Leave the rest in the shade: With the right look even a dark corner can look vibrant

Gardeners often tear their hair out wondering what to grow in shady areas, but it is possible to find plants to brighten up the most dimly lit spot.

For inspiration, look no further than High Beeches, a woodland garden where a host of flowering shrubs, perennials and bulbs thrive under a towering canopy of venerable trees.

The sprawling garden in West Sussex has been planted for yearround interest but is at its most captivating in spring. Snowdrops, crocus and snowflakes are followed by masses of different daffodils.


Bright ideas: A stunning rhododendron 'Hinomayo' at High Beeches gardens

Above them are rhododendrons, azaleas, magnolias and camellias, while in May, bluebells spread as far as the eye can see.

Sarah Bray, 52, whose family has owned the 25-acre garden for 44 years, says: 'I love the garden at this time of year as it never stands still. Bulbs appear, the fronds of ferns unfurl and the fat buds that smother the shrubs burst open daily. It's the perfect antidote to the long winter.'

Close to the London-to-Brighton A23 and a stone's throw from Haywards Heath, the garden was started by Sir Robert Loder, who bought the estate and its 19th Century mansion in 1849.

His grandson, Colonel Giles Loder, inherited the garden in 1906 and transformed the woodland that fell steeply away from his house with newly discovered specimens brought back from China, Japan, America and Australia.

'We've embellished the garden with more plants but haven't done too much to its structure as it would change the spirit of the place,' says Sarah, whose husband Jeremy, 53, works for Lloyd's of London.

The couple have three children  -  Alice, 22, Emily, 18, and Susannah, 16.

Sarah has run the garden, which attracts 8,000 visitors a year, for three years after taking over from her parents, Edward, 89, and Anne Boscawen, 84.

They bought High Beeches at auction after Giles's death in 1966. They built a large house to replace the original mansion, wrecked when an Allied bomber crashed on it in 1942.

Lying to the west of the house, the garden is navigated by gravel, grass and stone paths, with many small bridges spanning the natural streams that criss-cross it.

From the house, the ground falls sharply as you descend into the garden following the course of a stream that passes through four ponds on its way to the bottom.

The grass banks of the waterway glow yellow during April thanks to a blanket of daffodils.

In places you'll spot English native daffodils (Narcissus pseudonarcissus) and, closer to the ground, diminutive hoop petticoat daffodils (Narcissus bulbocodium 'Citrinus').

Although dotted with trees, the way into the garden is fairly open until you are about halfway down.

The path becomes more shadowy as you pass under majestic oaks with huge, vibrant rhododendrons billowing across the route, known as Queen Mary's Walk.

You'll find a bright pink Rhododendron Cilipense Group rubbing shoulders with a lemon-yellow R. 'Bo-Peep', while nearby is a breathtaking R. montroseanum.

Close to a grove of five soaring coast redwood trees (Sequoia sempervirens) is an island bed where 'Cliff Garland', a 5ft rhododendron with pink flowers, rises above a sea of evergreen epimediuml.

Next month a carpet of bluebells will appear at ground level, while summer interest is provided by a stand of Lobelia tupa, a statuesque perennial that reaches 6ft.

The garden is dominated by more than 400 different spring-flowering rhododendrons, but many other shrubs enjoy the dappled shade of the woodland.

You'll find more than 30 different magnolias, among them M. campbellii subsp. mollicomata 'Lanarth', which is covered in large purple buds.

Sarah says: 'This is the second time it has flowered. It was planted by Colonel Loder but took over 40 years to flower.'

Growing plants in a woodland garden such as High Beeches comes with experience, so don't despair if you have a shady area where nothing grows.

Start by allowing more natural light to illuminate the spot. Thin out congested shrubs or raise the canopy of trees by removing lower branches.

Next, improve the soil. Areas under trees are often bone-dry, so dig in plenty of leaf mould or garden compost, then mulch the surface to help it retain moisture.

Choose plants suited to the type of shade you have. In dry conditions, grow shrubs such as Mahonia x media, flowering currants and Cotoneaster splendens, underplanted with perennials  -  Helleborus foetidus, Arum italicum subsp. Italicum 'Marmoratum' and Geranium macrorrhizum will all thrive.

Marble-leaved Cyclamen hederifolium 'Album' and Viola riviniana Purpurea Group are among lowergrowing plants to try. Japanese maples, lacecap hydrangea and camellias all do well in damp shade, as do astilbe, brunnera, lily-ofthevalley, bleeding heart, hostas and a host of other perennials.

High Beeches is open until October 31 daily except Wednesday, 1pm to 5pm. Tickets £6 (under-14s free). For more details call 01444 400589 or visit www.highbeeches.com.


No comments have so far been submitted. Why not be the first to send us your thoughts, or debate this issue live on our message boards.

We are no longer accepting comments on this article.

Who is this week's top commenter? Find out now