As the heat sets in it is the shady spots around your home that host us for the family braai or quiet spot to which we escape. Gardening in the shade is a challenge for many and especially new gardeners who need some guidance. Problems in shade gardens are normally due to the lack of light, water or food. A shade garden is possible, there are some tricks for growing great shade gardens that are important if you are determined to succeed. Our team have some ideas around creating the perfect spot for you.
Several characteristics typify shade gardening. In addition to low light levels, plants growing in the shade must compete with shading trees for nutrients and water and tolerate poor air circulation. Shade cast by buildings is characterised by moist conditions and plant selection here also plays an important role. Shade from overhanging trees is called dry shade due to the trees competing for water.
The first active step is to ensure your plants have adequate water and this means that you do have to provide them with enough water to grow and flower. Often most water is absorbed by the trees providing the shade and less is available to the smaller plants. Remember that those trees have very greedy roots and will outcompete perennials in your garden just as they do in nature. Regular mulching and liberal composting will help to loosen the soil and help retain moisture.
Secondly large trees also take most of the available nutrients in the soil, creating tough competition for shade shrubs and ground covers. Feeding regularly is a must at least three of four times through summer.
Lastly lighten up on decor. Choose light-colour rocks or pavers for paths and use pale statuary. Darker objects disappear in the low light of a shade garden.
Our favourite plants for shade:
Forest Bell bush
The indigenous Mackaya Bella also known as the forest bell bush will grow in total shade and are perfect for right up against the boundary where they will form a sold screen blocking out walls or neighbours. Growing just over two meters round they flower each spring to early summer with white tinged lilac flowers and flower in bunches making quite a spectacular show each year. Water wise and hardy make them the must have shade plant in any garden.
Orange or Coffee Jasmine
The fragrant Orange Jasmine flowers mid to late spring and then on and off though the summer with a full flush in autumn again. The small white flowers are very dainty and cluster on the ends of the branches. They provide the garden with a strong citrus fragrance especially in the early evening. Well suited to be clipped into a hedge or topiary shape they also add substance to the bed if left alone, growing over two meters high. Best in dappled shade they have a dark glossy leaf which lends towards a tropical feel.
Often confused with a delicious monster the Philodendron is one of the most practical plants to grow in the shade. Needing very little care and attention they add a touch of the jungle feel. Look for different varieties such as the dwarf Xanadu which will grow around one square metre. The Multistemed Hope has large leaves which are often used in tropical arrangements and The Giant Selloum which will grow over two metres high makes a serious statement in the shade.
Also called a Japanese Aralia they will grow indoors as well as on a shady patio. Plant one in the back to middle of the garden bed where they will grow up and spread their leaves to look like an umbrella. They get a small cluster of white flowers through late summer which pushes up through the umbrella. They recover very quickly if treated badly and with a good cutback the re-shoot fast and look lush. Feed them with Bio Ganic All Purpose throughout the year for the lush foliage.
The most popular flowering shade plants are the acid loving Rhododendrons also known as evergreen azaleas. Rhododendrons also make excellent container plants or in the garden as part of a border. Rhododendrons create a picture in the early spring when they are smothered in blooms. They are available in a wide range of colours. The best position for your Rhododendron is towards the edge of a bed where the shade is not as deep. Plant them with Acid Compost and feed with Colourburst Azalea food to keep them looking great.
Last word on design
Shade gardens are often more subtle and restful than sunny ones. Plant textures and colour differences become more important elements of the design. Strong contrasts in texture accentuate their differences. Use strong textural contrasts only where emphasis is needed. Upright, columnar plant shapes are used as accent points in the shade. Rounded or spreading forms create a more spacious and opulent effect. To emphasise plantings in the shade, concentrate on plants with light flowers or foliage which will stand out more.