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Ask Alfie – April 2014

Alfie Bines Gardens




Q. What can I plant in the damp shaded section of my garden and how can I improve the conditions?

A. This is a very topical question after the prolonged wet spell we had in January and February, and there will be site specific variants which will cause the answer to be somewhat general.

However, let’s assume there is nothing you can do about the shade (i.e. it’s caused by buildings or unprunable tree overhang).

The next question is can you do anything about the damp conditions. It could be that the site is damp in winter or during wet spells, but cakes dry and cracks during warmer dryer spells, or alternatively if for example there is a natural spring present it may never dry out.

If the soil remains permanently waterlogged there are very few plants which will thank you for planting them!

In the former case it is worth incorporating as much organic matter as you possibly can to improve drainage and soil structure when conditions are wet, and this will also give you the bonus of improving moisture retention when things warm up.

If you have localised springs you can broaden the scope for growing if you can install raised beds to try to get roots above the water table and this in any case will give you the opportunity to bring in new topsoil, probably of better quality than your existing. However a word of warning – it is not advisable to build up soil levels around trees.

So, having done what we can to improve planting conditions, here’s a list of some of those tough, tolerant plants which seem to cope better than most with damp shade:

Shrubs: Hazel (Corylus) – beautiful catkins on this native shrub.

Snowberry (Symphoracarpus) – white berries if they are enjoying life.

Elder (Sambucus) – our native elderberry – flowers and berries for jams and wines.

Dogwood (Cornus) – perhaps not dense shade but great coloured winter stems.

Viburnums – deciduous varieties – added bonus of fragrant flowers.

Herbaceous; Hostas – huge range, all strong on foliage (beware slugs)

Lady’s mantle (Alchemilla mollis) – good foliage and flowers but they tend to get scruffy as summer progresses.

Dead Nettles (Lamiums) – plenty to choose – natural looking ground covers.

Lungwort (Pulmonaria) – great springtime flowers and some have good spotted foliage

Rodgersia – Very distinctive and almost architectural foliage.

Ferns; Dryopteris cristata, Polystichum acrostichoides


None of these plants might be considered “exciting” but all have their own very pleasing qualities.

Finally you can always resort to the charmingly named “Mind Your Own Business” (Solierolia solierolii) which I have seen thriving in the vicinity of a dripping overflow pipe with hardly any light at all.


So what can I plant in damp shade? Mind your own business.

If you have something to ask them please email [email protected] and mark your subject “Ask Alfie”.

Alfie Bines
About Alfie Bines (24 Articles)
I have been tending the gardens of North London for longer than I care to remember accumulating a huge amount of horticultural knowledge along the way.