One of the great challenges for suburban gardening is finding plants that are happy in the shade. Many local gardens are in the shadows of our majestic gums, creating problems not only because of reduced sunlight but also with the root systems of large trees robbing the soil of moisture. Contrary to popular belief, there are many native plants that do well in shady spots, ranging from groundcovers to large shrubs and trees.
A particularly good groundcover for these conditions is the prostrate form of Goodenia ovata. This plant is endemic to our local, coastal region and with its very bright ‘buttercup’ flowers against the equally bright green foliage, it really does brighten up a shady corner! A bonus is that it primarily flowers during the summer months when there aren’t too many other plants in bloom. It is also quite easily propagated by cutting and even just breaking off a piece of newer growth and popping it straight into the ground might produce results.
One of the first native plants to really capture my imagination around forty years ago was the West Australian Flame Pea, Chorizema cordatum. Although it hales from the South West of the country, it does very well over here and is marvellous for brightening up any dark corner in the garden. Its orange, pink and yellow ‘pea’ flowers are stunning from late winter and well into spring. It normally grows to around 1m high and responds well to quite heavy pruning after flowering. Indeed, that practice is important in maintaining a reasonably compact plant. The only problem I’ve encountered with this plant is its attraction for snails so don’t drink all the beer and put a bit out in a saucer for these gastropods.
A wonderful larger shrub for the shade, growing up around 2m is the Native Indigo, Indigofera australis. It has almost lace-like, blue/ green foliage and clusters of pinkish flowers from late winter into spring. It also responds well to quite heavy pruning if needed. It generally produces masses of seed after flowering so self-seeding is perhaps an added bonus, depending on how you look at it. They are easily pulled up and potted if extra plants are wanted.
For larger plants, some of our native rain-forest shrubs or smaller trees should not be overlooked. The Macleay Laurel, Anopterus macleayanus is a beautiful small to medium sized tree from the mid-north coast up into Queensland. Its lovely glossy, mid-green foliage is complemented around late spring and early summer by delightful bunches of white, cupped flowers. These are very much sought by our native honeybees.
So, don’t despair about your shady garden; think on the bright side.
Brian Roach spent his professional life as Crown Prosecutor/Barrister before retiring. Brian runs a cottage industry native plant nursery from his home in Westleigh, as well as being a member of the Australian Plants Society.