For a gardener, shade brings a whole new set of challenges. Ones that can’t always be met by improving the soil or moving things around.
Plants need daylight to grow and if they don’t have enough sunshine, they’ll perish.
Learning From Nature
Luckily for us, Mother Nature has provided a selection of plants that are reasonably well adapted to growing in shady conditions. In fact, some of them will struggle if you try to grow them in the sunshine.
To research them, take a walk in the woods and see what’s growing underfoot. It’s illegal to take plants from the wild, but you can take photographs, identify those plants, and find out where you can buy them.
You’ll also find shade-tolerant wildflowers growing in verges and hedgerows where the sun only visits for part of the day. Old churchyards are another of my favourite sources of inspiration. Not the immaculately kept new cemeteries, rather the corners and edges of the churchyard where long-forgotten relatives lie undisturbed by strimmers and mowers.
Go walking at different times of the year – you’ll see how Nature offers all-year-round interest. It’s not for you though, these plants are growing as part of an amazing ecosystem so you’ll see flowers at the time of year when bees, butterflies and moths need nectar for energy. You’ll see Laval food plants when the butterflies and moths are breeding and you’ll see seedheads when birds need winter food.
Shade Loving Wildflowers
What you won’t see in shady spots are flowers with garish colours and enormous blooms. Those tend to be found in fields and gardens. Woodland flowers are normally white or pastel coloured with delicate blooms.
Let’s take a look at a few of them
Red campion – for a full description, click here
Foxglove – a favourite woodland plant of mine. I cultivate it in my garden too because the bees seem to love it. Tall flowering spikes in June add height to my island borders
Fern: Just because it doesn’t have a showy flower, don’t overlook the humble fern. This is bracken, probably a bit too invasive for a garden but there will be alternatives in the garden centre.
Dames’ Violet: Search for these in early spring. Violets are shy, retiring flowers that are found close to the ground, nestling amongst their foliage. Quite shade tolerant, they provide food for the bumblebees who have woken early from their hibernation.
Ribwort Plantain: Quite a commonly seen little flower which at first glance is not particularly spectacular. However, seen in groups, this is quite a textural plant which moves gracefully in the breeze. The leaves are edible too – which is a bonus.
Musk Mallow: This delicate pink flower is more robust than it looks and it’s such a beautiful cooling, soothing colour.
How To Establish Wildflowers In The Shade
Meadowmat have created a wildflower mat especially for people who want to bring biodiversity into the cooler, shadier parts of their garden. It’s called “Woodland Shade Meadowmat” and contains 38 different species of perennial flowering plants and grasses. It’s trouble-free and easy to care for and you’ll be surprised at how many different fascinating creatures it attracts.