower until they have reached the sunlight. Ferns are bom for shade. So are some of the early spring bulbs, like our native wild daffodils, which Wordsworth saw ‘Beside the lake, beneath the trees. Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.’

Hostas will grow almost anywhere, and so will the climbing hyd-rangea, H, petiolahs, some of the daph-nes, and many more. Though primroses are typical plants of coppiced woodland, they have sown themselves all over a dry. Sunny, unpromising bank in my own garden, so one must never be dogmatic. I think, too, of sunny railway embankments thick with primroses enjoyed from the windows of a train, a habit, I am thrilled to see, which is spreading to motorways. Conversely, some sun-loving plants, like peonies, will grow in shade, and will last much longer than in sunshine. William Robinson commended them as good plants for shady corners.

When planting a shady area, some gardeners like to lighten the darkness with golden-leaved or variegated shrubs. Golden privet makes an exciting splash where the common privet would be deadly; variegated ivies are among the best members of their family; the lovely golden philadelphus, P. coronohus ‘Aureus’, prefers shade to sun.

Coming back to the woodland nature of the shady plants, it follows that they look best grown informally – bulbs naturalized, biennials self-seeded, shrubs and perennials in loose groupings. Even in a shady town garden a formal row of plants is risky; getting irregular quantities of light, they might not develop at the same rate.

In general, shade is not a quality to be deplored, but is one of the garden’s most attractive assets.

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