50 27 AUGUST 2020
Gardens with Harry Rich
Last month, I wrote about my ideal fantasy
border for a garden in full sun. But my
brother and I love working on projects where
there are some shady spots too, so this time
I’m turning my attention to an imaginary
border with very little sun during the day.
People often see shady areas as
problematic and it’s true that lack of sun
does limit the range of plants you can use.
But it also gives you an opportunity to create
a different feel in those areas, and that’s
something Dave and I really enjoy doing.
I’m starting my imaginary border with a
backdrop of one of my favourite hydrangeas,
H. aspera ‘Macrophylla’, with its dark
green, tactile, furry leaves – it’s wonderfully
dramatic. When it flowers in summer, its
simple, large pinky-white flower heads with
dark centres are beautiful and refined. They
sit proud of the plant, and from a distance
look as if they’re floating above the dark
foliage. It’s a stunning plant – everyone
should have one somewhere in their garden!
A supporting act to the hydrangea would
have to be a couple of honeysuckles. Lonicera
xylosteum would be my choice – a very
natural-looking shrub, with wiry stems,
small leaves and tiny, subtle, white flowers
that appear in late spring and early summer,
adding interest to the back of the border
before the hydrangea flowers. I wouldn’t line
up these three plants symmetrically. Instead,
I’d unite them by having one honeysuckle
offset in front of the hydrangea, with the
second honeysuckle a little further away –
balance without too much symmetry.
With these three setting the tone, I’d then
add in Actaea racemosa for height and drama.
Its foliage is lush green and offers great leaf
cover. There’s a purple-leaved variety, Actea
simplex, too but that would be too dark for
this shady border. Actaea racemosa would
add good vertical accents to my border, as
its white flower spikes are tall and would fill
in any gaps as it darts around between the
hydrangea and the honeysuckles. It flowers
until late in the season, another good reason
for using it here.
With leaves as big as the hydrangeas,
Kirengeshoma palmata would work well, used
in a block or in drifts towards the front of the
border – it doesn’t look as good if used alone.
It has lovely bell-like, soft yellow flowers that
would contrast with those of the hydrangea,
which would be out simultaneously.
No shady border is complete without some
Japanese anemones, so I’d dot lots around – a
mix of pale pink ‘September Charm’, which
flowers from July to September, and white
‘Honorine Jobert’, in flower from August to
October, to give a long season of interest.
I’d then plant the fern Dryopteris
wallichiana, as it’s quite sizeable and would
hold its own well in this fantasy border. Then
I’d mix in Carex pendula. It’s a wonderfully
natural and informal grass with impressive,
arching flower wands. Just be prepared to
pull some of it out if it starts to take over –
it can be a bit of a thug! Carex sylvatica is
not as tall or dramatic, but it has the same
wispy informality, and the two look amazing
together in shady borders.
In the middle and the front of this space
I’d add the toad lily, Tricyrtis formosana
‘Dark Beauty’. It flowers at the same time as
the hydrangea and has the most beautiful,
leopard-spotted purple flowers that would
tie in really well. Also flowering would be
the lovely Aster divaricatus, a simple white
marvellous mauve The stunning and
dramatic hydrangea H. aspera ‘Macrophylla’
No sun? No problem! There are plenty of
gorgeous plants that will thrive without it