Shade gardens are possible to pull off

Gardening in the shade is a challenge for many and especially new gardeners who need some guidance.

Problems in shade gardens are normally due to the lack of light, water or food.

In addition to low light levels, plants growing in the shade must compete with shading trees for nutrients and water and tolerate poor air circulation.

The first active step is to ensure your plants have adequate water and this means that you do have to provide them with enough water to grow and flower.

Often most water is absorbed by the trees providing the shade and less is available to the smaller plants.

Regular mulching and liberal composting will help to loosen the soil and help retain moisture.

Secondly, large trees also take most of the available nutrients in the soil, creating tough competition for shade shrubs and ground covers.

Feeding regularly is a must at least three of four times through summer.


Forest bell bush

The indigenous Mackaya bella, also known as the forest bell bush, will grow in total shade and are perfect for right up against the boundary where they will form a sold screen blocking out walls or neighbours.

Growing just over two metres round, they flower each spring to early summer with white-tinged lilac flowers and flower in bunches, making quite a spectacular show each year. Being water wise and hardy makes them the must-have shade plant in any garden.



Often confused with a delicious monster, the philodendron is one of the most practical plants to grow in the shade. Needing very little care and attention, they add a touch of the jungle feel. Look for different varieties such as the dwarf Xanadu, which will grow around one square metre. The multi-stemmed hope has large leaves which are often used in tropical arrangements and the giant selloum which will grow over two metres high makes a serious statement in the shade.



Also called a Japanese aralia they will grow indoors as well as on a shady patio. Plant one in the back to middle of the garden bed where they will grow up and spread their leaves to look like an umbrella. They get a small cluster of white flowers through late summer which pushes up through the umbrella. They recover very quickly if treated badly and with a good cutback they re-shoot fast and look lush.



The most popular flowering shade plants are the acid-loving rhododendrons, also known as evergreen azaleas. Rhododendrons also make excellent container plants or in the garden as part of a border. Rhododendrons create a picture in the early spring when they are smothered in blooms. They are available in a wide range of colours. The best position for your rhododendron is towards the edge of a bed where the shade is not as deep.

  • Information courtesy of Eckards Garden Pavilion.

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