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16 October 2014
Gardener's Corner

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Autumn 2001
John Cushnie On...

Shady Characters

I can think of nowhere in the garden more dreary in February than a shaded corner under trees. It is dull, the drips of rain are enormous and there is a coldness which seems to penetrate to the back bone. I wish I could convince myself that the summer will be so hot the cooling shade offered by the leafy canopy will be welcome.

Tree roots create problems, drying out the soil and always accumulating where you are trying to dig a planting hole. Certainly not the ideal growing conditions for most plants. There is however, a considerable collection of shrubs and perennials which not only grow in such a site but thrive and enjoy the habitat.

Soil may be improved by raking the layer of accumulated leaf mould into the top few inches. Adding old, rotted farmyard manure will help. An application of a general purpose fertilizer such as Growmore, at a handful per square yard will get the plants off to a quick start.
Early spring bulbs which flower before deciduous trees are in leaf will have enough light, Winter Aconite (Eranthis hyemalis), Glory of the Snow (Chinodoxa) Cyclamen coum and Wood anemone (Anemone nemerosa) form sheets of colour. Snowdrops, crocus and dwarf tulips make an impressive display.

If hellebores, including the Christmas Rose (Helleborus niger) and the Lenten Rose (H.orientalis), are planted in a bold group, they make a memorable show. Cheap and cheerful ground coverers such as periwinkle (Vinca ), Bugle (Ajuga) and Dead nettle (Lamium) will tolerate dry or wet shade and are immune to water drops.

All the spring flowering, evergreen and deciduous daphnes are tolerant of shade. The fragrance from these shrubs is powerful enough to banish the gloom from the darkest corner. Other spring flowering shrubs include camellia in variety,corylopsis and pieris. Elephant ears (Bergenia cordifolia) is a tough perennial with large glossy evergreen leaves.The stout stems carry dense heads of small pink flowers.
Spotted dog (Pulmonaria officinalis) is low growing with heart shaped spotted foliage and red flowers which turn to blue in spring.

Bleeding heart (Dicentra spectabilis) flowers in late spring and early summer. It is a perennial with locket-shaped pink and white flowers growing to 24 inches. Welsh poppy (Meconopsis cambrica) carries solitary, butter yellow, summer flowers and spreads readily by seed.

Hostas and lilies all add to the show. The climbing rose ‘Zephirine Drouhin’ is pink flowering and fragrant. It has few thorns and tolerates shade. Fatsia japonica, holly, spotted laurel and variegated ivy are useful evergreens for winter.

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