Tag Archive: shade

My wife and I had Sunday lunch at a pub (‘The Trout and Tipple’) in Tavistock, Devon a couple of months ago. It was hot and sunny, so we decided to sit outside in a secluded courtyard…with its own magnificent Gunnera plant providing us with some welcome shade.I was amazed by the close up of the leaf structure, which resembles an aerial shot of an urban landscape…

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Old School Gardener

White Walls and light paving can help to lift a shady space

White Walls and light paving can help to lift a shady space

Even  dense shade in the garden can be made attractive to look at and suitable for growing plants.

1. Whiten up

Make the best use of available light by painting walls and fences white. Also lay light coloured paving, stain trellis work white and use seats and containers which are either white or pastel shades.

2. Reflect on it

You can create the illusion of space and brighten up dark corners by putting up a mirror, which will also reflect light onto the plants.

3. Water works

The reflected light and the gentle sound of a water feature with a fountain will help to lift a dark corner.

Mirrors can give a shady space a whole new dimension

Mirrors can give a shady space a whole new dimension

Source: ‘Short Cuts to Great Gardens’- Reader’s Digest

Old School Gardener


Lysimachia nummularia 'Aurea'

Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’

First, three for damp soil in the sun

1. Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’- bright yellow flowers in June and an evergreen, golden-yellow carpet of foliage

2. Iris ensata– purple flowers in late June

3. Ligularia ‘The Rocket’- yellow flowers July – August

Finally,  four for damp soil in the shade

4. Cornus alba ‘Spaethii’- white flowers March to May and red stems in the winter

5. Aruncua dioicus – plumes of creamy white flowers in June and July

6. Primula prolifera– pale yellow flowers in June

7. Hosta ‘Zounds’- puckered leaves, pale lavender flowers in May and June

Old School Gardener

Garten Sempacherstrasse 531. Ajuga

2. Hardy Fern

3. Hellebore

4. Hosta

5. Hydrangea

6. Ivy

7. Mahonia aquifolium


Old School Gardener

The English Walnut- creating a planting poser...

The English Walnut- creating a planting poser…

Whilst on holiday in Suffolk, recently, one of my friends, Richard (who lives in Bristol), posed an interesting question:

‘I have a Walnut Tree in the garden and have been trying to grow some plants in a raised area underneath it, against a wall. This area only gets early morning sun during the middle of the year. I believe that Walnuts deposit some sort of poison in the ground which affects the plants? Over 20 years I’ve managed to establish a small selection of plants through trial and error (mainly the latter); geraniums give some cover and with a ‘Chelsea Chop’ may give a second flowering, but only towards the lighter edge of the bed; Ivy seems to do well; I can squeeze out some summer colour by planting some annual begonias but these need a lot of watering. I’ve also tried several different ferns, but none have been a success to date. Any thoughts about planting the area, especially towards the back, would be welcome.’

Not having come across this issue before I did a bit of research and also sought some advice from the RHS Member’s Advice Service. There are two main species of Walnut tree; Black Walnut (Juglans nigra) – most common in North America (and native to eastern areas), and the English Walnut (Juglans regia), the type most often found in the U.K. Walnuts -especially Juglans nigra– contain a chemical called “juglone” which can be poisonous (or allelopathic) to other plants. Juglone appears to act as a respiration inhibitor which deprives sensitive plants of needed energy for metabolic activity.  For gardeners this means that many plants growing in the vicinity of a black walnut tree will either be killed or will struggle to live, with yellowing, wilting leaves.

Leaves and nuts on the Black Walnut

Leaves and nuts on the Black Walnut

Juglone is found in all parts of the black walnut tree, but it is most concentrated in the flower buds, nut hulls and roots. Unfortunately the roots of a black walnut can extend 3-4 times the diameter of the tree’s canopy, so the area affected is quite wide. Toxicity is further dependent on the soil’s texture and drainage. All walnuts – including the English Walnut- produce some juglone, as do the walnut relatives bitternut hickory, hickory, pecan and shagbark. However the amount of juglone produced is insignificant, compared to the black walnut, and the effect on other plants is minimal, if any.

Tomatoes seem to be the most sensitive to growing under black walnuts. However juglone sensitivity is also dependent on other growing conditions and what will or won’t grow under one black walnut tree may be fine under another. However, here is a compiled list of flowers and vegetables that are considered extremely sensitive to juglone.

Turning back to Richard’s question, Guy Barter, Chief Horticultural Adviser at the RHS, says:

‘In theory English walnuts secret Juglone and we would advise that it is not underplanted – in any case they cast such a heavy shade that few plants will thrive underneath a walnut. Of course roots spread out beyond the canopy but interestingly we seldom encounter difficulties in the UK. All the same it may be well to avoid apples and tomatoes near a walnut tree, or at least make some experimental plantings in the first instance. In the USA the light levels are very much higher and underplanting options greater and it is not surprising that problems arise.’

Not very encouraging, eh, Richard? You seem to have had some success with plants nearer the lighter edge of his planting area, and if you want to persist with trying to plant up this and the darker inner area, you might want to start by improving the growing conditions; maybe you can prune the tree a little to raise the crown and let in more light? Having a raised bed underneath is good because you can deepen the soil above the tree roots; and maybe you can also try to replace the topsoil which could over time become affected by juglone? It might also be a good idea to add organic matter each year and at the same time remove all the walnut tree leaves and litter and dispose of these – it’s probably best to avoid composting it.

As to planting, for the inner area (assuming that you can find planting pockets large enough around any tree roots), I’d try out a few small to medium – sized shrubs and other plants that tolerate heavy shade and dryish soil – in effect trying to create an ‘understorey’ with plants of varying heights and in a combination to provide something of interest all-year round. If you go down this route then try to get healthy, well-established plants (2-3 years old and/or in 3 litre pots). As Guy suggests, you’ll have to ‘trial’ these to see if they’re up to the task! My recommended ‘planting scheme’ would include, for the darkest area (and maybe including some Ivy as ground cover):

  • Lonicera pileata– spreading evergreen shrub with small creamy flowers in spring followed by purple berries; height 60cm (2ft), spread 2.5m (8ft)
  • Hypericum calycinum (‘Rose of Sharon’) – spreading shrubs with yellow flowers from mid summer. Height 60cm (2ft), spread indefinite
  • Vinca minor (lesser periwinkle) – mat-forming shrub with trailing shoots and violet-blue flowers from mid-spring to autumn. Height 10-20cm (4-8in), spread indefinite
Lonicera pileata

Lonicera pileata

If you’d like to increase the variety of your planting around the edge (and lighter) area, you could try in addition to your geraniums:

  • Cotoneatser simonsii– deciduous or semi-evergreen with good autumn leaf colour; small pink flowers in summer followed by bright orange-red fruit. Height 2.5m (8ft), spread 2m (6½ft)
  • Mahonia aquifolium– evergreen with yellow blooms in spring. Height 90cm (3ft); spread indefinite.
  • Sarcococca hookeriana var. humilis (Christmas box)- evergreen with scented flowers in winter. Height 60cm (2ft); spread 1.2m (4ft)

…and a couple of herbaceous perennials:

  • Bergenia– evergreen leaves may colour in winter; white, pink or red flowers in spring. Height 20-45cm (8-18in), spread 45-63cm (18-25in)
  • Tellima grandiflora – semi-evergreen, with greenish white flowers from spring to mid-summer. Self-seeds freely. Height 40cm (16in), spread 25cm (10in)

Tellima grandiflora

Tellima grandiflora

…and maybe one or two patches of bulbs/tubers?

  • Anemone nemorosa– white flowers from spring to early summer. Height 7.5-15cm (3-6in), spread more than 30cm (1ft)
  • Cyclamen hederifolium– attractively marked foliage and pink to maroon flowers in autumn, seeds freely. Height 10-13cm (4-5in), spread 15cm (6in)
  • Galanthus nivalis (snowdrop) – white flowers in late winter. Height and spread 10cm (4in)
  • Iris foetidissima (stinking iris) – blue flowers in late spring and orange berries in autumn/winter. Height and spread 40cm (16in)

If this all seems rather too much hassle, then you could always cover the bed with a landscape fabric and then put a layer of aggregate or other mulch- wood bark, slate chippings etc. This covering could be punctured at intervals for clumps of bulbs (see above) to give you some (simpler) interest throughout the year- and maybe end the years of heart ache trying to get things to work that just don’t stand much of a chance!

Sources and further information:

Black walnuts at About.com

RHS guide to planting under trees

Old School Gardener

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Depending on the shade amd soil conditions many plants can be grown under trees
Depending on the shade amd soil conditions many plants can be grown under trees

This week’s question is one that affects many gardens- the impact of trees on other planting. Jenny Bough from Gateshead asks;

‘Part of my garden is in shade for most of the day because of trees in a neighbour’s garden. Since I cannot remove the trees, what can I do to improve the conditions for my plants? And what plants will grow well?’

If the trees grow close to your garden the shade will probably be dense, and the soil may well be permanently moist from overhead drip. If so, you can improve the drainage by adding coarse grit to the soil under the tree and plant moisture- and shade- loving plants such as hardy Ferns, Primula species, Violets and Periwinkles. If you have lighter or more dappled shade then there are plants which like these conditions: Lilies, hostas, Azaleas, Rhododendrons and Blue Poppy (Mecanopsis) for example.

Epimedium- a good choice for dry shade
Epimedium- a good choice for dry shade

If the tree is close to your boundary, or indeed within your garden, and its roots make the immediate area very dry and shady, then plants such as dwarf Cyclamen (C. hederifolium), small-leaved Ivies and Epimedium should do well. You could also try to dig out a few pockets where bulbs can be planted. If you can mix plenty of compost or other organic matter  into the soil then many more options are open to you as the soil will be relatively nutritious and will retain moisture better. The London Orchard Project have added a helpful piece of advice:

‘Wait until the tree has established before any underplanting is carried out. Then be sure to plant perennials,  as (these), including trees, prefer a fungally dominated soil, whereas annuals prefer bacterial domination. Also, disturbing the shallow feeder roots of the tree can be minimised by not having to replant/remove annuals.’

Some trees produce roots close to or above the soil surface, which then send up new shoots or ‘suckers’; e.g Poplars. If you want to grow grass over these root runs, once again the best approach is to ensure a good depth of topsoil above the roots and so give the grass a good layer of soil to grow on and reduce the chances of suckers appearing. Another approach- and one I’ve used in Old School Garden under a large Black Poplar tree- is to cover the immediate surrounds of the tree with landscaping fabric and then use a decorative aggregate or other material as a covering (I’ve used purple slate). This has reduced, but not entirely removed the problem of suckers appearing. Alternatively, there’s nothing else for it but to keep pruning/mowing off the shoots as they come up. This is best done in early summer after the tree has put on its initial growth spurt- doing it in the dormant season will only encourage more suckers to appear in the new season.

Some trees (in this case a Maple) will send out shallow or surface level roots from which new shoots or 'suckers' will grow
Some trees (in this case a Maple) will send out shallow or surface level roots from which new shoots or ‘suckers’ will grow

Further information: a useful guide to tree care

Old School Gardener

IMG_7828 After a stroll through Estrela Gardens in Lisbon we found  our way to somewhere new to us – the English Cemetery just over the road. What a discovery- a quiet, green and fascinating space where a wide range of graves and monuments records the long association of the English with Portugal. The website of the Anglican Church in Lisbon describes it’s past:

‘Part of the Treaty of 1654 negotiated between Cromwell and King João IV of Portugal stipulated that English subjects living in Portugal should have a plot allotted to them “fit for the burial of their dead” in the Lisbon area. Due to opposition from the Inquisition, nothing was done about this until the early eighteenth century and it was only in 1717 that Consul Poyntz was able to report back to London that he had leased a suitable plot near the City “for the burial of our dead”. It became known as St. George’s Cemetery. From those early beginnings until the present day non- Roman Catholic British Nationals have had a traditional privilege of burial at St. George’s; practising Roman Catholics are now also admitted.  

It is an historic site for many reasons and an interesting one too. Probably the most famous British person buried there is the novelist Henry Fielding; he came to Lisbon to try and recover from health problems but actually died on 8th October 1754. No-one knows exactly where he was buried, but a monument to him in the form of a raised tomb was erected by public subscription in 1830. Later on in the Peninsular War Portuguese soldiers acting under orders from Marshal Beresford forced open the door in order to inter the remains of Brigadier General Coleman; legend has it that many other British soldiers were buried there during this period but have no marked graves. From the twentieth century there are rows of Commonwealth War Graves, commemorating servicemen who happened to die in the Lisbon area during World War II. These are but three examples, a wander round confirms that the remains of many interesting people from all walks of life and different nationalities have been interred at St. George’s for almost three hundred years.

In the second half of the nineteenth century many trees and shrubs were planted in the cemetery, some of which survive to this day. It makes it a peaceful, verdant spot, a walled oasis covering several acres in the middle of Portugal’s busy capital.’

Here is my record of our visit in late October 2013.


Old School Gardener

Hosta shoots

Hosta shoots -courtesy Marcus Bawdon http://www.countrywoodsmoke.com

‘Everyone has Hostas’… OK so you may think them unfashionable, but I love them… the whole growth process –  new shoots spearing up above the soil surface (right now in Old School Garden), the unfurling leaves, the full blousy foliage and the delicate flowers of pinks, lavenders and whites.

Otherwise known as the ‘Plantain lily’, Hostas come originally from eastern Russia, China, Japan and Korea. They are very hardy. Most of the 40 – 70 or so species (there is disagreement over the exact number) and over 7000 cultivars are grown for their foliage, though for many the flowers are also noteable. True perennials, their foliage dies back and they descend underground over winter, to send up new growth spears in spring and achieve their full glory in summer with some varieties flowering into early autumn. Some species also give a second, albeit brief, display in autumn.


The leaves vary between round, ovate, lance or heart – shaped and are between 12cm and 50cm in length. They come in all shades of green, some solid in colour others with margins or centres variegated in shades from white to golden yellow. Flowers range from bell to trumpet shaped, and are held in one-sided racemes or ‘scapes’.


Hostas will grow in full sun to full shade – they flower better if in the sun and the yellow-leaved varieties also do better in full sun. Overall, however, they tend to do best in dappled shade and where they are away from the hot noon-day sun (the blue – green leaved varieties have more intense colouring in the shade). They need moisture at their roots and this is even more the case in full sun – so they need watering in dry spells and generally do best in moist ground which is rich in organic matter and neutral to slightly alkaline . Foliage will start to wilt if they are too dry. They can be easily propagated by division at almost any time of year – a sharp spade or knife thrust down to split the roots is all that’s required.

Slug and snail damage

Slug and snail damage

Pest problems focus on slugs and snails which can nibble the emerging shoots – such damage can scar the leaves for the rest of the season, so preventative and quick action to remove slugs and nails is crucial, especially in early spring. Sometimes, especially in water – logged ground, the plants can be susceptible to ‘crown rot’ and if this is the case they should be moved to a more suitable site. Hostas have low levels of allergens. Some Hostas are edible, their young shoots being forced and harvested in the far east, eaten sauted or rolled in proscuitto!


Hostas look good in groups around ponds and damp areas, and are particularly useful in areas of medium to light shade.   Their foliage makes for a bold texture so they are good as focal points, contrasting well with grassy – like leaves and stems. They are also good in containers where the leaves and flowers can be seen close up. I grow most of mine this way, in black planters in our Courtyard Garden – the black provides wonderful contrast to the rich greens and yellows of the foliage. But it’s important to keep them well watered once growth starts. Other ideas for using Hostas include:

  • ‘Plant different varieties in large masses or drifts for reliable color and texture in the garden.

  • Brighten shady garden areas with gold or variegated hostas.

  • Use hostas to bridge gaps in seasonal perennial bloom.

  • Variegated hostas with white or cream margins paired with other white flowering plants glow in “moonlight gardens” when homeowners arrive in the evening from work.

  • Hosta leaves emerge just as spring bulb foliage starts to fade, hiding it from view.

  • A single hosta in a container is dramatic and sculptural. Hostas look great in containers paired with other foliage plants or annuals. Remember to provide adequate water.

  • Plant fragrant hostas close to paths and walkways for best appreciation.

  • Use small hostas for edging along walkways and flower borders.

  • Hosta leaves and flowers are attractive in floral arrangements.’

Source: University of Minnesota Extension

Images from:  Newtonairds Lodge Hostas and Garden (the national collection), Wikipedia and other sites as shown on picture titles.

Further information:

RHS- Growing Hostas

British Hosta and Hemerocallis Society

Slug resistant Hostas

How to lift and divide Hostas (video)

Hosta varieties and where to buy etc.

The National Hosta collection

Winsford Walled Garden, Devon- success with Hostas

Hosta shoots wrapped in prosciutto

Hostas and their flowers


Old School Gardener

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Dicentra Dicentra is a genus of about 20 annuals and perennials (of which about 8 are perennial) and many cultivars. They are native to both Asia and North America (though possibly an ‘honorary native’ in the latter, dating from colonial times), mainly in woodland habitats.

Their roots vary between rhizomes,tubers or fleshy tap roots. All varieties are reliably hardy. Most are deciduous but some are evergreen and have fern-like, divided foliage, some of a silver – grey colour.

Flowers – which come in shades of red,pink and white – hang as pendents on racemes or panicles and are very distinctive – two outer petals are pouched, giving a heart-shaped outline with the two inner petals forming a hood over the anthers. Not surprisingly this arrangement has led to many descriptive common names such as:

  • Bleeding heart (most usually used for D. spectabilis)
  • Showy bleeding heart
  • Dutchman’s breeches
  • Chinaman’s breeches
  • Locks and keys
  • Lyre flower
  • Seal flower
  • Old-fashioned bleeding heart

Flowering time is late spring into early summer. The flowers and foliage are useful in flower arrangements, the flowers lasting well in water.

Dicentra canadensis (Squirrel Corn)

Dicentra canadensis (Squirrel Corn)

Dicentra cucullaria (Dutchman's breeches)

Dicentra cucullaria (Dutchman’s breeches)

Dicentra formosa oregona 'PEARL DROPS'

Dicentra formosa oregona ‘Pearl Drops’

Dicentra formosa pink

Dicentra formosa

Dicentra formosa

Dicentra formosa – close up of flowers

Dicentra peregrina (Komakusa)

Dicentra peregrina ‘Komakusa’

Dicentra spectablis

Dicentra spectablis

Most of the perennial Dicentra make good border plants, though a couple are rather invasive (spectabilis and formosa) and are best used in a woodland garden, where seedlings or spreading rhizomes can be allowed to expand or be easily removed. D. spectabilis is not long-lived. All Dicentra are low in allergens, but all parts of the plant are poisonous and a skin irritant.

Most varieties prefer growing in half shade in moist fertile soil – but they are drought tolerant so can be useful in drier shaded positions.

Most varieties grow to between 25cm and 45cm tall, though D. spectabilis is taller and the white form (‘Alba’) and ‘Gold Heart’ (with striking yellow foliage) grow to 90cm tall and spread to around 50cm.

Further information:

Dicentra spectabilis

Varieties and growing Dicentra

Dicentra ‘Stuart Boothman’ AGM

National Dicentra collection

Dicentra photographs

Old School Gardener

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