Bulbs for shade

Looking for spring bulbs for a shaded spot? There are several that do well out of full sun.

Bluebells, both English (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) and Spanish (Hyacinthoides hispanica) forms, naturalise well, especially in dappled shade and moist, humus-rich soil. English bluebells can be distinguished from Spanish bluebells by their cream stamens (the Spanish have blue stamens). The flowers of the Spanish bluebell are larger and showier. The middle photo above shows bluebells with scilla.

Bulbs for naturalising need more room than other bulbs to allow room for multiplying, so take that into consideration when planting your bluebells.

Erythronium, or dog’s tooth violets, are woodland plants that grow best in shade in humus-rich soil. They naturalise readily beneath trees and shrubs, preferring cooler regions with relatively dry summers. The nodding flowers appear in spring and come in shades of yellow, pink and creamy white. ‘White Beauty’ is a popular form, with marble leaves and creamy-white flowers up to 15cm high. Corms are planted in autumn. Position them 8-10cm deep and 5-8cm apart. The photo of the yellow erythroniums above is from Aberdeen Gardening. Check out more of their gorgeous photos.

Grape hyacinths (Muscari), pictured above, are a breeze to grow. In fact, in the right conditions they can be invasive. But the flowers are pretty, appearing in early spring and displaying fine blue carpets beneath trees and shrubs. Plant bulbs in autumn in rich, free-draining soil, 10cm deep and 5cm apart. Flowers start to decline when bulbs become overcrowded. If that’s the case for you, dig them up, divide them and replant them around your garden.

Snowflakes (Leucojum) flower in late September (downunder) and can be planted in early autumn and as late as the end of May (late autumn). They grow in sun or part shade, with pickable stems to 50cm high. Plant bulbs 8-10cm deep in moist, humus-rich soil.

Scilla peruviana shows off its striking blue flower heads for several weeks in spring. It’s a hardy bulb, growing to a height of 40cm, and grows well in sun or shade.

Another blue beauty is Ipheion uniflorum ‘Wisley Blue’. It’s a low-growing perennial bulb to 10cm high. From late winter or early spring it bears fragrant, star-shaped blooms 3-4cm wide. This bulb prefers a sunny spot, though it tolerates light shade. Bulbs multiply over time.

Arisarums and arisaemas also like shade. A quirky plant to grow in the garden is the mouse plant (Arisarum proboscideum), so-named because of its tail-like tips that grow about 15cm long. With their mousy-brown hooded spathes and ‘tails’ that peak out beneath glossy green, arrow-shaped foliage, they do indeed look like mice. Kids love them.

These plants are incredibly easy to grow. Plant them in part shade where they will form a dense mat of attractive foliage. The spathes appear during winter and spring. Plants are dormant in summer.

Arisaema candidissimum is strikingly unusual with its white, pink and green-striped hoods. It’s a frost-hardy plant that likes a moist, shady situation. It flowers in late spring/early summer, reaching about 80cm high.

Others bulbs that do well in shade are trilliums, chionodoxa, crocuses and fritillarias.

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