Shade Monthly
Shade Monthly 2015

Author: Joe Sime

Shade Monthly: April 2015

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Another good month for contributions. Please keep sending them in to

Plant of the Month: Ypsilandra thibetica

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Ypsilandra thibetica

An evergreen perennial from Sichuan and surrounding provinces in China. It grows in moist woods and shady banks and, given a moist but well drained shady site, it thrives well in this country. Most of the year it is simply a mound of strap shaped, mid-green leaves on short stems springing directly from the ground and reaching about 6 ins long. Think of a narrow leaved, green hosta. It comes into its full glory in early March when it produces stems about 8 ins long, covered with white flowers. These are fairly long lasting, eventually fading to cream before falling. At this stage the stems lengthen and the fruits set. If you don’t want the seed, trim the stems off at this stage. If left, copious amounts of tiny seeds are produced in September, but I have never seen any self-seeding.

If left undisturbed for three or so years the clumps bulk up. Once they start to look crowded dig the ip and divide them. They separate easily into individual plantlets which can be re-planted or potted up for distribution.

This is such an easy way to propagate the plant that we have never tried growing them from seed. Does anyone else have any experience?

The plant is relatively easy to find these days with plenty of suppliers listed in the Plant Finder. There is a second species in cultivation, Y. cavalariei. I have not seen the plant, but the description in Flora of China is similar to Y. thibetica, with fewer flowers on the scape.

Five of the best… evergreen ferns at NTS Inverewe

The following article is from our most northerly member, Becky Middleton, who works at the wonderful garden at Inverewe

During February, there are few signs of life in the woodland garden – and it’s at this time of year that we really appreciate reliably evergreen understory plants. Here are a few of the best ferns that we grow up here at Inverewe in north-west Scotland, which stay handsome right through the year.

Dicksonia lanata

These plants form large clumps -ours are at least 1m x 1m -and bear handsome, slightly shiny, tripinnate leaves. It grows in sheltered areas of the garden, but even so appears unscathed by gale force winds and temperatures down to -6°C. The base of the scape is densely hairy, and on some fronds this continues right to the tip.

We grow subsp. lanata, which is endemic to both islands of New Zealand and doesn’t have a trunk. Its relative subsp. hispida develops a trunk up to 2m tall, and is said to be more difficult in cultivation. Our plants are self-sporing freely in the garden (most new plants appear on mossy banks) but they seem to resent being transplanted.

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Dicksonia lanata

Blechnum chilense

This beast from South America spreads to form impressive clumps when happy. The tough fronds are at their most attractive when new, but remain smart throughout the year. This fern requires little special attention at Inverewe -but when fronds are badly damaged by strong, cold winds they can be cut right back to the ground and will recover well. Division is the simplest method of propagation.

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Blechnum chilense

Blechnum tabulare

This one suffers when we have unusually cold winters but does recover the following spring. Given time these plants will form impressive trunks, but as yet ours are still earth-bound. The sterile fronds are very thick and leathery, contrasting with the much more finely divided fertile ones. In the wild this fern has a very wide range and varied habitat, so selecting a hardier form is probably important for growing in the UK.

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Blechnum tabulare

Woodwardia unigemmata

Beautiful spring colour in the new fronds, but the winter interest in excellent too -long, arching, shiny green fronds with a lovely bold outline. It is said to prefer an acidic soil.

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Woodwardia unigemmata

Polystichum tsus-sinense

Much hardier is the compact P. tsus-sinense from China, Japan, Thailand and Korea. Its fronds reach about 50cm long at Inverewe, on a short trunk-like rhizome. Again, growing in a sheltered position, the fronds are in fine shape after the winter.

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Polystichum tsus-sinense

N.B. All these ferns are hardy at Inverewe and stay outdoors all year. Our climate is relatively mild and wet – temperatures usually drop to around -6°C during the winter, although the cold is rarely prolonged, and rarely exceed 25°C during summer. We receive rainfall regularly and generously -the annual rainfall total last year was over 1.5m! The soil is generally leafy or peaty, and acidic.

How do you protect your woodland treasures

A heartfelt plea from Diana Garner

The muntjacs, chief suspect among several possibilities, have nearly managed to eat every leaf off this Camellia now. I have learnt to regard it as hard pruning, but how do other members keep wildlife off their woodland plants and shrubs whilst maintaining a natural planting effect?

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Scene of the crime

Starting a Woodland Garden

A request for help from Judi Deakin, a member who gardens in Powys. If you have answers to any of her questions , email them to me (address above) and I will put them all together in an article in a future edition.

I’m a new member of HPS -just a year in -and was excited to read about the formation of this group. Many of my favourite plants are woodlanders -from the delightful little Anemone nemerosa and Anemonella thalictroides, through the trilliums and hellebores to acers and camellias. And cyclamen. I would describe myself as an enthusiastic but amateur amateur. I love my plants but have very limited knowledge. I can’t imagine living without a garden but have relatively little time as yet to manage and tend it. Roll on retirement!

A year ago I moved from Devon to a house on the slopes of the Severn valley in mid Wales. The western boundary is adjacent to a small area of deciduous woodland and the northwest corner mainly down to grass and weeds. This seems to me the perfect spot for a small woodland garden and I would welcome any advice about starting and developing such an area. I did clear a very small patch for the Digitalis lutea and D. ferruguinea plants grown from RHS seed that moved with me and so far they are surviving.

I made some of my choices from the recent HPS seed distribution with this area in mind and have, amongst others, Geranium sylvaticum, Prosartes smitii, Meconopsis baileyi, Hylomecon japonica and more foxgloves to try and grow. I was then delighted to find acer and cyclamen in my pot luck package. I have a number of hellebores of various ages and a couple of Acer palmatum in pots that may or may not have overcome a period of drought last year. I really hope they have, considering that in Devon they several times survived having all the foliage eaten by my daughter’s alpacas, who escaped into the garden far too often!

I’m a pretty opportunistic purchaser of plants so I also have a couple of 6” high, unlabelled evergreens which I hope are camellias and which formed part of a lot successfully bid for at the Carwinion Garden auction in Cornwall in autumn 2013. I mean who can let a tray of 10 plants for £5 pass them by, even not knowing what they are? Come to think of it about half the plants were hydrangeas. Whilst not on my list of desirables, these may also be suitable for the plot but are, like the hoped for camellias, only inches high at present.

The available space for this woodland plot is about 9 x 8m, tapering to the east and on a fairly gentle south-facing slope. There is established woodland comprising mainly ash, beech, oak and sycamore to the west; a few trees and a small field to the north. In late Spring the wood is carpeted with bluebells; later sheep roam through it.

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Potential woodland area

My specific questions are:

  • What is the best and/or easiest way of dealing with the existing grass, preferably without using chemicals?
  • Should I clear the whole area at once, even though I may not have enough plants, or clear and plant a bit at a time?
  • How should I prepare the area for planting?
  • What plants not already mentioned should I really NOT be without (I guess everybody’s answer will be different) and why?

Obviously being south-facing and overhung from the west the area does get sun, especially in the morning, so true shade-lovers will need to wait until there is more cover.

Shade and Woodland Plant Group… Rare Plant Exchange

Excellent nurseries, the Plant Finder and mail order combine to make it much easier to source rare and unusual plants than it used to be. In some cases however, plants just are not available commercially and are often out of stock even when listed in the Plant Finder. Our plant exchange is meant to help with such cases. It will work as follows:

  1. If you are having trouble sourcing a shade plant that you really want you will send an e-mail to Whilst not wishing to be prescriptive, normally this will not have more than about 3 listings in the Plant Finder.
  2. The name of the plant will be added to a list of ‘Wanted Plants’ on the group’s web site and published regularly in ‘Shade Monthly’.
  3. If you are able to propagate a plant that has been requested, you will send an e-mail to the above address. I will remove the name from the list and then email both supplier and requestor so that they can get in touch to arrange the exchange between them. Often it will take some time for the supplier to propagate the plant once the exchange had been agreed.
  4. There will be no charge for the plant, but if you are particularly pleased with one, you may like to make a small contribution to group funds. An ‘honesty box’ will be available for this purpose at the group’s AGM. The requestor will cover any costs incurred by the propagator in sending the plant to them. It may often be possible to do this without cost if both are attending the S&W group’s AGM or similar meetings.
  5. Please bear in mind that these plants will be relatively small compared to those bought from nurseries and may often need TLC before committing them to the garden.

Finally please note that this service is only available to paid-up members of the Shade and Woodland Plant Group.

Garden Visit Dunham Massey…. The Winter Garden

Dunham Massey is an 18th century house and surrounding garden west of Manchester, easily accessed from the M56 west of the Airport. We have been visiting every few years for the last 20 years.

In 2007 the National Trust decided to build a ‘Winter Garden’ in an area previously covered with scrubby rhododendron and the occasional escaped Hydrangea. The objective was to attract visitors during the ‘off season’ from January to March. The site is blessed with several very tall native trees which provide a high, diffuse shade. They took very good advice, including that of Roy Lancaster and planted many interesting small trees and shrubs as a woody understory. This includes a good stand of Betula utilis ‘Doorenbos’ which is effective even if a bit of a cliché these days. We visited in early spring in 2011 and were impressed with the potential. The trees and shrubs were growing well and there was obvious commitment to creating an interesting herbaceous layer. This is borne out by the 2012 plant list which can still be purchased from the garden kiosk.

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Betula utilis ‘Doorenbos’

We visited this year with the anticipation of seeing the plants starting to mature. We were very disappointed. In my opinion the shrub layer is now over-planted, with many new camellia having been added. The herbaceous layer is very sad. A few Helleborus x hybridus are struggling to survive and there are signs of a few Trillium kurabayashii coming through. There are so many good, tough, winter-green herbaceous shade lovers that could be used to make a real impact. Instead there is simply mass planting of reticulate irises and snow drops, together with a few patches of bergenia. It is a lost opportunity to produce a really unique garden.

Visit for the trees and shrubs in the spring and summer and for the other areas of the garden (there are some good stands of Hydrangea and mature shrub borders). However, I would not recommend buying the Winter Garden plant list as many of the numbers are now missing from the beds, some of the others mark dead sticks, and others are simply misplaced (The only patch of Epimedium we found was labelled as a variety of Colchicum autumnale!).

Shade Charade

Guess the species. 2 words

1st word: 5 syllables:

  • First two syllables… bigger than a foil
  • Last three syllables… neither rare nor well done

2nd word: 3 syllables

  • First syllable… a type of hammer
  • Second syllable… inclusive conjunction
  • Last syllable… inclusive conjunction

Last Month’s puzzle was Arisaema tortuosum. This is described by Gusman as one of the most spectacular and interesting species for the garden. It is also one of the most varied, with some specimens making 5 ft or more. Unfortunately mine tend to be on the small side. The leaf has a rachis with up to 23 leaflets. The inflorescence grows above the leaves. The spathe is green with a pointed tip. The spadix appendage is unusual in that it emerges vertically from the tube, then takes a right angle turn to proceed horizontally for a way, and then turns through another right angle and rises vertically. I bought a variety ‘Black Rod’ last year in which this appendage is black, and looks very sinister. It is a good specimen for the shade garden. Plant the tuber deeply in rich woodland soil that is moist in summer and well drained in winter.

Joe Sime

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily the views of the Hardy Plant Society.

The HPS Shade and Woodland Plant Group is open to all members of the Hardy Plant Society. Please follow this link for more information.

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