Could it be true that summer has finally arrived here in France? Looking at the météo forecast for the week ahead it certainly looks that way with temperatures set to reach 30 degrees by the weekend. Plants and vegetables are definitely enjoying this long-awaited warmth and are suddenly shooting up and looking a more respectable size for the month of July.
Like the plants, most of us will welcome the sunshine with open arms. However there’s nothing more enjoyable than being able to escape the heat every once in a while and finding solace in a shady part of the garden. Shade plants are divided into two different categories, those which thrive in dry shade, and those which prefer moist shade.
In our garden we have a rather large, yet very majestic Lime tree which provides welcome shade on a hot French summer’s day. The ground beneath this tree tends to be dry in summer when rain is barely able to penetrate through its dense canopy. With a little love and attention though, not only can a tree provide us with a shady retreat but can also become a plant paradise which you can enjoy whilst cooling off.
To give a dry, shady border a helping hand, mulch the surface of the soil with a deep layer of compost or leaf mulch, this will help the soil to retain as much moisture as possible.
As our tree stands alone, the borders beneath do at least get dappled light as the sun moves around the garden, but I am still very careful with the plants I choose for these borders. Here are my favourites for shady, dry borders which will give you year round interest.
Pyracantha. French name: Buisson ardent. A very tough and hardy evergreen shrub which will tolerate shade. In spring it has masses of white flowers which are followed by bright orange berries in autumn. Although you can grow this as a stand alone shrub it is also great for training against a wall, just watch out for the thorns!
Hydrangea macrophylla. French name: Hortensia. A small, deciduous shrub with broad, oval leaves which is very happy to be planted beneath a tree. It has lacecap flowers in summer with varieties available in white, lilac, blue and pink.
Viburnum tinus. French name: Laurier tin. A hardy evergreen shrub with glossy dark green leaves which flowers from late winter into early spring. It’s happy in sun, partial or full shade and planted in any aspect. A really invaluable little devil!
Skimmia japonica. A small, evergreen shrub with red flower buds which appear in autumn and last right through winter until the flowers finally open in spring. It is happy in partial to full shade, and is fully hardy.
Liriope muscari. A brilliant plant with evergreen, blade style leaves and vibrant purple wand-like flowers which shoot up and last from August to November. It is happy in partial to full shade and tolerates drought conditions.
Brunnera macrophylla. In spring gorgeous large, heart-shaped leaves which look like they have been sprinkled with silver fairy dust appear. These are soon followed by tall sprays of bright blue, forget-me-not style flowers. Although Brunnera prefers slightly moist soil, once established it will tolerate dryer conditions and mine is flourishing beneath our tree.
Alchemilla mollis. French name: Alchémille mollis. A fantastic perennial which even looks great in the rain when water droplets sit on its scalloped leaves like quicksilver and sparkle like diamonds. From June to September, frothy, yellow flowers float above the leaves. This perennial will tolerate a range of conditions from full sun to partial shade and once established will tolerate drought conditions.
Cyclamen hederifolium. French name: Cyclamen de Naples. Pink or white flowers appear through the soil in autumn often ahead of the marbled leaves which then form a dense carpet before disappearing in late spring. Although happy in sun, they are perfect for brightening up a shady position.
Astrantia major. Flowering throughout summer Astrantia are clump forming perennials best planted en masse throughout a border. Although they do not like drought conditions, they will perform well in the dry once established. Colours range from white through to the deepest red.
In winter and early spring, when your tree is bare and the rain can penetrate the ground below, nothing can beat the early flowering combination of Snowdrop, Wood Anemone, Helleborus and Primula. So wrap up warm and brave a few winter mornings on your bench beneath the tree with a hot mug of coffee and enjoy the flowers that brave the cold for you.
These plants may be happy sat in shady, dry soil, but we all wilt without a drink, so don’t forget to give them a bit of water from time to time!
As always I’d love to hear your comments and experiences, so please use the comment box below.
A bientôt and enjoy the sunshine!