Here is a list of plants that I have collected over the years that seem to be happy in a shady bed that has a reasonable amount of organic matter added and is mulched annually with leaf mould or similar.
Aquilegia ‘Ruby Port’ – my favourite granny’s bonnet, which seems to come true from seed.
Dodecatheon meadia – shooting star – a curious small perennial with a basal rosette of leaves and recurved cyclamen-like flowers on straight stems – seems very happy in a shady setting
Epimedium ‘Amber Queen’
Epimedium ‘Violet Queen’
Euphorbia dulcis ‘Chameleon’ – quite unlike other euphorbias this gentle creature forms low mounds of delicate purple leaves with nodding lime green flowers in spring. (I winkled these out as seedlings from one of Caroline’s former gardens as they were looking neglected)
Geranium phaeum ‘Samobor’ – a striking form of the dusky cranesbill with maroon blotches on its leaves
Helleborus foetidus – a British native hellebore
Hepatica noblis – gorgeous heart shaped leaves with anemone like blue, white or purple flowers
Lamium orvala – a new addition this year -a handsome red deadnettle which I’m hoping won’t run as enthusiastically as the white one.
Lathyrus vernus – a herbaceous clump forming everlasting sweet pea
Lamprocapnos spectabilis (formerly Dicentra spectabilis) – I have a cultivar with glaucous green leaves and pale pink flowers whose name I forget
Pachyphragma macrophylla – a new ground cover plant with deep green glossy leaves and small white flowers (a present from Louise who says it will join up the gaps in the bed nicely).
Primula vulgaris – there’s nothing nicer than the native species but in this bed I like to try out some of its rich Irish heritage cultivars, such as ‘Guinevere’ , ‘Kinlough Beauty’, ‘Dark Rosaleen’, ‘Drumcliff’ and ‘Port Wine’ – they need splitting every few years to rejuvenate their flowering.
Pulmonaria ‘Blue Ensign’ – a tidier pulmonaria than some others with a tendency to form clumps rather than run. Flowers are a lovely deep blue.
Synthyris missurica subsp. stellata – bought from Binny Plants in Scotland. A compact gently spreafing with round, scalloped edged shiny leaves and petite blue flower spikes in early spring
Viola labradorica – a dear little violet that wanders around creating pockets of ground cover.
Asplenium scolopendrium – native harts tongue fern
Dryopteris felix-mas – native male fern
Dryopteris erythrosora – known as the autumn fern but looks lovely in spring when it’s fronds emerge rusty amber colour
Plus several other little ferns I have bought at plant fairs and lost the label …
Digitalis purpurea f. albiflora – the white form of our native foxglove
Lunaria annua – honesty- I grow two different cultivars ‘Corfu Blue’ and ‘Chedglow’ and try to keep them flowering in alternate years to keep them from cross pollinating. I love the ordinary purple species as well but it self sows so prolifically that it would swamp out more delicate plants in this setting.
Bulbs corms and rhizomes
Bellevalia romana – another present from Louise! Like an understated and deconstructed grape hyacinth in a subtler colour palette. Probably on the geeky side of normal but sits very comfortably in this woodland cameo.
Corydalis ‘George Baker’
Corydalis ‘Beth Evans’
Corydalis flexuosa ‘Purple Leaf’
Cyclamen coum – the winter/early spring flowering hardy cyclamen.
Erythronium dens-canis – the dogs tooth violet. I can’t actually remember which ones I have until they start flowering but they’re all lovely.
Trillium chloropetalum – the feature plant of the bed, glorious deep red flowers over handsome trifoliate leaves for many weeks.
Trillium lutea – smaller and later flowering but has sweet yellow flowers
Depending on the size of your bed you can add in an early spring flowering shrub or two. My bed is narrow so I only have:
Ribes ‘Amy Doncaster’
but want to add Corylopsis pauciflora this spring, to add some height above the herb layer which, being of the hazel family, I hope I could coppice if it got too big.
Let me know if you have any of your own tried and tested winners for a spring bed …