||Best plants for shade
Coastal gardens generally have plenty of ‘sky’; it is the exposure to sunshine and daylight that brings many people to the coast in the first place. But every garden also contains shade at some point during the day, so which plants suited to the coastal climate can also withstand periods out of the sun?
There is one inescapable fact in gardening – there will always be some shade somewhere in the garden. However, there are different types of shade. For example, it may cover a small or a large area; it may exist for a short period during the day or for most of it; and it may be heavy and dense shade with no impenetrable sunlight, or it may be light and dappled shade that merely filters sunlight. Most gardens, of course, have a combination of all these.
It is important to know which of your plants are most suited to shade because to put a sun-loving plant in an area of dense shade will be a waste of time, money and effort. The plant will not develop properly, it will look sickly and, if the production of flowers is the reason for growing it, you will be seriously disappointed.
Shade is not such a bad thing, however. It prevents plants from becoming scorched and it enables you to grow a different range of plants, giving your garden variety and diversity. It is also
a useful area to sit out of the sun in hot weather!
There are plenty of plants to choose from, but in a coastal garden you still have to make sure that they are tolerant of salt and wind as well.
Astilbe (Astilbe simplicifolia) In a hot, dry garden the Astilbe is lacklustre and produces spindly flowers. With a light shade and a moist soil, however, they can be dramatic perennials for many weeks in the summer. There are dozens of varieties to choose from, with flowers ranging from white, through the pinks and reds, to maroon. One of the best is ‘Bronce Elegans’ AGM, with charming, blush-pink flowers and dark leaves. USDA Zone: Z6
Bedding begonia, or wax begonia (Begonia semperflorens) The fibrous-rooted begonias, popular as summer bedding plants, are actually short-lived perennials that make good patio pot plants. There are dozens of varieties, one of the newest strains being the ‘Blue Skies’ range, in shades of pink and white. Dappled shade is preferred. USDA Zone: Z9–11
Blueberry (Vaccinium spp) The blueberry is one of the few plants grown for its fruits that is suitable for a coastal garden and a shady one. It needs an acid soil that tends not to dry out. In the autumn the leaves turn to gold and yellow. A popular variety is ‘Berkeley’. USDA Zone: Z6–8
Butcher’s broom (Ruscus aculeatus) This is a curious plant, for what appear to be its leaves are, in fact, flattened stems. Their waxy covering means that they are particularly tolerant of wind, salt and all that a coastal garden can throw at them. This plant can also tolerate quite dense shade. Red berries appear on female plants, but only if males are grown nearby. USDA Zone: Z7
Chilean bamboo (Chusquea culeou AGM) This tall bamboo is ideal for dense shade. Plants grow to 12ft (3.6m), and they produce solid culms of green-yellow leaves and canes. It is best grown as a specimen plant in a lawn or at the back of a border. USDA Zone: Z7
Coleus, or flame nettle (Solenostemon spp) Familiar, short-lived perennials grown as annuals, there are many excellent forms of coleuses, all grown for their brightly coloured leaves. If you nip out the flower spikes, you will prolong the period of foliage production and the plants will be more dramatic. The modern cultivar ‘Kong Mosaic’ has large, multicoloured leaves. USDA Zone: Z10
Common holly (Ilex aquifolium AGM) The common holly has many hybrids. The species has dark green leaves and red berries. However, there are forms with yellow berries (‘Pyramidalis Fructu Luteo’ AGM), and some with variegated leaves (‘Golden Queen’ AGM). All grow well by the sea, especially in light shade. USDA Zone: Z5–6
Coral bells (Heuchera spp) Much breeding work has taken place with these plants, resulting in dozens of varieties being launched. Grown mainly for their coloured leaves, the wispy flowers on wiry stems are of secondary importance. Plant are from 6in (15cm) to 24in (60cm) in height. USDA Zone: Z4–9
Corydalis (Corydalis flexuosa) This perennial has dark, finely cut foliage and blue-spurred flowers in spring. It is delicate-looking, but actually quite tough. It thrives in dappled to light shade and is therefore suitable for woodland gardens, as well as lightly shaded borders or rock and alpine gardens. USDA Zone: Z5
Cotoneaster (Cotoneaster spp) There are a great many types of Cotoneaster, both evergreen and deciduous. Most need a sunny spot, but there are a few that prefer dappled to light shade. C. conspicuus grows to a height of just 12in (30cm), but can spread out to as much as 6–10ft (2–3m). Small, red-scarlet or orange-red berries are produced in autumn. Look out also for the herringbone cotoneaster (C. horizontalis AGM) (page 137). USDA Zone: Z6
Cranesbill, or hardy geranium (Geranium psilostemon AGM) Geraniums are generally thought of as sun-lovers, but there are a number that prefer dappled light. One such is G. psilostemon, with bright, magenta flowers. It can easily reach 4ft (1.2m) in height, so it is best sited towards the back of a border. USDA Zone: Z6
Forget-me-not (Myosotis spp) This popular, blue, biennial plant does not like the sun much; in fact it can thrive in quite dense shade. There are several excellent cultivars – look for ‘Blue Ball’ AGM with flowers of bright blue and ‘Bobo Mixed’ with flowers of blue, pink and white appearing on different plants. USDA Zone: Z4–8
Honesty (Lunaria annua) This biennial plant produces bright purple or white, summer flowers. These are followed by round, flat, parchment-like seed pods that are popular with flower arrangers. It grows very well in coastal gardens in dappled shade. Try ‘Variegata’, with cream-white leaf markings. USDA Zone: Z6–8
Lobelia (Lobelia spp) Bedding lobelias prefer to be grown in light shade. These plants are valued for their low-growing blue, purple, crimson and white flowers. There are many forms, both trailing and low-growing, but ‘Regatta Marine Blue’ works particularly well in coastal situations. USDA Zone: Z7
Monkshood (Aconitum japonicum) The distinctive, hooded flowers of this plant have given rise to its common name of monkshood. Deep violet-blue, summer flowers really stand out against the vivid green of the leaves. Light or dappled shade will prolong the flowering season. All parts are poisonous, especially the roots. USDA Zone: Z6
Oak-leafed hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia AGM) This is one of the most underrated of shrubs. It is architecturally valuable, with bold, lobed leaves that are similar to oak, though larger – for example, in the variety ‘Snow Queen’. Conical, white flowerheads appear in late summer, and it also produces fine autumn colours. The shrub grows to around 4ft (1.2m) in height. USDA Zone: Z5
Oregon grape (Mahonia aquifolium) The Mahonia has long been a popular, winter-flowering, evergreen shrub, with its stiff stems, strange leaf arrangements and primrose-yellow flowers that can appear at any time from late autumn to early spring. M. aquifolium produces rather dense flower clusters in bright yellow. USDA Zone: Z5
Plantain lily (Hosta spp) Grown principally for their handsome foliage, which is produced in a range of shapes, sizes and colours, hostas also carry strong stems of mostly lilac or white trumpet-shaped flowers during summer. Watch out for slugs and snails, which devour the leaves. There are hundreds of species and hybrids, for example, the cultivar ‘Antioch’. USDA Zone: Z3
Rhododendron (Rhododendron spp)Rhododendrons are spectacular garden plants. Most types flower in spring, although there are a few, such as the white-flowering cultivar ‘Polar Bear’, that flower in mid winter. Their natural habitat is woodland, so they enjoy filtered sunlight. Their thick, often felted leaves are resistant to wind and salt – but they need neutral to acid soil; otherwise confine them to containers. A lovely pink variety is Rhododendron ‘Loderi Group’. USDA Zone: Z5–9
Rodgersia (Rodgersia spp) This is one of those perennial garden plants that looks best next to a pond or woodland stream, but incongruous anywhere else. In mid summer, plumes of many tiny pinkish-red blossoms are held well above the foliage. The cultivar ‘Kupfermond’ has large heads of blush pink. USDA Zone: Z5
Sasa (Sasa veitchii) This broad-leaved bamboo has distinctive pale edges to its leaves, not because the foliage is variegated, but due to the withdrawal of colour from the current year’s leaves as the season progresses. It is a most attractive bamboo that can endure dense shade, but it can be invasive, so should be planted in large gardens only. USDA Zone: Z8
Tobacco plant (Nicotiana sylvestris AGM) This form of the flowering tobacco produces a ‘candelabra’ of highly fragrant, white blooms in mid summer. The scent is most powerful on a still evening. It is a choice plant for the border or as a ‘dot’ plant amongst bedding plants. USDA Zone: Z7
Skimmia (Skimmia x confusa AGM) Skimmias are frequently grown in full sun, where the leaves become olive-yellow and can appear sickly. In dappled to light shade, however, the foliage is rich green. ‘Kew Green’ AGM is particularly good, with its small, white flowers that are deliciously scented. USDA Zone: Z7
Stinking hellebore (Helleborus foetidus AGM) This wonderful perennial gets its common name because of the unpleasant smell that comes from its foliage when crushed. To avoid the problem – don’t crush the leaves! It has pale green flowers in late winter and is ideal for a lightly shaded part of the garden. USDA Zone: Z6
The royal fern (Osmunda regalis AGM) This is a highly desirable plant for siting next to a large pond or streamside. Its lime green, prettily divided fronds first appear as copper-tinted, crooked shoots in spring, which then turn bronzy in autumn. It is a very tough plant, able to withstand cold temperatures and high winds. USDA Zone: Z2
Viburnum (Viburnum x bodnantense) The deciduous Viburnum x bodnantense, which grows to around 10ft (3m) in height, produces clusters of sweet-smelling, pink flowers on its bare branches throughout winter, starting often as early as mid autumn. ‘Dawn’ AGM is the most popular cultivar available. USDA Zone: Z7
Windflower, or anemone (Anemone blanda ‘Atrocaerulea’) This pale violet-blue, flowering plant, which grows from tubers, can also be found in white and pink. Its open, daisy-like flowers are at their best in early spring. It reaches just 6in (15cm) in height and is small enough for the fierce coastal winds to fly overhead without causing the plants any damage. USDA Zone: Z5
Windflower, or Japanese anemone (Anemone spp) These are useful, hardy, long-lived (non-tuberous) perennials, with attractive, single flowers from late summer to late autumn. There are many varieties of Anemone x hybrida, or look for the white-flowered A. x lipsiensis. USDA Zone: Z6
Winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis AGM) Dappled shade is best for this gem of the winter garden, with its buttercup-yellow flowers, supported by collars of green, toothed bracts. Plants will seed themselves, to form a carpet of late winter colour. The species is good, but the vigorous cultivar ‘Guinea Gold’ AGM is even better. USDA Zone: Z5
Winter hazel (Corylopsis spp) The Corylopsis is a delightful, underrated shrub, with an appealing late winter flowering habit. It does need an acid soil, however. The tassels are generally yellow (more yellow-green in the form C. sinensis var sinensis AGM) and delicately scented. It is related to the witch hazel (Hamamelis), rather than the hazelnut (Corylus). USDA Zone: Z6