Creating a garden in the shade

Here’s a question for you…. shady places, what to do with them?!

For part of the growing season the tree canopy surrounding our plot grows high enough to cast a considerable amount of shade across half the plot and while that can be a welcome shelter from the blazing hot mid-summer sun that even factor 50 cannot save me from, it also means I’ve had to learn and plan quite carefully what to grow if I’m to achieve both productivity AND beauty.

Brussels shady area

My first attempt was based on recommendations to grow leafy greens so I tried brussel sprouts, kale and purple sprouting broccoli. The kale did well but the other two grew very spindly elongating upwards, balking at the lack of light. A 30% success rate was not too bad though and I learnt that short plants seemed to do OK!

Likewise, weeds and a very scruffy meadow flower mix did astonishingly well (would you believe it) so the lesson learnt was that wild flowers might also work.

The second year I added peas, a lettuce patch and a nursery bed. The lettuce did REALLY well away from the midday sun and the slugs LOVED the damp, shady area too. Boy did they love it! The peas didn’t even get out of the starting blocks but the baby kale, cabbage and brussels grown from seed in a nursery bed grew and transplanted successfully. Result!

I had made progress and learnt a lot but I still hadn’t got it quite right. What to do… next?!

What do you think you would do?

Then one day last year in a chance meeting I found myself conversing on the topic of permaculture (something I had never heard of before) and a couple of the principles really resonated with me.

Observe and interact

Catch and store energy

Produce no waste

Obtain a yield

Observe and Interact – what a revelation that was and still continues to be!


By walking around the allotment site and surrounding area, I realised a lot was already happening in the shade naturally. Wild plum trees were rife as was wild garlic and horseradish. Rhubarb and strawberries thrived as did bountiful apple and pear trees. An abundant supply of nettles provided the possibility of free organic plant feed and the farm had lots of surplus manure and woodchip.

I was starting to formulate a plan and then the penny dropped..

…this was no ordinary allotment, I was working a little patch of land in the middle of a thriving woodland bursting with wildlife and free resources. If I could learn how to embrace it then perhaps I’d have a chance at success!

…and then the brainwave came…I’ll create a wildlife/fruit garden and an area to recycle as much waste as we could manage to put back in the ground.

Grand Plans

I started by planning out where the woodchip paths needed to be.

Questions I asked myself were “where exactly was the shade?” “how bad was it? dappled or full?” “was it worse at different times of the year?”

Once I had my answers I started transferring the plants I already had so the Rhubarb moved from the sunniest part of the plot, freeing up valuable space for sun loving crops such as tomatoes and peppers and the strawberry bed was also relocated. To get maximum value out of the strawberry bed I added two new varieties to extend the cropping season, Marshmello and Florence.

Apple tree

I purchased a dwarf James Grieve apple tree and six Autumn Bliss Raspberry canes. I also learnt that gooseberries can grow in pretty much full shade so I added two of those and a fellow allottmenteer gave us a black current bush when she gave up her plot.

Pond May

Next I turned my attention to attracting wildlife into the area. I knew that frogs love slugs and we sometimes see newts on our plot so my natural instinct was to install a small pond.

To attract pollinating insects I discovered a company specialising in meadow flowers and I chose the Shaded Area Mix. I also planted lots of woodland flowers such as anenomes, cyclamen, lily of the valley and snake heads. Tulips, daffodils and alliums are, and still are doing really well. Ferns complete the allium patch.

I was given a bay tree from our neighbour which was already thriving in a shady area and we left the inherited orange blossom bush and Christmas tree in situ. One of my favourite things in the winter was to watch our resident robin hide in the Christmas tree before hopping into the squirrel proof bird feeder nearby for a meal worm or two!

To complete the project we added two compost bins, two wormeries and a water butt connected to the shed’s downpipe.

Shopping List

If you’re thinking of creating your own shady area garden, my shopping list might get you started!

  • Gooseberries
  • Strawberries
  • Rhubarb
  • Raspberries
  • Blackcurrent
  • Apple Tree – James Grieve
  • Garlic Chives
  • Bay Tree
  • Anemones
  • Orange blossom
  • Alliums
  • Lilly of the valley
  • Daffodils
  • Tulips
  • Snake heads
  • Christmas tree
  • Comfrey bush
  • Pond and pond plants
  • Bird feeder
  • Bug hotel
  • Water butt
  • Compost bin
  • Wormery – home made will do!

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