By Sara Milne

A shady garden can be a beautiful retreat if you plan properly and give it a little bit of TLC. Shady gardens need character as well as beauty.

Shade is seldom constant. It varies according to the season and time of day, so the first step to understanding what will grow in a shady spot is to observe how the light changes.

Choose shrubs for year-round interest, including blossoms for spring, flowers for summer, berries and vibrant leaf colour for autumn and evergreens for winter. Many shade gardens are at their best in spring when bulbs, primroses, anemones and hellebores carpet the ground beneath deciduous trees before the leaf canopy opens and excludes the light.

Think big … the low light-levels in shady gardens make things appear smaller so make borders deep, paved areas generous and containers as big as space will allow – planted boldly with one or two plant varieties.

Go for living walls – particularly in an urban garden.  Trellis can disguise unsightly brickwork and fences and gives a feeling of depth whilst variegated ivy planted with different types of clematis – both of which are shade tolerant – can create stunning evergreen boundaries.

Careful pruning of trees and shrubs that have grown too large into a more open shape will make a shady space much easier to manage. It will let in more light, allow rain to penetrate the soil more easily and create better growing conditions.  But remember, trees and shrubs re–grow over time so they need to be cut back on a regular basis.

White flowers and silver foliage bring glamour to a shady garden. Many such plants will thrive with little or no sun, as do variegated varieties.  Urban gardens benefit from their protected micro-climate being a few degrees warmer so exotic-looking architectural plants such as cordylines or Fatsia japonica can be planted.  Try mixing different leaf textures and shapes of classic white flowers such as hydrangeas or tobacco plants with the stylish black Ophiopogon.  Hostas are very happy in a shady place and do well in pots.

As mentioned before, always go for the largest containers possible. Plants grow well in naturally porous terracotta, which ages beautifully and adds warmth. Bay, box, holly and yew will all be happy in shade, as long as they are not underneath dripping branches.  As with all garden containers, make sure you provide adequate drainage holes.

April gets the gardening season off to a flying start, so here’s what experts suggest for this month’s gardening ‘to do’ list:

Spring is finally in evidence as daffodils and flowering trees start to bloom. Expect the inevitable April showers this month but with sunny days too, when you can turn your attention to the lawn. It’s an exciting month, with indoor-sown seeds well into growth, and it’s also time to start sowing outdoors. Just watch out for frosts.


Spring is a busy time of the year for gardeners.  It’s a good idea to keep on top of newly emerging weeds – this eliminates competition and ensures your plants have enough space and light to thrive. Grass will grow rapidly in the next few months, be sure to mow once a week but don’t cut too short.

Kew Gardens

Spring is here and the garden is waking from its winter slumber. Bulbs should be in full flow now, their bright flowers enough to cheer up any dull day. Time to get started on that lawn for a lush green carpet all year long.

David Domoney

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