A place in the shade

  • Posted: Mar 17, 2010
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A place in the shade

Gardening in the shade need not be difficult; the key is to know your plants’ requirements. Although it might sound like I am stating the obvious, it is essential to choose shade loving plants – forest dwellers or those that occur naturally in shady bush clumps. Too often people choose a plant because of its lovely flowers but fail to investigate what it needs; they plant it in too shady a spot and then simply hope for the best.A good nurseryman will always supply the information that will ensure you give a plant the best chance of flourishing.

Descriptions of some of my favourite shade lovers follow below, but first consider what is causing the shade in which you are going to plant… The area under camphor trees, conifers and privets is not kind to plants. These are greedy trees, grabbing the water and nutrients in the soil and surrounding area, leaving a shaded desert in which little can grow and thrive. A few straggling plants struggling to survive is not what you want in your beautiful wildlife friendly garden. My advice is invariably to remove these offending exotic water guzzlers.

If your space is small and very focal rather use non ground cover type plants, because ground covers tend to run and could swamp a small area. Choose two, three or more types of plants and then plant them in pockets (which you repeat according to the available space). Clever planting will ensure that you are never without some colour or point of interest. Of course, if you have lots of space then you can mass certain species or use forest dwelling ground covers to fill the space quickly, but that is a subject for another article.

Some of my favourites

Here are my suggestions for your shady spot, particularly for small gardens. Some of these may be difficult to find and it is my hope that more nurserymen will rise to the demand and begin to grow these treasures. Because I live and garden in KwaZulu-Natal my focus is in this province and my suggestions won’t necessarily suit the conditions in all areas. If you are in any doubt about the suitability of a plant then try to find a knowledgeable, caring nursery to suggest and supply suitable alternatives.

SCADOXUS multiflorus subsp. katharinae is simply wonderful as it glows in the shade like a fiery Catherine wheel between January and March. Its show lasts a few weeks and then this beauty retires back into the forest floor to prepare for next year. A perfect companion to the bold tropical look of the Scadoxus is KNOWLTONIA bracteata; its clusters of dark green leaves swirl low on the ground and produce long spikes of dainty greenish white flowers that wave airily above the plant for several weeks (I think of them as fairy wands). Dear little orange-coloured, bead-like fruits follow and these are snapped up by small fruit-eating birds.

Clivia are particularly rewarding and I like to combine the lesser known species like CLIVIA gardenia and C. nobilis with the more often usedC. miniata. Although the latter is arguably showier, I love the fact thatC. gardenia and C. nobilis produce their clusters of hanging, green tipped orange bells at different times in the year. Remember: you are aiming for points of interest and colour throughout the year.

INDIGOFERA micrantha is just marvellous when quantities are planted in a drift – they create a dainty, ethereal effect (another one of those fairy plants!). A bush in flower looks as if it is covered in tiny snowflakes. Slow growing, it can reach 1,5 m and never outgrow its space, and it will even take some sun.

The genus Streptocarpus is part of the African violet family. There are many species in South Africa, all lovers of shade and moist areas and often found growing amongst rocks or on tree trunks. They come in shades of blue, purple and white, but there are some wonderful hybrids with much larger flowers – very showy indeed. I confess to ‘cheating’ somewhat and having one of these large purple flowering beauties gracing my shade garden. I do lavish care on my little clump, feeding them regularly with an organic liquid fertiliser or worm tea and making sure they have sufficient water in our fierce KwaZulu-Natal summers.

I like to add clumps of PLECTRANTHUS aliciae (formerly P. madagascariensis) to shady areas. Its green and white foliage is beautiful in the shade and I nip a few leaves off when I walk past as this stops it getting too leggy or out of hand. CLIVIA moorei also loves the shade, producing great trumpets of white to pale pink flowers, strongly scented at night. It can grow up to 1,5 m and is quite stunning en masse. Keep an eye out for the dreaded amaryllis caterpillar though – a flowering plant is an absolute invitation to this pest. This is one reason that I don’t mass plant mine – I tuck the odd plant away here and there amongst other plants to fool the moth, which lays its eggs on the undersides of the leaves.

With its orange flames that light up the darkness, CROCOSMIA aureafalling stars – is a staple plant for shady gardens. It is tough and spreads easily, popping up in all sorts of places, and even the attention of the mole rats fails to eradicate it in my garden. Birds eat the seeds too; in my opinion that further strengthens this plant’s claim to a place in the shade.

I hope I have inspired you to tackle your difficult shady spots with enthusiasm and vigour!

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