Carpets in the shade

Sunday, 04 December 2011

Lamium maculatum White Nancy

During the hot days of summer, I find myself drawn to the shaded parts of my garden, as I find it very unpleasant doing gardening in the sun. Such occasions give me a chance to appreciate plants that grow well in shade, because it is not the ideal spot, often with very dry conditions due to root competition from trees; and the lack of sunlight is also a challenge for plant survival.

Rhizomatous Begonia Kara

I have written a previous blog on groundcovers that thrive in sunny spots; this time I want to pay homage to those groundcovers that carpet my garden in shaded areas. Luckily, there are a lot of contenders for such positions. One of my favourite group of plants is the rhizomatous Begonia. They are very tough and undemanding, covering inhospitable areas without complaint. Being a sort of succulent plant, they cope well with dry positions. There is such a range of leaf patterns in these plants that it is possible to make a beautiful tapestry rug in a shaded area using different forms. Colours range from lime green to silver and dark maroon. Many have delightful patterns on the leaves. As a bonus, they all have pretty flowers in spring. What more could we ask of a plant?

Plectranthus oertendahlii in the garden of Pamela and Harry Fowell in Sydney

Plectranthus are also excellent plants for dry, shaded areas and there are some attractive groundcover specimens. One of my favourites is Plectranthus 'Nicoletta', which has lovely silver velvet leaves. It is very tough and can grow in hot sun as well as dry shade. Plectranthus 'Nico' has dark green foliage with purple undersides and grows well to form a wide mat in shade. Plectranthus verticillatus - sometimes called Swedish ivy - will grow anywhere, and is a good solution to hopeless shaded spots. I recently was given a white-variegated form of this plant, which seems less vigorous than the green one, but forms a nice contrast to other groundcovers and brings light into gloomy areas. I am not sure of its cultivar name. Another variegated Plectranthus is Plectranthus oertendahlii (often sold as 'Emerald Lace'), which has rounded leaves with silvery shading and marking. All these Plectranthus plants have dainty spires of flowers in autumn, and can be grown effectively in hanging baskets.

Tradescantia pallida Purpurea

Another tough groundcover for shade is the Tradescantia clan. Though related to the scary weed wandering jew, those I grow are far prettier and less invasive. My favourite is Tradescantia sillamontana, which has lovely furry leaves and doesn't spread too far. Purple-leaved Tradescantia pallida 'Purpurea' is an excellent plant for foliage effects, as is Tradescantia 'Zebrina', with its silver and green-striped leaves with purple undersides - though it has to be reined in every so often. Like the Plectranthus groundcovers, these can be grown in hanging baskets.

Though most of the species Geranium do best in sunny places, at least two of them will cope well with shaded spots: Geranium phaeum and Geranium macrorrhizum. Both species have attractive rounded foliage (often speckled in the case of G. phaeum) and delightful cottagey flowers in spring.

Pilea nummulariifolia

Campanula poscharskyana, with its starry blue, white or pale pink flowers in spring, and ruffled, heart-shaped leaves, forms a dense, low mat in shaded areas, as does creeping Charlie (Pilea nummulariifolia), which has appealing textured leaves. Lysimachia nummularia 'Aurea' is a low-growing plant with glowing lime-gold foliage, which is best in shade. Lamium cultivars, including Lamium maculatum 'Beacon Silver' and 'White Nancy', with stunning silvery foliage are yet another good choice for such spots. These four groundcovers prefer a little more moisture than the others mentioned above.

One of the most pleasant tasks in the garden is to divide up these groundcovers every so often and replant the pieces in other areas, with an eye to colour, form and texture, to create new associations with such tried-and-true plants.

With Christmas fast approaching, I am taking a short break from blogging! Season's greeting to all those who have visited the site during the year; I will be back in the New Year with more garden musings.