The Berry Cottage Gardener

The Berry cottage gardener

for gardens pretty and productive


The Art of Underplanting Trees

"Gardens are not made by sitting in the shade" - English proverb

Trees form an attractive and vital part of any garden.  They provide shade, height, beauty and habitat.  Without trees, a garden can appear flat and uninspiring.  But for all their virtues, trees do provide gardeners with a few challenges, the most significant being what to underplant.

For plants to perform well under trees, they must cope with shade and, in many cases, root competition.

At Violet Cottage, I have three favourite shade-loving plants.

Hellebores  The largest tree in my garden is a Macadamia Nut.  It towers over ten meters high and shows no sign of slowing down!  When I moved in, bromeliads were crowding at its base, but I never warmed to their spiky serrated leaves and the hot orange and red at their centres.  I tried and failed with a few different plants in this challenging spot, before settling on hellebores.

Hellebores are beautiful evergreen plants, sporting delicate rose-like flowers from June to September.  The flower colour ranges from aubergine to pinks and creams.  They look wonderful planted en masse and can easily be divided.  Mine needed plenty of water and deep mulching when first planted to cope with the enormous root system of the Macadamia Nut Tree, but now established, they are proving deceptively tough!

Japanese Windflowers  Japanese Windflowers, or anenomes, grow under a crabapple tree in my front garden.  These are clump-forming, evergreen plants, flowering in late-Summer to early Autumn, at a time the garden may otherwise be devoid of colour.  And what a flower it is!  A beautiful delicate white or pink with velvety petals.  Windflowers can easily be divided in Winter and I’m sure, once you’ve grown them, you’ll want to spread them further afield.  Just keep them out of baking sun as they’ll burn badly.

Sweet Violets  Violets create a beautiful leafy green ground cover at the base of trees and other shady spots.  In Winter and early Spring fragrant purple flowers emerge, which can be left in their place to enjoy or picked in a posy to cheer up a chilly home.