Lots of shade loving plants come into their own early in the year whilst there are no leaves on the trees to block out valuable sunlight. Once they have flowered, many then concentrate on making huge leaves through what is left of the growing season or go into dormancy, dying back underground until they re-emerge the following spring to grow at an alarming rate.
One of my favourites is Dicentra spectabilis, commonly known as ‘Bleeding Heart’, ‘Dutchman’s Breeches’ or ‘Lady In The Bath’ due to the fact the upturned flowers look like a lady with her arms over the sides of a roll top bath. Although this charming plant does not flower until the end of April and through May, it will be just below the soil surface in our dry, shady border waiting to spring up seemingly overnight and produce the arching stems of pink and white locket shaped flowers. Such fast, soft growth means that young plants can be injured by late spring frosts but the cover of the tree branches above seems to help our plants which are now well established and have even produced a few offspring to baluster their numbers. The handsome bronze-green leaves add a cool feature in summer shade if the plant stays above ground. Our plants wave goodbye to the border and disappear underground as the heat rises and this seems to be a trait with many members of the Poppy family although how Dicentra is related to the Poppy is a mystery to me! There are plenty of other Dicentras, with finer leaves and smaller flowers that will bloom for many months from early to midsummer and they make lovely plants at the front of a border or in a favourite pot.
Faithful Hellebores on the other hand are always around. Their handsome evergreen leaves make beautiful clumps at the front of borders or under trees where they are very happy. The flowers are early this year but will carry on for a few months yet until the Tulips are over and spring is slipping into summer. And what flowers they are – loved by bees who bury into their fluffy yellow pollen rich centres. The bees that visit our garden do their work well and the lumpy seed heads that result, drop their bounty so that we now have a colony of Lenten Roses and more seedlings emerging each year. They take a few years to flower from seed and I am looking forward to some of the results. For now, I have left each seedling in place in case I become the owner of a sumptuous slate blue plant to add to my collection of dusky purples, freckled whites, apple greens and many more in between!
Brunnera, the Perennial Forget Me Not is another great spring flowering perennial for a dry, shady spot. The rounded leaves are a lovely feature and frothy blue flowers appear for months from April until well into the summer when the Border Cranesbills get into their stride and begin to cover the ground and give colour with their saucer shaped flowers. One of the best for dry shade has to be the semi-evergreen Geranium macrorrhizum and its varieties. The furry, balsam scented leaves are a feature through the year unless the winter weather is very cold, and have lovely orange and red autumn colours. The clusters of brightly coloured flowers appear for months and are another favourite with bumble bees. We have a patch of G. macrorrhizum ‘Ingwersen’s Variety’ in a shady border under trees and it is rarely out of flower, eyed jealously by friends who ask for a piece for their own tricky dry areas. I have tried raising it in pots but a much better bet is to simply pull off a piece with roots on it and plant it straight into the garden. Like many plants that grow well in dry soil it’s difficult to water them correctly in pots and they are only really happy in the ground.
I have just been out in the rain and wind to check my Geranium macrorrhizum patch and all three varieties, ‘Ingwersen’s Variety’, ‘Bevan’s Variety’ and ‘Album’ are in flower even now – truly plants for all seasons and a sign that even with the huge amounts of rain experienced this winter you can’t keep a good plant down!