Shady characters to light up your garden’s darker corners

There’s a whole suite of perennials in sunset shades that are perfect for darker corners. They will thrive in dappled shade, and with a sunny exuberance you might not expect in such areas. This is not the restrained, cool (dare I say slightly dull) elegance of the pure white forms; no, these come in cocktail colours of peach, pink and apricot.

A group of woodlanders that belong to the fumitory subfamily of the poppy family have delicate fern-like foliage in blue-greens and grey-greens, and thrive in damp, shady conditions: one of these is Corydalis solida subsp solida “Beth Evans”, which is up and out now, with sugar-pink flowers. It grows not much higher than 20cm and forms a clump of about the same size; it needs rich soil and to be next to neighbours that won’t muscle it out.

In a similar vein, but with more glaucous foliage, is Dicentra “Filigree” with its deep pink-red flowers, and Dicentra formosa with mauvish-pink flowers that dangle over the leaves. All of these look wonderful with smaller-leaved hostas, such as Tiarella “Pink Skyrocket” or ferns. I love the coppery-red new growth of the shield fern Dryopteris erythrosora, with its triangular leaves. It is slow-growing enough to not overwhelm the others, though is not completely hardy. A fully hardy choice would be Polystichum setiferum “Herrenhausen”, with its lacy rosette of finely divided leaves. One of our loveliest native ferns, it complements whatever it sits next to in a woodland setting.

These things are all a little low-growing, however, and many will die back for summer, so it is wise to add something that will lift the eye away from spent foliage. Digitalis purpurea “Sutton’s Apricot” has peachy-apricot flowers along one side of its flower spike, over hairy dark-green leaves. Or, if you are feeling a little bolder, Digitalis “Illumination Pink” – a cross between our native foxglove and the Canary Islands variety – gives a truly tropical sunset in peach and hot pink. It also flowers right into August.

For a little less neon, the silvered leaves of Lamium maculatum “Pink Pewter” are good enough alone, but from midsummer onwards, its pale, sugar-pink flowers will entice bees. This is a creeper that will spread and is unfussy about soil type. It won’t mind a little dry shade, too, making it very useful for suppressing weeds.

Or if your soil stays a little more damp, the water avens Geum rivale “Leonard’s Variety” has beautiful coppery-pink flowers on reddish-brown stems, and if you keep deadheading it will flower from late spring through to late summer. It won’t survive deep shade, but is perfect for a dappled corner.

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