When we think of herbs and herb growing, we generally think hot and dry – or at least sunny and ideally free draining. But what about those shady areas? That south side of the house? That difficult place under the trees where it’s shady but dry?
As a friend said to me once “there’s a bum for every seat” and indeed, there’s a herb for every garden situation! Right now it’s the start of February (2020) and I’ve only just stopped wearing a very warm jersey and slippers so I’m not really feeling what I’m about to say! – but I think those shady areas in our gardens are going to play important roles in our food and herb growing more than they ever have, as our sun grows ever more intensive (well, more accurately, as our upper atmosphere deteriorates).
So plant more trees!
Let’s take a tour of Plum Tree Cottages’** shady gardens and throw about some ideas.
The south side of the house is shady, cold and pretty damp. It gets a little bit of afternoon sun in summer. Perfect place for hellebores, cyclaman and hydraengas, as well as hostas and ferns. Herbs wise, mints (Mentha sp.) will go well here (though not Peppermint, she needs more sun), sweet violet (Viola odorata), lady’s mantle (Alchemilla mollis) and great burnet (Sanguisorba officinalis). As an experiment I planted a Pineapple sage (Salvia elegans) here after I had a summer where her leaves got sunburnt in full sun, she’s doing surprisingly well!
Slugs and snails can be a challenge in shady damp areas. I’ve tried all the tricks, and what a waste of beer! Chickens don’t eat them either (not mine anyway) I think it’s because they don’t move very fast or perhaps molluscs taste better drenched in garlic butter! Quash is the best slug bait with least environmental impact. A bucket of soapy water, a head torch and perhaps some good keen children has even less environmental impact (you pick the slugs and snails off at night whilst they’re active and pop them in the bucket for quick-ish death.)
I did have a Lady’s mantle in this partly shady garden, but it was too dry. So now I have Salvia blue bedder, cinerea, and at the back monkshood (Aconite napellus) may be too dry for aconite too though. See how it goes, I may end up replacing it with an aloe whom do best in partial shade.
Overhanging the garden is one of my beauts Elder trees (Sambucus nigris). Elder does best in partial shade, particularly whilst still small, once they hit their height they’re OK with full sun.
Dry and shady is always a tricky area to plant up, but as the suns beats down its rays it may well be the god send. Pineapple sage, thymus sp., basil, salad burnet (Sanguisorba minor); clary sage has even been doing well in another shady garden I have under our broken plum tree. A sign that plants are not happy in the shade is if they start getting long and leggy, like they’re trying to reach the sun.. which is exactly what they’re trying to do! Or if you have a plant that usually flowers but is refusing to.. needs more sun energy. Move it, but wait until autumn if it’s hot in your area.
Basil mint, mint and lemon balm all like damp shady spots, Scarlet bergamot (Monarda didyma) prefers to be out of the full sun too. In summer, those shady spots are great for growing herbs that do best in winter, like corriander, dill and chervil as well as your lettuce and chards.
Don’t be afraid to move your plants around. A lot of our herb growing advice comes from the Northern hemisphere and their sun is not as harsh as ours (I’m sure they’ll get there in the end ☹), so if you’re seeing scorched leaves or consistent wilting but your books say it grows best in full sun; put some shade cloth around or over the plant and move it in autumn, or propagate to try in another part of the garden. It could be that those of us at higher elevation are the most affected by our changing sun?
Please feel free to comment below on your experiences in your garden with our changing climate..
**Plum Tree Cottage is our property just out of Eketāhuna, we’re 219m above sea level with a pretty high rainfall, we are considered a “cool, mountainous climate”. Interesting fact, National Park Village is the highest town in New Zealand at 825m above seal level.