Gardening in the Shade – Geoff Hodge

 At our meeting on 17th February the speaker was the horticultural journalist; Geoff Hodge. Trained as a botanist, Geoff was a garden centre manager before turning to journalism. He is a presenter on radio Cambridgeshire and he loves giving gardening talks.  He has written for Garden News and the RHS and he specialises in reviewing garden products. We benefited from this activity because manufacturers send him many sample products for review and he brought a selection of these to add to our raffle. Intriguing amongst these goodies was a torch to strap to your head; useful for hunting for slugs and snails when they are out at night …

Having warmed up his audience with a lively and humorous introduction Geoff turned to his subject; gardening in the shade. Nearly everyone in the audience admitted to having some sort of problem with shady areas. Geoff took the line that shade isn’t a problem but an opportunity to grow some lovely plants, many with fragrance as well as beauty and we all need shady places for a hot day. He stressed that the main problem with shady areas is not the planting but the need for good soil preparation. Shady areas are often dry and the soil needs a great deal of organic matter to break it up and encourage water retention. Geoff recommended a wheelbarrow- full for every two to three square yards. He also stressed the priority of soil preparation by telling us that spent a year on his current garden preparing the soil before planting anything. Garden compost is perfectly good but Geoff particularly recommended composted bark which is good both for light soils and for clay. The organic matter needs to be topped up by regular mulching. An advantage of shady areas is that, generally, plants don’t need a lot of watering but good root development is essential for good plants and plants need water while they are establishing and in dry spells.

Having got the soil in good condition the other secret of gardening in the shade is to choose the right plants. The sensible gardener works with nature rather than trying to fight it. Geoff suggested keeping our eyes open to what grows well in the wild in shade and then finding garden varieties of these types of plants. In passing he expressed his abhorrence of fashionable wild gardening. In his view wild plants in a garden are weeds. He clearly thrives on controversy.  Choosing the right plants means recognising that there are different sorts of shade; permanent deep shade, north-facing borders, dappled shade (near trees) and partial shade (getting only limited  sunshine). Geoff spent the rest of his talk illustrating examples of around thirty plants that grow well in shade, grouped according to the type of shade, and giving some tips on their cultivation. To list all these plants here would take up too much space but I did make a note of them and can pass this on to anyone who is interested (phone contact 359166 ).

The following are some of Geoff’s useful tips. Add water retention gel (sold for hanging baskets and containers) to soil in dry shade. The effect will last for up to fifteen years.  Plant camellias where they will not get early morning sunshine and don’t let them dry out in July and August when water is essential for bud formation. Spring bulbs are lovely things to plant in shade but don’t ruin your chances of subsequent flowering by cutting back or tying up green foliage after initial flowering.

Our next meeting will be on 17 March when Aubrey Barker will talk about the Modern Herbaceous Border.

Jeremy Arthern

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