Wide range of plants grow on the shady forest floor
I love trees and probably have too many in my garden. While tree support birds and insects by providing food and shelter, they also cast shade, during the summer months. Shady locations are challenging for gardening. But rather than battling against these conditions, I am constantly looking towards nature and other people’s gardens for a solution.
I have a lots of woods, within a few miles of my house and these are great natural experiments that has going on for thousands of years. Plants have adapted to different levels of light and one of the prettiest is the foxglove. In midsummer it has long spikes of pale purple flowers (sometimes they can be white versions) blooming along hedgerows and in woods. The Irish name is very descriptive, Lus Na Sionnach, translating as great herb of the fox.
Two years ago I gathered some foxglove seed locally and started them of in pots. The following spring when they had three or four strong leaves, i planted them under in the shade of the trees. Foxgloves are biennials and this means that they take two years to flower. I can now look out the kitchen window and enjoy a fabulous display. Another bonus it that the bumblebees find plenty of pollen and nectar in the flowers. The seeds will naturally spread throughout the garden, creating informal blooms along paths and in borders.
Another attractive flower is Wood avens and this thrives in the deepest shade. I have often found it growing under the dark canopy of the Horsechestnut tree. It has yellow flowers but the most interesting and attractive part are the seeds. They are designed with tiny little hooks or burs and these attach themselves to the coats of animals. Here they hitch a ride to another part of the countryside before dropping off.
Honeysuckle is a great climber for the shade and mine were grown from cuttings taken from a honeysuckle near my house. These are quickly scrambling up through the trees and already producing masses of flowers. In the late evening I like to stand there inhaling the scent and watch the moths sipping nectar.
Ivy is another superb climber and been evergreen provides interest and shelter for wildlife throughout the year. Birds like housesparrows love to nest in ivy, grown against the wall of a house.
Columbine or Granny bonnets (think of the granny headpiece in older version little red riding hood) travel with me from garden to garden. I first became acquainted with them in my parents garden and have grown them ever since. I see them in mature town gardens that have large trees and they are an intricate part of the planting scheme. .
The flowers on the elderberry are magnificent this summer and this unassuming and underappreciated shrub thrives in the in shade. The purple berries can be made into jams and wines.
Of course don’t forget the bulbs. Bluebells, snowdrops and crocus will not only brighten up an early winter’s garden, they provide valuable pollen and nectar for emerging bees.
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