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As usual we will start with a plea for more articles. It really does not take long to tap out a few lines on a plant you like, book you have read or garden you have visited and people do enjoy reading what you write.
Plant of the Month. Fatsia japonica ‘Spider's Web'
I feel a bit of a cheat choosing this plant. I've only had it in the garden for four months, so I cannot comment from personal experience on its health and habits, but I do really like it. The leaves have a delicate white veining that shines out in the shade. It is a selection made in Japan from a variegated seed strain ‘Tsumugi Shibori' (tie-dyed cloth). The degree of patterning can change from leaf to leaf and with time, but they all look good. I know that variegation is not everyone's cup of tea and I usually do not like this sort of rash-like patterning in other plants. It can look more diseased than attractive, but ‘Spider's Web' is an exception. It is said to be a little slower to grow than the basic species, but will eventually reach about 6ft by 6ft. A good plant to add winter interest to the shade garden.
A contribution to our series on dry shade by Susan Ferguson
The plea from Rosemary Horsey for more on gardening in dry shade struck an immediate chord with me as I garden in the dry North East of England on free draining soil without the benefit of the abundant rainfall enjoyed by Joe Sime and other contributors. When we bought an extra two acres of land in 1992 my main intention was to plant a small (half acre) woodland as I love trees. In went 60 silver birch and another 60 other small trees: rowan, field maple, wild and bird cherry etc. The intention was to use these to create a woodland feel and then remove some of them to replace with special trees. The sharper eyed among you will have spotted that in my enthusiasm it was wildly overplanted but they were all whips and I expected some losses. Readers, they grew! After five years they were taller than me and I began to dream of woodland treasures and visit Edrom and other nursery stalls at Harrogate Spring Show. The little gems I purchased expired over the summer; my ground was full of tree roots and we did not get enough rain. So I learnt by trial and error what would grow and indeed flourish for me.
Starting in January I have abundant snowdrops, all from a generous trayful given to me many years ago. Other bulbs include chionodoxa and scilla and small daffs. In June tulipa sprengeri is starting to seed around and make a show. The white of the snowdrops is followed by pachyphragma which makes a carpet of white for several weeks and is now out-competing euphorbia robbiae, the classic shade euphorbia. Other ground cover includes woodruff, geranium macrorrhizum and geranium phaeum through which grow hostas, which seem less prone to slug damage in the dry shade, and ferns. Dryopteris of any sort grow well for me (the clue is in the name!). But others are happy; I have some dainty adiantum venustum and aleuticum plus some colourful painted ferns, athyrium. Further colour in spring comes from omphalodes ‘Cherry Ingram', geums such as ‘Bell Bank' and many epimediums. I started with common ones and when they seemed to thrive added others adding lots of leaf mould to the planting holes. Pulmonaria are good for a long season if cut back and watered after flowering, especially those with good leaves such as ‘Majeste'. I tuck primula under the stems of deciduous shrubs, they flower for ages; although not happy in the summer they revive with the autumn rains. There are several dainty grasses which will thrive, Bowles's golden grass seeds happily and melica nutans and hakonechloa will both make good contrast.
Summer is the most difficult of course but annuals will contribute: lobelia in white or blue and nicotiana. I find nicotiana langsdorfii loves my garden and has become perennial and seeds around. Late summer brings one of my favourite asters, divaricatus, known as the wood aster, and later hardy cyclamen make sheets of colour after many years seeding around.
These are just a few of the hundreds of plants I now grow in my woodland but I hope it is a start. There are, of course, different types even of dry shade but dry rooty shade is the most difficult.
Your main weapon is good establishment. Plant in a good hole and put a can of water in the bottom of it before you plant, this gives a good reserve while the plant gets its roots down. Your main ally is compost or even better leaf mould. Use it in the planting hole and to mulch with. Good luck with your garden.
Notes from Seattle
An update from Walt that I held over from last month.
October proved a gentle transition into November with generally mild days and nights. This resulted in muted color however in many species. My Fothergilla monticola was a pleasing yellow this year in contrast to the reds and burgundy of previous years. Similarly, my Cornus kousa is tiered with orange and green, very appropriate for Halloween.
With deciduous leaves abscising on schedule and falling every which way, it's a race to uncover evergreen groundcover plants before they are smothered. With still mild temperatures, these plants will benefit from the increased light and continue to photosynthesize for some time. The first hard frost can vary from September to December for us.
A word about my canopy. Most of the garden is in a woodland garden setting with a mix of large conifers and deciduous trees. Most of the evergreens are Western Red Cedar/Thuja plicata and most of the deciduous trees are Big-leaf Maple/Acer macrophyllum. Both are greedy surface rooters. I have to be careful in the placement of any new plant to avoid large lateral roots. Smaller trees haven't given me any like trouble – so far!
Autumn winds are blowing out the second year foliage on the cedars; these are small branchlets unlike the huge maple leaves. After raking, I run everything through a shredder grinder producing a nice mulch that I apply to the beds after they've been tidied up. I save some in tubs to decompose further and use it as an organic additive when planting a new plant.
In bloom is Nerine bowdenii, Cyclamen graecum (just finishing), C. hederifolium, Mahonia fortunei, M. eurybracteata ‘Soft Caress', and Camellia sasanqua ‘Showa-No-Sakae' leaving a pink carpet. An Impatiens arguta is braving the lower temperatures with its noticeable lavender flowers. Last year this went into the greenhouse; space being at a premium, I'm trying it outside this year. The oddest note of color though goes to Decaisnea fargesii with its clusters of fleshy blue pods. Offering these to trick or treaters at Halloween always brings forth expressions of disbelief. They are edible but rather bland. The multi-trunked shrubby tree definitely adds a tropical note with its large pinnate leaves. I'm still surprised at the hardiness of this Vietnamese native, but first seeing it years ago at the University of British Columbia Botanic Garden caused me to try growing it myself. Back to raking!
Regular readers will remember that I undertook to survey experience with the hardness of Schefflera species amongst our members. These are evergreen shrubs or small trees with elegant foliage that have been promoted by, amongst others, Crug farm plants, for use in woodland gardens. Only two members of the group had tried them outside, but I managed to get comments from several gardens around the country (see the acknowledgements below).
Whilst not having enough data for really hard scientific conclusions, I think the following points can be made.
Several species (taiwaniana, arboricola, bodinieri, digitata, fantsipanensis etc) will succeed in costal climates in the west and south of the country. Some of these may survive inland or in the east, but they do not thrive there. They will probably die in a hard winter.
Two species, rhododendrifolia and delavayi, seem to grow well inland surviving quite hard winters, particularly if given a sheltered site.
Many species seem to respond well to growing in pots. While they remain small enough to move easily they would make excellent plants for a grouping of ‘pots in shade' for most of the year and then contribute their elegant foliage to a cool conservatory during the winter.
Based on the results I will certainly be trying rhododendrifolia outside and taiwaniana in a pot.
I would like to thank the following for information: Mathew Hall (Batsford Arboretum), Douglas Smith (National Collection Araliaceae), Edinburgh Botanical Gardens, Cambridge Botanical Gardens, Alan Grey (East Ruston Old Vicarage) and Ruth Plant (Shade Group member)
Climbers for Shade… Aconitum hemsleyanum
I was sent a really good photo of A. hemsleyanum by a member. She had grown it from seed from the Distribution Scheme. It is a good, herbaceous, twining climber for part shade, growing as much eight to ten feet in a season. It flowers in late summer or early autumn. It can be a bit fussy in that it needs a reasonably moist but not waterlogged soil. If it is in a dry site the lower leaves can turn brown and look grotty just as the flowers start to look good. In nature it grows at woodland margins, and is happy scrambling into a shrub. You will get more flowers if it has at least a little sunlight at some time of the day.
If you are a paid up member of the Shade and Woodland Plant Group and would like any of the seeds listed below, please send a SAE to S.J.Sime, Park Cottage, Penley, Wrexham LL13 0LS.
If you have late ripening woodland seed to donate, please send it to the same address.
Actaea cordifolia ‘Blickfang'
Adenophora takadae var. howazana
Astilbe rivularis CC6857
Cardiocrinum giganteum var. yunnanense
Fothergilla major Monticola Group
Hydrangea paniculata ‘Tender Rose'
Iochroma australis (both blue and white forms)
Guess the species
First word: three syllables
● All three — sounds like it‘s an unconfirmed piece of information.
Second word: three syllables
● All three — third king of England after the conquest.
I must apologise for last month's Charade. The solution was Tiarella grandiflora which, of course, does not exist!! I had meant either Tellima grandiflora or Tiarella cordifolia and got caught between the two.
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