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Plants to light up a shady corner in September

With Chelsea Flower Show now in our sights we will no doubt be wowed by the dazzling array of sun-loving late summer prairie plants and grasses that are now so popular (and don’t worry, we’ve all three got CFS tickets so prepped to bring you our personal highlights, and we’ll try to keep Caroline away from the Pimms Bar until lunchtime at least).

But what if you don’t garden in a prairie, and have the more normal mix of light and shady spots, what can you plant to lighten up a dark corner come September?

Well we’ve each got some suggestions that have worked in our own gardens to share with you.


Elaine

You are going to be surprised at my first choice – clematis!  Lots of clematis species and varieties are remarkably tolerant of a shady situation, particularly the C. viticella types.  When I bought a C. ‘Sea Breeze’ to grow up a flourishing crab apple tree in our cottage garden, I thought it might struggle to flower with abandon. Not a bit of it.  It had dozens of pretty blue/white flowers in late June and July……………..and it’s still flowering in September! All clematis prefer a cool root-run anyway, and their clambering habit gives many of them the opportunity to find a little more sun for their flowers.  There is a lovely one called C. ‘Alba Luxurians’ with dark-tipped white flowers, which is also very happy for shade.

Clematis ‘Sea Breeze’ – a corker for a shady place

The shrub Callicarpa bodinieri is also a winner in this situation.  It sits looking dull and gawky in an out-of-the-way shaded nook until you have almost forgotten about it, then in autumn – BOOM! Scullery-maid to Cinderella in her blingiest ballgown! The bright purple berries are luminous, unearthly and totally amazing – just look at our feature picture this week!  Go on, I dare you to plant one near the fence and startle the neighbours.

Heucheras are much, much happier in semi-shade than in full sun, and as long as they have some moisture round their roots, their foliage will glow pleasingly in September.  They come in a ridiculously wide range of colours, and some look a bit bilious, but I do like some of the warmer shades like ‘Marmalade’.

Heucheras grow well in semi-shade, and look good in September

One more observation: all my main crocosmia varieties have finished flowering now, but C. ‘Big Top’ has just got going………The Liriodendron (tulip tree) close by grew rather big, rather quickly (!) and this crocosmia is now in shade, and looks quite content – strange!

Crocosmia ‘Big Top’ flowering very late and in shade – weird! But welcome…..

Laura

Whilst Elaine is making gentle observations in her dreamy Normandy garden, I’m just back from a week in rugged Islay where the purple of the heather was being enhanced by the beautiful sky blue of our native devil’s-bit scabious, Succisa pratensis.

Succisia pratensis devils bit scabious
The lovely cornflower blue of the devils-bit scabious complementing the purple heather perfectly

But it’s a great late-flowering garden plant too so I was delighted to find it doing the same thing back at home in Sussex, in a shady border that never gets direct sunlight mingling carelessly in with a phlox. It’s one of those tall, airy, see-through plants that you can easily put at the front of a bed without obscuring the plants behind, a bit like the role Verbena bonariensis fulfils in sunnier parts of the garden, and seems equally popular with the bees who were absolutely smothering it with attention. Also, like the verbena, it happily self seeds, especially in damper areas of the garden.

Succisia pratensis devils bit scabious
Devils-bit scabious, happy in part shade, as is the phlox behind it.

My second suggestion is perhaps at the other end of the horticultural scale, being quite exacting about its needs but definitely lighting up a shady corner in the autumn. It’s the Chilean bellflower, Lapageria rosea. My garden is quite a cold one so I have to grow this rather tender climber on the shady back wall of my glasshouse in a narrow, well mulched and watered border in acid soil, but it’s worth pandering to its demands when it produces these delectable waxy bells in early autumn.

Lapageria rosea
Lapageria rosea worth the challenge of finding the right spot for, there is also a white form and another that is white with pink edges (I’ve got all three obvs …)

Caroline

Meanwhile back in the real world, and by that I mean Scotland, over-shaded gardens are the norm. We have mountains, evergreen forests and operate under the cover of darkness for several months of the year so plants that routinely tolerate some shade are more of a ‘need’ than a ‘want’.

If you don’t already have them, Japanese anemones are a no-brainer (get the cream ‘Honorine Jobert’, the pink ones did make my border look a little like a Battenburg cake beside the fading yellows of inula and rudbeckia. Battenburg cake? If you know, you know!).

Acanthus (spinosa actually but the same general look applies)

Instead of showing-off with her obscure Chilean choice, Laura could have chosen real good doers such as persicaria, Acanthus mollis (bears breeches) or astrantia, they’re all still looking good and obligingly willing to make a go of things even if they didn’t get the five-star spot in your garden. And why didn’t Laura pick Eupatorium (joe pye weed) which she actually gushed about when she came to see me? 

Laura was all over my eupatorium earlier in the year even before it started flowering.

Now of course, you know you can count on me for the totally fool-proof ‘massive reward for next-to-no-effort’ recommendation. I won’t let you down so here it is…. Cyclamen hederifolium. Like Holly Willoughby at a Heavy Metal Concert these gorgeous little flowers light up a dry, dark spot. Just plant some corms around an old tree stump and transform your autumns!

Cyclamen hederifolium
Why couldn’t Laura have chosen something straightforward like these uncomplaining little cyclamen.

NB Louise’s plant of the moment prefers sun to shade but placed in the right position it can definitely light up your September garden. Click on the box below to find out what it is!

NB If you’d like a bit more gardening chit-chat from The3Growbags, just pop your email address in here and we’ll send you a new post every Saturday morning.

By the3growbags

We're three sisters who love gardening, plants and even the science of horticulture but we're not all experts. We'd love everyone even remotely interested in their gardens to be part of our blogsite.

7 replies on “Plants to light up a shady corner in September”

30 years ago I bought a Lapageria rosea, which flourished for over ten years in an 18inch pot in my north-facing conservatory, until complacency and neglect allowed it to die. I have since tried several times to buy a replacement, with no success. Any recommendations?

Hello Kathryn, Laura here, I first fell in love with Lapageria when I saw it in the old glasshouse at Wisley some 30 years ago too! I could never find it for sale as a plant, so tried to grow it from seed (Chilterns Seeds usually have it) https://www.chilternseeds.co.uk/search?q=Lapageria+

and although some seeds did germinate, they were slow to get going, and mostly faded away. Then lo and behold at the beginning of first lockdown I found a local nursery (in Alfold, West Sussex) that specialised in them and delivered three super 3 year old plants to my doorstep, which all flowered that autumn. It is http://www.charleshurstplants.co.uk/

Although their main selling channel is personal visits to the nursery or Plant Fairs, it looks like they would arrange delivery if you phoned them up and had a chat.
Hope this is helpful! Laura

Yes Glenys, Caroline seems delighted with hers now but let’s see what she’s saying in a couple of years time!
Best wishes Laura

Just picked up a Eupatorium last weekend in a nursery sell off without knowing anything about it. So pleased to see it mentioned in the blog even if it does come with a warning about runners etc. I’m putting it the border where we have huge gaps having cut back the laurel hedge to a more manageable width. Fingers crossed!

Hello Allison, not all eupatoriums run, some form neat clumps, so you may be ok! But forewarned is forearmed so you could take the precaution of deadheading the flowers before the seeds start to float around the garden, and watch out for any excessive creeping when the shoots comes through in mid May and just chop them off with a sharp spade and dig them out. Pollinators will love your new purchase! Best wishes Laura

I have a number of your suggestions brightening my garden at the moment, including two Callicarpa, Japanese Anemones, Verbena bonariensis, cyclamen, Heuchera, Sedum just turning pink, along with a vibrant purple Clematis which ‘died’ about 10 years ago, was never dug up, came to life again some 4 years ago and has been flowering prolifically each year since!

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