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March 2011

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Choosing for shade, tubers and root competition

The selection of plants for shady conditions is a challenge, especially in gardens located in the eastern half of the country where rainfall is lowest. The most difficult areas are those which remain dry for most of the year and are near evergreens or shade of buildings, with intense competition for root moisture and light, especially if located on the north-facing side. Notebook

To address the problem, sometimes it is possible to remove lower branches. Copious additions of organic matter are usually necessary. Among the best plants for these situations are various species of hardy cyclamen, such as Cyclamen coum, C.hederifolium and C. repandum which provide very welcome displays of pink, white or carmine during autumn, winter and spring when colour is scarce. With contrasting blue and white flowers for February to April, Anemone species blanda and Anemone appenina would also work well here with the latter in the deeper shade. These plants have tubers and the plants become dormant during the driest hottest part of the year, mid-May to August, and are well adapted to cope with these conditions.

For the driest areas, one of the best is the very low creeping evergreen, Asarum europaeum with shiny round glossy leaves. The male fern, along with Stipa arundinacaea and blackgrass, or ophiopogon, would also do well in these conditions. Bergenias will tolerate these conditions too and are less likely to die-back in winter from cold, and roots in heavy, wet soil. Brunnera and several kinds of hardy geranium, such as Geranium macrorrhizum, G. phaeum and G. sylvaticium, especially variety Alba would be worth trying. The old-fashioned London pride, navelwort and tiarella offer further choices where low competing plants are needed.

Shrubs that do well are sarcococca, skimmia, aucuba Choisya ternata and Euonymus japonicus. The honey spurge, Euphorbia mellifera should cope fine though it is not fully hardy under very cold conditions. For the most inhospitable areas, ivies, Euphorbia robbiae and Vinca might be the only choice along with lamium and asarum. Areas under tall deciduous trees, such as beech, hornbeam and oak, are much less of a problem as moisture and illumination are better from autumn to May.

Roots from beech and hornbeam compete strongly for moisture and nutrients however. Snowdrops, dwarf early species of narcissus, Eranthis, Scilla, Ornithogalum nutans and Crocus. In the dappled shade of less competitive trees, such as oak, flowering crabapple and cherry, where more moisture prevails an even wider range of woodland species including hellebores, erythronium, trillium, uvularia, dentaria, cardamine, pulmonaria, pachyphragma, epimedium, primroses and later flowering roscoeas and species of orchid would be very choice plants.

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