The question becomes acute in summer: which would you rather have, a sunny garden or a shady one?
The majority view is understandably for sun. “South-facing garden” is a selling point. In town gardens you may have no choice. Our house is on the north side of an east-west street, the right house but the wrong garden? We had our doubts, but not any more – at least in summer, when it matters most. The summer sun starts the day peering over the eastern wall and finishes it beaming over the western one. The garden side of the house stays cool and the garden gets plenty of light. We are also blessed to have a tall tree in our neighbour’s garden to the west. We have dappled light on a sunny day in the centre of the garden.
Unfortunately the tree is a walnut, a beautiful dome of leaves on a smart grey trunk, but a hailstorm of green nuts in early summer and a constant rain of half-chewed half-ripe ones when the squirrels move in (they’re never far away).
As to plants in the shade, our predecessors took the view that box was the only thing. We are trying everything my favourite advisor, dear old Brigadier Lucas Phillips, advises. His Modern Flower Garden is never far from the top of my book heap despite being 45 years old.
The hydrangeas are just coming on, the blue ones from Saling that I christened Len Ratcliff after our benefactor have pride of place.: four big pots around the central (to use a grand term) piazza where we sit. The Brig says all campanulas tolerate shade. My favourite C. persicifolia certainly does. The pelargoniums in pots need promoting to the sunniest part at the far end. The roses on the walls (I don’t know all their names yet, but I know I don’t like Fragrant Cloud) are doing fine – high up above the wall. The scarlet Fuchsia boliviana, a standard in a pot, has been brilliant. Runner beans have been a disaster; being late I bought plants and failed to read the word dwarf (in dwarf type) on the label. So my poles are bare, with a few ludicrous plants at the bottom. What, I ask, is the point of a dwarf runner bean when the whole point is their climbing?
We’re experimenting with agapanthus. The plants we ordered at Chelsea have just arrived, with one flower bud each, seriously pot-bound. They’ve gone into deep gravel and old manure watered every night until they get going. Not everything is perfect. We don’t like a couple of the established roses (Fragrant Cloud is one); but how do you change them? Could one cut them down and bud onto the base? A Fuchsia magellanica has some lurgy that eats away its lower leaves, turning them brown – so presumably not a slug. There are lots of snails, but also the friendliest blackbirds and robin. Yes, on balance the shady life is a sweet one.