My tricky bits: A dry shady area.

I have decided to do a mini series on the more tricky bits I have in my garden and what I am doing about them.  That way I won’t be able to ignore them any longer!

At the front of our house we have several mature trees: sycamore, elm and a couple of beeches. The garden then slopes down to the house.  This means the top border under the trees is exceptionally dry and shady.  The front lawn is a wonderful example of a mossy bank and is usually covered in leaves, twigs, beech nuts or elm seedlings depending on the time of year.

 

The Sycamore, Elm and Beech trees provide a dense canopy in the summer keeping the top garden very dry and shady.

The Sycamore, Elm and Beech trees provide a dense canopy in the summer keeping the top garden very dry and shady in summer and covered in leaves in autumn.

I have tried at various times over the years to get plants to grow, but have often given up as it seemed that nothing would take. However as I gradually gained experience I learnt about plants that would grow in such conditions. The top garden is slowly beginning to take shape, mostly with foliage of different shades and forms. I couldn’t just ignore an area where it is possible to fit more plants, could I?

The top right corner of the front garden.

The top right corner of the front garden in Autumn 2015

This top corner is finally becoming a garden. At the back I have transplanted some small holly seedlings I found growing elsewhere. Hopefully they will grow large enough to make a nice hedge at the back. The little Azalea was also moved from elsewhere. It has rather inconsequential green flowers and so didn’t merit a place in my main border. It is perfect here and I am so pleased at how well it transplanted. You can also see a very small Sarcococca hookeriana ‘Humilis’ at the far right. It is so small that you might miss it, in fact it hasn’t grown much since I put it in a few years ago, but at least it is still alive! The RHS site says it will grow in full shade and is even tolerant of dry shade and neglect! It seemed a perfect plant for this place, so hopefully it will suddenly take off.

Sarcococca hookeriana

Sarcococca hookeriana

The eagle-eyed amongst you may also spot some Brunnera ‘Jack Frost’ from Angie of Angie’s Garden Diaries and some Euphorbia. The Euphorbia is probably one of the oldest plants in my garden having been given it by a friend when we first moved in nearly thirty years ago. I have no idea which type it is, but it has spread throughout the front garden and even some of the lawn and looks lovely in the spring with its fresh green leaves.

Self-seeded holly and broom

Self-seeded holly and broom

At the right of the top garden is a mature beech tree. A self-seeded holly is growing right up against the trunk and provides some lovely greenery at its base. There are also some small broom plants a bit further round. I bought a couple of these plants many years ago and now they just keep producing offspring. Each plant never lasts more than a few years before they get too old and leggy, but there are always more coming along. The exciting thing is that you never know what colour they will be, yellow, red or some combination. You also never know where they will turn up!

Self seeded broom

Self-seeded broom

Self seeded broom

Self seeded broom

Further to the left of the corner bed is an old tree trunk which I have filled with soil and it is now home to a lovely Hypericum patulum ‘Hidcote’. Its yellow flowers really brighten up the top border in spring, while in winter it provides more greenery in the area.

Hypericum Patulum Hidcote

Hypericum Patulum Hidcote

 

Variegated Vinca Major transplanted from the back garden

Variegated Vinca Major transplanted from the back garden

Moving further to the left, I have a variegated Vinca and a Hebe called Francis, which is struggling a bit, but I have cut it back hoping it will bush out once it gets established. I have also planted a few bits of variegated ivy from the back garden.  Again it seems to be taking a while to get going, but once it does I am hoping it will cover the fence.

Hebe Francis

Hebe Francis

Ivy

Ivy

Berberis

Privet, Cotoneaster and Osmanthus

In this type of area you can’t afford to be fussy and you should accept whatever nature gives you for free. I have left a bit of privet and some berberis that have seeded themselves and in the front have planted some horizontal cotoneaster and some geraniums that have come from bargain benches and plant sales respectively. I did spend some good money on an Osmanthus delavayi as I was assured it would produce arching stems of white flowers even in these conditions. It is doing quite well and does indeed flower.

More self-seeded Cotoneaster and Leylandii

More self-seeded Cotoneaster and Leylandii at the far left of the top border.

Erythronium

Erythronium

feb border snowdropsAs far as bulbs go, I failed miserably with Tulips and Daffodils, even little ones, but had good success with Erythronium ‘Pagoda’, which are not always easy to grow. I also have naturalised snowdrops growing at the base of the trees. I think they have been in the garden longer than I have.

 

More recently I have planted rooted pieces of Dogwood and  Epimedium, so time will tell how they will get on.

These are the lessons I have learnt over the years:

  • Prepare your ground as best you can, digging in compost and leaf mould to improve the dry impoverished soil.
  • Look up which plants are likely to survive in dry, shady conditions  – there are actually quite a lot.
  • Don’t buy any large plants for this area as you won’t find it easy to dig holes large enough between the roots. Small plants will soon grow and will better establish themselves amongst the tree roots. They are also cheaper in case they don’t make it.
  • Be prepared to water in the summer; it is especially important to keep any new plants well watered until they settle in.
  • Consider mulching with something like leaf bark to prevent evaporation of water, but it is best to wait until the ground is wet before you cover it. I have recently covered the area with wood chippings from a beech tree bough that we needed to remove. I am not sure whether the chippings will stay in place without any sort of edge, but I would rather keep it natural looking for now.
Top corner before

Top corner before

Top corner after

Top corner after

Along the back, before

Along the back, before

Along the back, after

Along the back, after

Do you have any similar dry, shady areas? What plants have you had success with?

 

 

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17 thoughts on “My tricky bits: A dry shady area.

  1. It is really interesting to hear about your plant choices; if you get the chance do read Beth Chatto’s book about shade loving plants (ask in the library they may well have it). The only thing that strikes me is that the borders are too narrow. Strips like this are difficult to plant in an interesting way. I would say that in the space you have 1.8 metres (6 foot) would be a minimum.

    • That is really interesting, Christina. I hadn’t thought about increasing the width of the border – I suppose because it slopes down the lawn quite steeply, but it should still be possible. I will have to see if I can manage to do that with all the roots. I will also ask about Beth Chatto’s book in the library. Plants are growing so slowly, though, that they won’t take up as much space as usual.

  2. I had a large area of dry shade in my former garden. After many experiments I found I could grow shrubs better than perennials. The greatest success was a Japanese Kerria, I also had Burgundy Loropetalums and Camellias. Mondo Grass and Southern Shield Ferns would thrive for the groundcovers. Japanese Plum Yew (Cephalotaxus) worked as well.

  3. I have luck with Epimediums, Hellebore, Lamium, sweet woodruff, dryopteris ferns (a clue in their name), some Hydrangea, Hostas, foxgloves, trilliums, bleeding hearts (they will go dormant in those conditions) and Solomon’s Seal for some height. Since you had luck with Erythronium you should explore the other ephemerals of the woodland. I would also agree that perhaps you should widen the border. Good luck!

  4. I think you’ve built up an interesting selection, but also agree some more depth to the border would give you more scope.
    And what a stunning Erythronium – I’d fill the border with them!

    • I had not thought about it before, but it does make sense. Ooh good – I get to buy more plants! And yes, after my first year success I did add soe more Erythronium ‘Pagoda’. There is a white one that I would love too if I can find it – they were all sold out last year. I do hope they come up as good this year.

    • Yes, I must get hold of a copy. Looking at images on Google, I think you could be right about the Euphorbia. I will post some more photos in the spring so you can get a better look. Thanks.

  5. Focusing on specific areas really does focus your mind Annette – you won’t regret this series of posts. Dry shade is about the only condition missing from my garden – moist shade yes but not dry. There are as you have stated many plants that will cope. Reading that the Erythronium has done well for you in the dry shade gives me a little worry over the ones I planted here last year. It’s a tad wet where they are, in fact the whole area has been under water a few times lately. Time will tell.
    Epidemdiums are great for shade and will cope well with dry shade provided they are watered well until they are established or so I’ve read. I’ve a couple that will be ripe for dividing after they have flowered if you want to try them. Drop me a email. And thanks for the mention – good to see the Brunnera settling in. It won’t be long until you are able to get more plants from it. I hope the weather isn’t too bad up there this weekend. It’s all seasons in one day here today. We’ve had rain, hail, snow, sleet and sun.

    • Hi Angie. Thanks so much for your offer. I can always use more epimediums. I have two pieces of your Brunnera , one in damp shade and this one in the dry. I think the damp one is getting more slug damage, but will see how it gets on this year. It is pretty windy today, but looking brighter. Yesterday wasn’t too bad either. Hurry up spring – at least the days are getting noticeably longer already.

  6. I am with Christina on widening borders – it would give you even greater scope. It is interesting what you said about accepting what nature gives you as of course is something you need to watch in the long term as we found after happily accommodating holly and hazel seedlings plus ever spreading ivy, vinca and lamium! In my woodland which was planted from scratch primroses, bluebells and wood anemones do well and in the woodland edge border which is less shady I have most of the hellbores and epemedium, rhododendron, the common snowdrops, hardy geranium (particularly G phaeum) and Red Dragon too. Do check out the geraniums though as several are happy in dry shade.

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