There is always an isolated spot in an open space that is shaded. Aside from woodland bulbs (Crocus / Bluebells) and perennials (Astrantia / Acanthus) there are some shrubs that prefer this aspect. Some are winter flowering so for dark and cold spots. It can be used to create a biodiverse paradise too. With some moisture and a bit of humidity fungi, ferns can be encouraged. It’s not so much the shade that affects them it’s the lack of water if anything.

Sarcococcoa (Christmas box) An evergreen often used a shrub but can be made into a hedge (mound forming). It provides white fragrant flowers in late winter. The fragrance is delicate notes of vanilla – sometimes referred to as sweet box too. The shrub has attractive foliage, can cope in shade although must be fertile and have substance. If it does get sun the soil must be kept moist.

Virburnum bodnantense “dawn.” A winter flowering shrub, be mindful not a neat one, no formal habit. It is very hardy though. It can be pruned to keep compact but taking away its character really. It flowers in winter and bears berries in summer. It loses its leaves in flowering but provides interest all times of the year. It flowers in winter through into spring. Virburnum tinus offers the same amount of colour, scent, leaves but is evergreen and flowers with its leaves. It prefers a sunny aspect. The soil needs some fertility too and have substance.

Mahonia A winter flowering shrub. An evergreen too with very attractive foliage, a vibrant yellow burst of colour. Its habit is slow growing so it keeps its shape very well. X media ‘charity’ and X media ‘winter sun.’ They are both slightly different. No maintenance to speak of. Mahonia needs a little shelter so not great in an exposed position but very straightforward otherwise. The shrub is very hardy offering attractive foliage, berries, flowers and fragrance. What more?

Ferns are usually very good in shade. They’re probably one of the oldest plants – prehistoric in fact. Some in damp shade, some in dry. Dryoptens erythrosora is an interesting type since it offers a copper glow along with pretty fronds like ferns have. Multiply on their own. Survive and adapt in the most adverse conditions. A woodland habit so under trees; poor soil; little nutrients; source their own moisture but I think a little humidity help is needed. Incredibly resourceful.

Skimmia japonica. A great evergreen, wonderful in drifts. Quite straightforward to maintain. It can become leggy and only produce at the top of plant so pruning periodically of unwanted growth can help this. This seems to happen in time. They are quite slow growing so not very often. It provides fragrant white flowers and berries in spring. you’ll get berries if you put a boy and girl next to each other.

Euonymous alatus is a decidious E. It offers wonderful red foliage in the autumn. Burning bush to most would be considered a specimen shrub although in some states it is regarded as invasive and a pest. It does produce berries but known more for its foliage. A little bit on the wild side though. There are Euonymous that are evergreen, have a different habit and offer different foliage. These usually have more compact habit as a shrub although there ground cover and climber varieties. The foliage is usually variegated and often cream and green E. ‘Emerald Gaiety’ and green and yellow ‘Emerald n Gold’ and ground cover ‘Colorado.’ Euonymous’s are great foliage plants. Low maintenance in any aspect. No pruning save unwanted growth. They are very resilient and often overlooked.

Effective Climbers

Climbers can take different forms. The growth is largely the same – they climb. How they develop, however, differs. Some need a training tool while other twine themselves by tendrils or root on the surface they will host. Ivy and Virginia Creeper both spread without any aid. Vines usually require support and weave through arbours, pergolas, a trellis or rails. Wisteria is a woody climber and has self supporting branches off which foliage and flowers fall.

Virginia Creeper – A close relative of Ivy. It’s certainly a more attractive one but no less invasive. It also has poisonous sap which is an irritant. Creepers are used effectively on gable ends and unadopted walls. As long as the rendering or brickwork is sound it offers no problem. It does offer fantastic foliage/colour but will inevitably suck the moisture out of the mortar or rendering as plants like this do. Whichever is the less of two evils. You decide.

Honeysuckle – other than keeping the size down, pruning is arbitrary. It can prevent the climber getting woody and does improves vigour but not essential. It will not seriously impede the performance until some time after. After the flowers are spent cut off straggly growth to a visible bud/leaf node. In flowering season it may even give you another show.

Passiflora – A self clinging climber that can cope without a training tool. The plant is relatively hardy as long as in a sheltered spot, although it can be thwarted by a heavy frost. Some additional protection may be in order. A south facing position or the warmest spot is suggested. Each year it is a good idea to cut close to the main frame of the climber leaving the central stem of growth with some side shoots of 3/4 bud nodes on each. There’s flexibility, obviously as long as there is some growth left, it will be fine. This is done after extreme frosts though.

Clematis – there are 3 different methods of pruning and this usually defined by when it flowers. The easiest way to categorise is simply look at the card. It will tell you 1,2,3 or what steps you need to take. With Clematis some you prune, some you don’t! For example:

C.armandii – vigourous climber. An evergreen with White flowers in Spring. So the flowers are produced on last years growth. No pruning necessary.

C. ‘Princess Diana’ – it flowers in Summer on new growth. So prune in late Winter to Spring.

Wisteria is another commonly used climber with its self clinging branches bearing highly scented flowers. The stems will twine together providing support for other weaker growth. A good practice for Wisteria is to concentrate on fewer more productive stems known as lateral shoots. In Summer or after flowering cut back to main central stems and a number of off shoot branches. Leave a number of bud nodes on this. Repeat a little after and a bit lower down the stem. It will prepare it for the following year.

There are Hydrangeas that can be trained offering attractive foliage and being tolerant of little sunlight. There are trailing and climbing Roses that offer fragrance, foliage and flowers. Jasmines too. Many of these are scented so will offer a food source to bees and other beneficial insects. Vines equally once established offer foliage and bear fruit. Very few need more than a “head start” before they are self sufficient and can fend for themselves.