A shaded path

Sunday, 19 April 2020

Thanks very much to those who have given positive feedback about my garden videos! I have enjoyed making them and this week I reshot the very first video I did, of a shaded path, which was to send to a friend who had sent me a video of her garden. Mine to her was to suggest some possible plants I could propagate for her for shadier parts of her garden. I can report that this weekend, I was able to leave a box of some of these plants hidden at the top of my long battle-axe driveway for her to collect as she passed by on her daily walk! I am rather enjoying some of the surreptitious exchanges between friends and neighbours that are occurring of things left in letterboxes and on front porches in these strange, surreal times!

As well as the video about this path, this week I am going to write a few thoughts about the plantings shown in it. The border along this path is on the western side of my garden, and is shaded by a huge old conifer and three Camellia sasanqua 'Setsuggeka', which are around 23 years old. They are in full bloom now, and their petals drop to form a pretty carpet along the path. Rainbow lorikeets go mad for the flowers, and can be heard in the video!

Plectranthus zuluensis with Justicia carnea

The soil is quite dry in this border now, so I have chosen plants that can cope with this situation. Irrigation is via a dripper, run twice a week for 50 minutes during dry times. Some of the best shrubby perennials for dry shade include Plectranthus species and cultivars. I have the unusual Plectranthus zuluensis in the border - it flowers much longer than other species: from November to June, if the spent flowers are nipped off after each flush. The blooms are a soft powdery blue colour, and it really is a worthwhile plant to grow in dry shade. Other Plectranthus here include the white and purple versions of the small shrubby Cape Angels series. A groundcover, Plectranthus 'Nico', which was apparently developed from Plectranthus ambiguus, another gorgeous plant that is in bloom now. However, in appearance it resembles a superior version of Plectranthus ciliatus. Like that plant, it has an autumn veil of long spires of dainty lilac-tinged flowers across its purple-veined and purple-backed foliage; however, its leaves are larger and more textured, and the veins are more pronounced. It is just as tough and will grow in the most uncongenial shady places, and can form a dense, weed-suppressing carpet under trees or shrubs, or can cascade over retaining walls. It is stunning when in full bloom.

Tradescantia zebrina

Another good genus for dry shade is Begonia. Along the path, I have some cane Begonia specimens growing, and there are also some coloured-leaf forms of the rhizomatous groundcover ones. These are excellent fillers and have dainty pink or white flowers in spring, plus delightful leaves of many different shapes, colours and textures. There are so many beautiful forms, and if a few different types are grown together, they make an effective foliage tapestry. Another good groundcover I have used a lot in this garden border is Tradescantia. Three different species are shown: the deep purple Tradescantia pallida 'Purpurea', silvery Tradescantia sillamontana and stripy Tradescantia zebrina. They have very shallow root systems, thus coping well with dry shade. And yes, they are relatives of the dreaded wandering jew weed, but they are not anything like as wicked as it, and are easy to pull up if there is too much of them!

Strobilanthes dyeriana

Other plants that seem to have shallow roots systems and hence cope well with the conditions here are members of the Acanthaceae family. The video shows Strobilanthes dyeriana, the so-called Persian shield, which is looking very vibrant at the moment with its sheeny silver, purple and green foliage; but also in this border I grow goldfussia (Strobilanthes persicifolia), blue sage bush (Eranthemum pulchellum), polka-dot plant (Hypoestes phyllostachya), Chinese rain bell (Strobilanthes cusia), pink Justicia carnea and magenta plant (Peristrophe bivalvis) - all Acanthaceae plants that give flowers in different seasons.

Bromeliads are always a handy solution in dry shade (the one highlighted in the video is Aechmea fasciata, an excellent species with a very long-lived pink inflorescence), as is the foliage plant shown at the start of the video: Ctenanthe setosa 'Grey Star', a rhizomatous perennial that creates a robust clump right next to the big conifer tree. The Spanish moss that hangs in the sasanqua trees is a type of bromeliad: Tillandsia usneoides, and it just multiplies happily wherever it is placed. I particularly like seeing it when it is backlit by the afternoon sun.

Clerodendrum wallichii

I always enjoy walking along this path on my daily trek to the bins (seen briefly in the background in the video; sorry!). At the moment, I am rewarded by the sight of the lovely flowers of Clerodendrum wallichii, with its racemes of white, butterfly-like blooms. The dark leaves of the nearby elephant ears plant (Colocasia 'Black Magic') provide a dramatic background for it. Anyway, I hope you enjoy wandering along my shaded path with me this week!