AGM plants for dry shade
Words: Graham Rice
Dry shade is one of the most difficult parts of the garden for which to find good plants. All these have received the accolade of the RHS Award of Garden Merit (AGM). They will thrive in the dry shade, just help them settle in with some extra watering after planting.
Developing into a bold, weed-suppressing cover of broad, rather rough, heart-shaped leaves above tough, slowly spreading roots, the effect is rather like a rough-textured hosta. Then in spring come clouds of dainty blue forget-me-not flowers. Looks good alongside narrow-leaved Iris foetidissima. Recent silvered forms like ‘Jack Frost’ are also excellent. Height 45cm (18in).
Unexpectedly tolerant of dry, shady conditions once established, its finely dissected widely splayed fronds, spreading in a broad shuttlecock, are the perfect contrast to broader foliage. Makes an imposing plant as it matures. Two cultivars also have AGMs, 'Cristata' and 'Grandiceps Wills' both have crests at the tips of their fronds and of their leaf divisions. Height 1m (39in).
Euonymus fortunei ‘Emerald ‘n’ Gold’
Deservedly popular, this dwarf and rather dense growing shrub, with spreading evergreen growth features small dark green leaves brightly edged in gold. In winter the colouring fades to cream with pink tints. Slow but determined in growth. Will also slowly climb tree trunks and walls. Height 50cm (20in).
Epimedium x perralchicum
Most evergreen epimediums are good in dry shade, this one makes a dense clump of rather tough, leathery leaves split into three or five wavy-edged leaflets. In spring, sprays of petite pale yellow flowers dance over the foliage. Good, weed smothering, hardy perennial cover which is attractive all year. Arose at Wisley in the 1930s. Height 40cm (16in).
Geranium macrorrhizum 'White-Ness'
A low, not-quite-evergreen, intriguingly aromatic perennial spreading steadily with fat rhizomes to make a dense mat of attractive foliage. The prettily lobed leaves often take on reddish tints in autumn. In May and June, white flowers light up the shade, a much fresher and cleaner colour than other white forms. Height 30cm (12in).
A hybrid of unusually drought resistant parents, the rounded neatly lobed leaves are reddish purple as they open, then the silver overlay becomes more dominant as the season progresses. Developing into a dense compact perennial, this is lovely as a front of the border specimen or in groups. In May there are delicate pink flowers on tall stems. Height 25cm (10in).
A classic perennial for tough situations, the long and pointed, heavy duty evergreen foliage is always a feature and although the small purplish flowers are a little dowdy they are followed by fat pods of bright orange-scarlet fruits that last for many months. Foetid? Only when you crush the leaves. Height 45cm (18in).
Mahonia aquifolium 'Apollo'
This widely spreading evergreen shrub, with its shining dark green holly-like evergreen leaves carried on contrasting red stems, is one of those shrubs which is both an appealing specimen and a functional ground cover. Bright clusters of yellow flowers in March, and attractively bronzed foliage in winter. Height 60cm (25in).
This impressively vigorous, self clinging climber can reach a great height; climbing into the tree, or up the wall, that is creating the dry shade this may be exactly what is needed. The glossy green, three-lobed leaves are a bright feature all spring and summer then in autumn the whole plant turns scarlet and crimson. Miraculous. Height 15m (50ft).
Vinca minor 'Argenteovariegata'
What an impressive combination of features: a low and spreading weed smothering habit of growth; neat cream edged, slightly greyish green evergreen leaves on steadily extending stems; and pale purple flowers in spring. Makes a dense low carpet of foliage with a burst of spring flowers. Never gets out of hand. Height 10cm (4in).