Shady parts of the garden and north-facing borders can be just as beautiful as open, sunny spots. Choose plants that like the setting, treat them well, and you can create cool and leafy corners as well as bright colours and rich contrasts. There are various types of shade and soil to consider when planting perennials in shaded areas.
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The shade under deciduous trees and mature shrubs makes a perfect setting for primroses and many woodland plants that bloom early in the year. Winter and spring bulbs will naturalise happily here: snowdrops, bluebells, narcissus and crocus. The windflower, Anemone nemorosa, a white bell-shaped flower often tinged with pink and Anemone blanda, a blue form, will provide a carpet of blooms that increase year after year. They can both be bought as corms or plants. Dappled shade under tall trees and a lime-free soil make the perfect setting for rhododendrons with their gorgeous spring blossoms and for camelias, whose early blooming flowers can be spoiled by frost in an open position.
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Heavy Shade and Dry Shade
Few plants will flower well in the very heavy shade found under the thick canopies of large trees. But you can make the area attractive by mixing ivies and ferns in contrasting forms and different shades of green, including some with variegated foliage, such as the green and silver ivy, Hedera canariensis variegata. In shady areas where soil is dry under high walls and hedges or overhead foliage, an invasive plant like Lamium galeobdolon will cover the ground with green and silver leaves and brighten it up. Most forms of ivy will flourish, and evergreen and tough, woody shrubs are generally a better choice than plants with soft growth. And if your shade-producing wall is sunny at the top, Clematis Montana will love keeping its roots cool as it reaches for the warmth and will produce its clusters of pale pink flowers in abundance.
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Many moisture-loving plants thrive in shade. Candelabra primulas, marsh marigolds, globe flowers, Astrantia major, several species of iris, astilbes and the most luxuriant ferns and foliage plants will all look fabulous and natural planted around a pond or bog area. For ground cover, try Epimedium rubrum, one of the top pretty foliage plants. Spikes of red flowers in May blend with the new, bronze-pink leaves, which then turn deep green through summer and orange and gold in the fall. Also try the range of hardy geraniums in blue, pink, white or mauve. These spreading, bushy plants flower freely throughout the summer. Lily of the valley, convallaria majaris, loves damp shade and, if happy, will colonise large areas with its fresh green leaves and scented white bell-shaped flowers in May. In these areas, slugs may thrive too, so be prepared to pick them off or put down slug pellets.
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The North-facing Border
If a north-facing border is sheltered from strong winds, it will make a good home for many perennials from the Hellebores, with pink, plum, white or green flowers at the start of the season until Japanese anemones and varieties of Sedum spectabile provide colour in the fall. For the front of your border, try the perennial bellflower, Campanula carpatica, Hostas or Alchemilla mollis, and fill out the rest with paeonia officinalis, Phlox paniculata, Dicentra (bleeding heart), Aquilegia and Welsh poppies, both of which will seed freely.