A polytunnel can be used for a number of different purposes. While, most usually, a polytunnel is used to provide a little extra protection and warmth, certain polytunnel covers can also reduce light levels and summer temperatures, making it easier to grow a wide range of shade-loving plants. To inspire you with ideas of what to grow in a shade polytunnel, here are some of the top flowers to grow in the shade:
Edible Flowers For Shade:
Just because you are interested in growing shade-loving plants, that does not mean that you cannot also consider adding to the edible produce that you grow. Some of the beautiful flowers that grow well in shade also happen to be edible.
Hostas are one example of shade-loving flowers that are also edible. They look good as well as tasting nice. While all hostas are said to be edible, amongst the best-tasting edible hostas are said to be:
- Hosta fortunei
- Hosta sieboldiana
- Hosta sieboldii
- Hosta montana
- Hosta longipes
The tastiest part of the hosta is the ‘hoston’ – the rolled up leaf soon after it first emerges in the spring. However, older leaves can also be eaten as an alternative to spinach or as a pot herb, and the flowers themselves, and flower buds, are also edible.
Other Edible Flowers
Other edible flowers also perform well in shade. Some examples include:
- Day lilies
(These have edible tubers, onion-like spring shoots, cucumber-like buds and flowers that can be stuffed or used to thicken soup.)
- Red clover
(Red clover is a great addition to a shade garden. Not only is it edible (in moderation), it also fixes nitrogen and benefits nearby plants.)
- Achemilla mollis
(Though somewhat astringent in flavour, young leaves can be eaten raw, or as a pot herb.)
Bear in mind if you want to create an attractive shade garden that a number of common shade-tolerant fruiting shrubs, perennial and annual herbs and vegetables can all also produce attractive flowers at various times of the year. Many such plants could also find their place in an edible shade garden.
Perennial Flowers To Grow in the Shade
The easiest and most straightforward way to create a garden in shade is to select perennial plants. Perennial plants are those which do not need to be resown each year but which will continue to thrive for a number of years. There are a wide range of different flower types that could be chosen for a shady area and sometimes, the sheer number of choices can be overwhelming. To help you select attractive perennial flowers to grow in your shade polytunnel or elsewhere in your garden, here are some of the top choices:
Taller Perennial Flowers to Grow in the Shade
Taller perennial flowers can be used to create a lush under-storey in a forest garden or woodland spot. They can also add height and colour to a shady mixed-border or other garden bed. Good options for deep shade include:
- Acanthus mollis
- Astrantia maxima
- Beesia calthifolia
- Campanula persicifolia
- Convallaria majalis
- Geranium nodosum/ geranium phaeum
- Rodgersia pinnata
- Tradescantia ‘Osprey’
- Tricyrtis formosana
For lighter, or dappled shade you could consider:
- Anemone x hybrida
- Astilbe ‘Fanal’
- Astrantia major
- Geum rivale
- Iris ‘Flight of Butterflies’
- Meconopsis baileyi (Himalayan Blue Poppy)
- Primula beesiana
- Rudbeckia fulgida var. deamii
- saxifraga fortunei
- Trillium grandiflorum
Flowering Vines for Shade
To add interest to a shady wall, you could also consider flowering vines. Some shade-tolerant flowering vines include:
- Lonicera periclumenum (common honeysuckle)
- Hydrangea anomala
- Clematis (there are a number of shade-tolerant varieties to choose from).
Ground Cover Perennial Flowers to Grow in the Shade
As well as thinking about adding height in the herbaceous layer of a shade garden, you should also think about creating ground cover. Ground cover plants can help to protect the soil from excessive water run-off, erosion and nutrient depletion. They can also play a role in reducing water loss from the soil in the summer months. Good options for ground cover include:
- Bergenia ‘Overture’
- Corydalis lutea
- Euphorbia amygdaloides (wood spurge)
- Lamium maculatum
- Viola odorata
Bi-ennial and Annual Flowers to Grow in the Shade
Growing flowers in shade does not only have to mean growing perennial plants. There are a number of bi-ennial and annual flowers that will also do well in lower light levels. Examples include:
- Begonia semperflorens
- Bellis perennis
- Impatiens (Bizzie Lizzie)
- Lunaria annua
- Myosotis (forget-me-not)
- Nemophila insignis
- Tropaeolum (nasturtiums)
- Viola (pansy)
Bulbs for the Shade
Finally, you may wish to consider planting perennial bulbs in your shady area. A number of different bulbs are ideal for planting in a shady area. The flowers they form not only look good but can also provide a range of other benefits – for example, daffodils can inhibit grass growth around fruit trees and thereby reduce competition, to the benefit of the tree. Some good flower bulbs for shady areas are:
- Anemone blanda
- Convallaria majalis (lily of the valley)
- Erythronium dens-canis (dog’s-tooth violet)
- Galanthus nivalis (snowdrops)
- Narcissus (daffodils)
How To Select Flowers to Grow in the Shade
There are a number of things to bear in mind when choosing which flowers to grow in your shade polytunnel. These include:
- Whether you will grow in the ground, in raised beds or containers.
- The type and quality of your soil (if growing in the ground).
- The type of shade you are growing for. (Especially if you are propagating shade loving plants in your polytunnel prior to placing them in a specific location elsewhere.) Is it wet or dry shade? Is it deep shade, dappled shade or partial shade?
- Whether the flowers are suited to the climate of your polytunnel/garden (and where you live).
- Whether you would prefer to grow from pot grown plants, plug plants or (where applicable) from seed.
- When the flowers will be in bloom, and for how long.
- What benefits and characteristics a certain flowering plant has, and how it will interact with other plants in your intended shade garden. (For example, will it repel certain pests or attract beneficial species?)
- The aesthetic characteristics of the flowers you are considering – colour, shape, size, texture etc… Also, how they will fit in with other elements of the shade garden in an aesthetic context.
Tips for a Beautiful Shade Garden
Creating a beautiful shade garden is not only about selecting flowering plants and other plants that are suitable for the conditions in which you wish to grow them. Creating a beautiful shade garden also involves thinking about aesthetic considerations – not only with regard to individual species, but also when it comes to the garden as a whole.
Use and Value Diversity
Many gardens suffer with a shabby patch of lawn that will never grow well in areas of shade. Instead of struggling to maintain a failing lawn in shade, get rid of the grass and plant a more varied punch of plants and allow a far more diverse ecosystem to grow. Diversity not only enhances the resilience of an ecosystem, it also enhances its aesthetic beauty.
Use Layers, Create Ground Cover & Make The Most of Your Space
Layering is key to the diversity and success of a shade garden. Create ground cover beneath herbaceous plants, beneath shrubs and taller perennials, beneath trees. There are even a range of flowering vines that can do well in a shady setting and will help every inch of the shade garden carry some visual interest.
Choose Colours That Stand Out
Golds, yellows, pale colours and whites will stand out beautifully in a shade garden. Using those colours will bring your planting decisions out of the murk and allow a shade garden to truly shine, even without much direct sunshine. You could choose a colour scheme to tie a shade garden in with other elements in a sunnier part of your garden – or choose striking contrast between shaded areas and other parts of your space.
Think about Textures
Using a range of textures is also important to add interest and style to a shady part of your garden. Combine large, flat leaved plants with more delicate foliage and play around with the textures of the suitable shade loving plants to make your shade garden stand out better from the gloom.
Pay Attention to Shapes
A true visionary when it comes to garden design will move beyond colour and texture and think also about how shape can be used to effectively draw the eye in and back to shady corners. Dark foliage will recede into the background when placed behind something bright and, likewise, a bold bright shape – the shape of a shrub or small tree – can be used to draw the eye where the garden designer wants it to go.
These tips, along with the flowers to grow in the shade suggested above, should help you begin to form a plan for your shade garden.
Elizabeth Waddington is a writer and green living consultant living in Scotland. Permaculture and sustainability are at the heart of everything she does, from designing gardens and farms around the world, to inspiring and facilitating positive change for small companies and individuals.
She also works on her own property, where she grows fruit and vegetables, keeps chickens and is working on the eco-renovation of an old stone barn.