Best Plants for Damp Shade


Fritilliary in damp shade

Previously we looked at plants for shady areas. Damp shade is another more specific problem area. In nature, we are likely to get damp shade in a woodland setting, with a combination of shady tree growth and a peaty soil.There is a combination of low light and potentially wet surfaces. Nevertheless, even if you have some damp shade, the following plants should work quite well.

Japanese Maple – Acer Palmatum. Japanese maples can offer excellent colour in autumn. They also make an excellent small tree / shrub for the small garden. Benefits from some mulch in winter to protect from heavy frosts.

Astilbe – False Goat’s Beard. An easy plant to grow. After flowering it’s deadseed heads are also quite attractive

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Bleeding Heart – Dicentra Spectabilis. A lovely plant with delicate shaped flowers in Spring. Dies back in mid summer. Don’t forget where you planted it. Dicentra Spectabilis

Clematis  ‘Kasmu’ Ideal for planting at the base of a shrub of tree. This clematis will grow up through the shrub offering wonderful flowers from July onwards.

Clematis Montana – likes to keep its roots cool, so damp shade helps here.Use a good Foliar feed every 7-10 days and a good root drenching weekly.

Lilly of the Valley – A lovely delicate white carpet flower. The main thing is it likes permanently moist soil

Fritilliary. The fritilliary is another flower which likes and needs a damp soil. Will flower fine in shade. Important it never dries out.

Hydrangea Serrata – a lovely compact Hydrangea

Cowslips / Primulas. Primulas do well in cool damp conditions, flowering in spring and also later in autumn. E.g. Primula viallii is a great plant for damp shade with wonderful purple flowers.



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Herbaceous Propagation

Divide and rule is the motto for those who wish to be king of the herbaceous garden. More plants for some little effort.

Primula denticula

Offsets and Crowns

One of my favourite jobs is growing more primroses, primulas and polyanthus. Probably more than my garden wants or needs but as I have said before I am a quantity man not necessarily a quality gardener.
After flowering, primulas produce baby plants as a means of propagating the species in addition to seeding. Virtually each of the flowers on this primula denticula has its own new plantlet.
On a damp day I dig up clumps of Primula and tease away the roots from each new crown. Sometimes the original plant has become old and frail but more often than not it can go back into the ground refreshed and renewed to grow again for next year.

Runners and Stolon

Strawberry plants produce growths that resemble floppy stalks with leaves growing at regular intervals. These stalks lay on the ground and the leaves are tempted into rooting – several on each length. Pot these rooted runners or encourage permanent residence in the strawberry bed by planting the roots and severing them from the main plant at the same time. The best plants will be on the part of the runner nearest the host plant and you only want to take 3/4 plantlets from each host.
To protect a young strawberry plant in the first couple of season cut off the runners as soon as they appear to allow strength to be built up.
Mint and Bergenia are among other plants that can be propagated by stolon which are similar to strawberry runners.

Clump Division

Many herbaceous plants form progressively larger clumps of root.
Older Hostas can have a solid root and crown mass that can best be divided by chopping into parts with a spade.
The slice with a spade method is how I deal with Day Lilies. The only thing to worry about is ensuring several buds or eyes are left on eack resultant cutting (or should it be clumping).
Ornamental grasses and bamboos lend themselves to root division in early spring. For Pampas grass you may need a spade or even a saw but most can be pulled apart.

Roots and stolons

More Herbaceous Propagation

Adventurous roots are those that wander off above or below soil level. They can often be used to grow new plants.
Several plants such as delphiniums and oriental poppies can be propagated from pieces of root as root cuttings.
Simple stem cuttings can be potted up in September when cutting back your plants. Often this will result in lots more plants.
Offsets are similar to runners and are often found on Sempervivum house leeks.
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Houseplant Propagation

Leaf cuttings are a popular way of propagating African violets and Streptocarpus
Offsets are able to root and make new plants from Aloe and Agave

Photo credits
P1030686 by jessicareeder CC BY 2.0


Hedgerows Worth Watching

Hedgerow flowers

January started the year quite well with a few early snowdrops and the remnants of primulas. February will be even better snow permitting. Leap forward to June which is a spectacular month for flowering hedgerows and particularly in the under-storey.

Identifying plants whilst out walking as a child, was my first introduction to the environment and natural gardening. There is still a buzz seeing a plant growing in the wild that some careful gardeners has subsequently developed for the garden or nursery trade.

Why not under-plant your garden hedges with native species of hedgerow flowers. The trick is to leave them undisturbed, unfed and untreated with chemicals. I would bank up the soil to start your hedge’s lower storey.

Hedgerows by County

  • I nominate Somerset as my favourite hedgerow county but I would like to know what other UK counties can lay claim to be hedgerow county 2010.
  • Cornish hedgerows have a soil banking (so that helps the smaller plants) with a rocky top and shrubs.
  • Devon hedges are similar to Cornwall but with turf on and at the top of the banking.
  • The Yorkshire Dales tends to have dry stone walls rather than hedges but the understorey plants can still be attractive.
  • In Perth, near Blairgowrie, is the tallest and longest hedge on earth. Meikleour Beech Hedge, planted in 1745, is 98 ft in height and nearly half a mile long. (I wouldn’t want to trim it).

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‘Hedgerows, moors, meadows and woods – these hold a veritable feast for the forager.’ and all is laid bear in the River Cottage Handbook. Book link

The English Hedgerow Trust provided this apposite quote from Shakespeare.

I know a bank whereon the wild thyme blows
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows
Quite canopied over with luscious woodbine
With sweet muskroses and with eglantine.

For a bit of fun read Copper Beech Hedges
Green Garden Habitats


Primula, Primroses and Polyanthus

‘Kinlough Beauty’ is an exceptionally hardy Primrose from the Primula family. . To maintain vigour divide ‘Kinlough Beauty’ every couple of years or so after blooming. This is when your free plants arise. I have just got nine new healthy plants from one clump. Other primroses can be divided in a similar manner.


Gardeners Tips

To divide a primrose separate new crowns with some roots from the old root. Pull apart or prise loose with two forks back to back.

Alternatively take divisions with a trowel whilst plants are still in the ground for more reliable performance.

Do not split into too many divisions as they take longer to establish.

Plant firmly in soil and keep moist as new roots are established.

Kinlough Beauty is a hardy evergreen or semi-evergreen Juliana cultivar with deep green, oval leaves 6 inches long. Plants produce loose clusters of wine red to rose-pink yellow eyed flowers held above a mound of foliage.


Plant labeling of primrose family can be a bit hit and miss. Continue Reading →


Gardeners Year for Organic Fruit and Veg

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‘Organic Fruit and Vegetable Gardeners Year, The A Seasonal Guide to Growing What You Eat’ by Graham Clarke

Yesterdays Gardeners Question Time on radio 4 featured many questions on this subject. The main advice that appealed to me was to concentrate on growing more fruit. (We all more likely to take the advice we want to hear.)

Gardeners Tips on Organic Fruit Growing

Organic Principles
Organics should sustain and enhance the health of soil, plant, animals and humans as one.
Organic growing is based on ecological systems and cycles that are worked with and sustained.
Organic gardening should be done in a precautionary manner to protect the health and well being of current and future generations.
Organics promotes the concept of fairness with regard to common environment and life opportunities.

Soil Fertility

Chemical fertility is the availability in the soil of all the elements, nutrients, ions,   traces and inorganic chemicals that plants need to grow.
Biological fertility includes micro organisms that help nutrient recycling’ including fungi, bacteria and protozoa that clean up bacteria. It also covers macro organisms such as arthropods that break down organic matter in the early stages of decomposition, worms that help drainage and aeration and nematodes that help in various ways but   occasionally act as pests.
Physical fertility is the mix of sand, silt and clay that makes up the soil and determines texture, ability to hold water and sustain life.

Weed Management Continue Reading →


Best Garden Colour – Yellow?

Is yellow your favourite garden shade or colour. Certainly it is present is so many plants if only as pollen or as straw as old grass dies and colour fades away. At it’s brash best Yellow is stunning well able to stand on its own aor as support to other plants. With some plants such as Choysia even the leaves can be yellow.


For traffic stopping colour in your garden then you need blocks of the same plant all flowering at the same time. These primula are in a near-by garden in a long row against a wall. It catches early morning sun and is protected from wind and the worst of the frost. The colouring is stronger than the primrose or many other primulas and even one or two plants whould look good but massed together they are stunning. Continue Reading →


Root Vegetables a Gardeners and Bakers Dozen

After salad crop failures in Spain and shortages of courgettes, broccoli and other ‘long distance’ vegetables gardeners could to worse than focus on traditional and non-traditional root crops.

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Chinese artichokeStachys affinis was popular in Edwardian times. It is a sprawling plant that produces knobbly roots for baking, mashing, frying or stir frying. Harvest as needed, after a long growing season, as they do not store well

Jicama or Yam bean have crunchy roots similar to dahlia tubers useful for adding to salads.Can only be stored for about a month.

Rampion have a strong taste, knobbly and fiddly roots and would be at the end of our list of experiments.

Hamburg parsley is popular in Germany with edible, evergreen leaves. Roots are upto 8inches long. Roast or use in stew.

Salsify and Scozonera look and taste similar and have been grown in the UK for hundreds of yaers . Salsify or Oyster plant, is biennial Scozonera is a hardy perennial that grows 3ft high.

Mouli or winter Radish cultivars of Raphanus sativus grow to the size of grapefruit. Round black are best for storing and all varieties red and yellow are prone to bolting unless sown after mid-summer.

Sweet potato Beauregard has been cultivated for UK growing and is available from Marshalls, Thompson Morgan and others. Protect from frost. Tubers tend to be smaller Sweet Potato ‘T65’. They have salmon-orange flesh and a sweet  flavour.

Old faithful Root crops

  • Potato
  • Carrot
  • Swede, turnip and rutabaga
  • Beet and manglewurzels
  • Parsnips
  • Jerusalem Artichoke

Root out some Tips

  • Root crops are generally heavy feeders.
  • Roots will ‘fang’ or fork if the soil has been freshly manured.
  • To get the straightest roots avoid stony soil and keep soil light
  • Plenty of water and high potash feed will help grow better crops.
  • Grow in full sun with adequate space and avoid competition from weeds.
  • Look after the leafy tops to get good underground growth

Dangerous and Mind Altering Plants

Many plants have dangerous components, leaves, seeds and roots. Some of the most dangerous must be grown under government license.
Below are notes on just a few plants to avoid eating.

Mandrake is one of the most poisonous plants that is known. The specimen above is grown under strict control with a fence around it. A member of the nightshade family, Mandrake also contains atropine, scopolamine, apoatropine and hyoscyamine that affect brain functions.

Strychnine, the deadly poison, is produced from the beans of Strychnos ignatii. It is also found in the orange fruit and nuts of Strychnos nux vomica.

Ricin is a poison found naturally in the seeds of the Castor oil plant that also produces the oil that is fed to babies. Ricinus communis ‘Gibsonii’ has red-tinged leaves with reddish veins and pinkish-green seed pods but there are other Castol oil plant varieties.
If castor beans are chewed and swallowed, the released Ricin can cause injury.
Ricin can be made from the waste material left over from processing castor beans into castor oil.

Mescaline is a hallucinogen compound made from the small, spineless cactus Lophophora williamsii or Peyote. It is also present in other cacti including Echinopsis peruviana.
Mescaline is also found in certain members of the Fabaceae bean family.

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Continue Reading →


Gourmet Vegetable Production

There are as many different vegetable plots as there are gardeners and everyone has its place. My default position is clear, I seek good yield or output from lower effort and less space than in  previous decades.

My allotment days are over and although I expected to be time rich and veg plot area poor I can still be a Gourmet Producer of fresh tasty items. I say still, because retirement isn’t a guarantee of more gardening time.

Essentials Of a Gourmet Producer

  1. Grow what you will eat
  2. Do not grow food that is better or cheaper in the shops. Main crop potatoes and onions are generally better and cheaper from retailers.
  3. Grow what is best picked and eaten fresh. Lettuce, mangetout and beans are potential gourmet foods.
  4. Avoid growing gluts, you need only grow for the family table and occasional dinner party – who needs 5 rows of romaine lettuce all ready at the same time.
  5. Grow in succession by planting seeds a few weeks apart so they mature at different times.
  6. Maximise the length of the growing season by growing endive, raddichio and numerous varieties of brassica.
  7. Eat carrots and leaks as micro veg from thinnings with fewer left to maturity.
  8. Sow mixed salad leaves in rows and ‘cut and come again.’ You can do this with autumn sown cabbage too.
  9. Work to a plan to use your time on the plot rather than standing and pondering rather than gardening.
  10. Little and often works better than periodic onslaughts.  Daily visits, even just 30 minutes, lets you feel what is and isn’t working well.


Gourmet Maintenance & Time Management

  1. Even gourmet gardeners need to dig and hoe. Remove weeds – you can’t eat them.
  2. Split larger jobs in to manageable slots.
  3. At the beginning of the year use roundup to clear larger areas.
  4. Make compost and use it for mulching and soil improvement. Buy in extra if necessary for autumn.
  5. Buy plug plants when you only need a limited number of a type of plant. Masses of seedlings cost and take time.
  6. Cover plants with cloches and use slug pellets. You are growing for you to eat not feeding  pigeons and slugs.
  7. Water what needs watering eg runner beans and lettuce.
  8. Keep an eye on the weather and adjust your gardening accordingly.
  9. Do not forget to use the greenhouse. Tomato varieties have never been more numerous and tasty.
  10. If you have the conditions and patience then asparagus can be a delight and I wouldn’t be without Rhubarb!


Edgeworthia Gardeners Tips

Edgeworthia is a genus of shrubs that flower in small clusters of scented 4 petaled flowers tightly packed to form a ball shape. The genus is related to the Daphne family and can be grown in the UK with similar treatment and success.

You can get a long display as they flowers open progressively from winter through February until it leafs up in spring. Varieties may be evergreen or deciduous.

Key Tips

  • Avoid waterlogged soil and soil prone to drying out.
  • Plants grow well around other shrubs without being too enclosed.
  • Despite being called the Paper tree it only responds well to light pruning to retain shape.
  • Buy when the plants are in leaf so you can assess it’s health

Growing Characteristics

  • Plants mature to a height of  5ft by 5ft in a rounded shape.
  • Plants  would survive  in a greenhouse or conservatory if your garden is too exposed.
  • Flowers are in terminal clusters opening in January February before the leaves.
  • Leaves of the deciduous varieties are lance-shaped, dark green and 6ins long.
  • The bark is  cinnamon-coloured with papery flakes.   Bark was used in the manufacture of high-quality paper for Japanese banknotes.

Edgeworthia Varieties

  • Edgeworthia chrysantha produces a tight yellow ball shaped flower on a leafless stem
  • Edgeworthia chrysantha ‘Rubra’
  • Edgeworthia chrysantha ‘Red Dragon’ as the name implies has fiery red flowers when fully open
  • Edgeworthia papyrifera is also known as the paperbush
  • Edgeworthia chrysantha Grandiflora is reputed to have larger flowerheads

Plants are available from Thomson and Morgan (credit the Photo) and Burncoose


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