This is an article from the latest Summer edition of our Growing Green International publication (Issue 29). Enjoy!
John and Ziggy organise the merchandising for VON (and many other things).
If you want to grow fruit and veg for deep shade, you might be out of luck (or try mushrooms?) In partial shade – perhaps there’s a few hours of sunshine on the spot for most days in the Summer – your options are improving.
Sometimes experienced gardeners who have huge gardens, and this includes TV gardeners, aren’t always able to give good advice because they have plenty of sunny spots in their gardens.
They choose these plentiful spots for their fruit and veg, so have little experience of growing in less-than-ideal conditions.
When you look in a gardening book for a particular plant, it often advises ‘choose an open spot with full sun’. That’s true if you want the best yield, but what we lowly readers want to know is, will the yield and flavour be acceptable when growing in more shady spots? Here are some tips, some of which we’ve tried in our garden in Southampton in the UK.
Fruit and veg that are known to work in shady spots.
Don’t expect perfect results and the best possible yields, but remember that some is better than none.
Runner beans - someone we know used to rent a house with almost no sun in the garden due to nearby buildings and trees. He tried lots of different veg, and told us that runner beans did the best!
Raspberries - we recommend an Autumn-fruiting variety such as Autumn Bliss because, compared to Summer-fruiting varieties, less support is needed, and birds are less likely to eat them.
Alpine strawberries - conventional strawberry plants need a reasonable amount of sun, so avoid these. Alpines need far less.
You only get small fruits from them, but they are very tasty.
Potatoes - we’ve grown them next to a north-facing 1.3m high fence, and achieved pretty good yields.
Rhubarb - add plenty of compost before planting to give it a boost.
Gages - we were advised to try Early Transparent Gage next to our north-facing fence. We planted it three years ago and it’s doing well so far, although that might partly be because it’s now grown above the top of the fence where it receives good sun.
Cherries - particularly culinary varieties such as morello cherry – we’ve not tried this yet, but it’s frequently recommended for shady spots. If you don’t use protection, the chances of you getting cherries are slim though, since they are a bird must-eat-first-before-people-eat fruit.
Currants (black, white & red) – we’ve been growing all three against our 1.3m high north-facing fence, and they like it there. The birds love the red ones, so beware.
Blackberries, tayberries, loganberries, Japanese wineberry, salmonberry - we’ve tried some of these, with pretty good results.
Herbs - most need good sun but a few can grow reasonably well in partial shade – mints, meadowsweet, fennel, three- cornered leek (very invasive) and welsh onion grow well next to our north-facing fence.
Leafy greens - lettuce, sorrel (i.e. French or buckler-leafed) can cope well.
Edible perennial climbers such as schisandra chinensis and edible honeysuckle – see the Agroforesty Research Trust’s website for a full catalogue.
Other edible perennials - Asarum splendens (no common name that we know of ), an evergreen groundcover from China, leaves similar to arum lilies, apparently the roots are edible. Eleagnus umbellata and its ilk (again see the ART’s website).
Autumn olive, produces edible berries as does Oregon grape
Your garden is for non-edibles too.
It’s important to attract wildlife into your garden to help compensate for habitat loss elsewhere, and to attract pollinating and predatory insects. Non-edibles can play an important role here. They can also be pleasing to look at, and some are even scented!
Annual flowers that do well next to our north-facing fence are evening primrose, nasturtium and tobacco plant. Periwinkle is a perennial which also does well here.
Perennials choices are bluebells, lily of the valley, periwinkle, ajuga (bugle), mullein, honesty, ferns, crocus, sweet violets, hellebores, primroses and forget-me-nots.
We grow green manures over winter, and have found that field beans grow well here next to our north-facing fence.
Plant trailing plants in a shady spot, and persuade them to trail into a less shady spot
For instance, you might have a patch of good soil that is in shade, but not far away there’s a sunny spot that doesn’t have soil – a patio perhaps. You could try planting a winter squash or pumpkin which trails all over the place, persuading it to grow into the sunny spot. Some winter squashes that have smaller fruits will happily grow up a fence or shed into a sunny area without the weight of the fruits breaking the stems. They might need a trellis or something like that to grip onto. These plants have tendrils which grip extremely well, stopping them from blowing around or from falling down.
If there’s a north-facing fence or wall that isn’t too tall, try growing something that is tall and will quickly grow above the level of the structure, so that before long it gets a good soaking of sunshine. Examples: runner beans, climbing French beans, trees (but not espaliered ones since normally these are kept lower than the fence – fan-trained trees might be OK). If the sunny bits have no soil – a patio for instance – try growing sun-lovers in containers.
Make the most of sunny vertical areas.
A south, east or west-facing tall fence or wall that has soil at its base and has sun shining on its surface is wasted if you only grow something with low height next to it. Consider something tall – espalier fruit trees, grape vines, runner beans, climbing French beans spring to mind. Growing these elsewhere shades out the area to the north of them, so don’t – plant then where they shade out your fence or wall instead!
Don’t use up valuable sunny spots in the garden with things that don’t need sun.
Compost bins - if you put them in a sunny spot, the contents will get warmer which speeds up composting, but unless you really need your compost ready quicker, put them in a shady spot and use that prime sunny spot for sun-loving plants instead. It’s possible to insulate a compost bin to increase the temperature of its contents. We’ve never tried this, but wrapping it with unwanted bubble wrap sounds like a good idea. You can also buy a ready insulated compost bin although they aren’t cheap.
Water butts, sheds, waste bins - think before you locate them. Is there somewhere shady that you can move them to, and free up your valuable sunny areas?
Paint it white?
You can increase the amount of indirect light reaching your plants if you paint nearby fences, walls, sheds, etc white. We’re thinking of painting one side of our shed and a couple of fence panels white. We’re not sure how well paint sticks to
rough-sawn timber, but we intend to try it. Our inclination is not to use paints that flake over time, but to use microporous paints which instead wear down over time.
To buy plants: Agroforestry Research Trust (agroforestry.co.uk).
Kore wild fruit nursery (korewildfruitnursery.co.uk). Edulis
Book: Plants for a Future by Ken Fern. ISBN: 1856230112.