Plants for deciduous shade

Harlow Carr horticulturist Aimee Beth Browning shares her favourite plants to grow in the shade of deciduous trees

Deciduous trees let light through for early spring flowering plants and provide shady conditions in the summer when the canopy fills in. Some plants will complete their cycle of growth before the trees leaf out, creating the opportunity for inter-planting for a changing display.

When growing plants in deciduous shade, watch for slugs and snails. To avoid pesticides, I put a ring of pine needles and dried holly leaves around the base of some plants. Also keep an eye on the amount of leaf litter on some of your of plants and bulbs that will not appreciate too thick a covering of leaves.  

Dryopteris wallichiana

Dryopteris wallichiana is a majestic fern providing strong structure in cool spots. The black, scaly midribs of its fronds are highlighted by the vibrant green colour of the leaves, which unfurl to lengths of up to 120cm (4ft).

These rich dark unfurling fronds make a fantastic show in spring; but in cold areas it's worth protecting them with an airy layer of twigs and leaves till all danger of frost has passed.


Jeffersonia dubia

Jeffersonia dubia is a delicate looking plant that is surprisingly tough. The pale lavender flowers light up a shady spot and its soft blue green circular leaves are carried on slender stalks, sometimes turning yellow in autumn. In a moist, humus-rich soil this pretty plant will hold its own.

Equally try Jeffersonia diphylla for its white flowers with wonderful leaves that look like a set of wings.


Podophyllum 'Kaleidoscope'

Podophyllums add a strange eccentric character to a garden, standing out amongst other plants. Species such as P. pleianthum and P. peltatum add structure and handsome foliage to the garden with their flowers and subsequent fruit, which dangles below pairs of large leaves, making an exotic impact.

Some are spreading plants and some are clump forming. The cultivar ‘Kaleidescope’ has gorgeous dark purple patterns on the leaf, making a statement in the shade.

Trillium grandiflorum f. roseum

Trillium grandiflorum is a treasure in deciduous shade, with lovely pink flowers sat amongst three leaves. With better nursery stock available now, one can acquire older rhizomes that over time develop into good clumps in good organic, humus-rich, well drained soil. With an incomparable elegance, they add a bit of shy ephemeral magic to the garden.

Tiarella cordifolia

Tiarella cordifolia is a great groundcover, especially among bulbs and ephemerals that disappear once the canopy has filled in. Tiarellas are easy to propagate and spread readily in good open soil – en masse the vertical white flowers create an appearance of mist on the ground.

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