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Illuminating shade gardening

Canopies offer gardeners both respite and an opportunity to embrace gardening in the shade.

Shade provides us with respite in the garden. It gives us cool places to gather and socialise, sanctuaries for contemplation and welcome refuges away from the sun’s glare during our hot Australian summers.

We speak for the trees

At Diggers we advocate the importance of planting trees. Trees that produce quality shade create cooling effects for our gardens and homes during harsh conditions.

Planting trees provides an ongoing valuable contribution to the environment. As the climate continues to change, the need for summer shade will become increasingly important. Gardeners can use appropriate plantings and the canopy of trees as an adaptation technique, sheltering our surroundings from extremes of heat. But what can we plant beneath the growing canopies to create unique garden spaces?

Design ideas for shade

Our members often ask for advice on what to plant in the shade and ‘dry shade’ is one of the more challenging positions in a garden to select and cultivate the right plants. 

Plants chosen for shade need the tolerance and adaptation to thrive in partial or minimal light, as well as an ability to perform with root competition from trees for water and nutrition. By planting in shady areas we can extend our gardens and create cool retreats with an abundance of foliage – the key is choosing the right plants. 

Foliage colour and contrast: Light coloured foliage can illuminate darker places. Variegated Honesty, variegated Metapanax and Turf Lily enlighten darker corners at The Garden of St Erth. At Heronswood, the lush greenery of Baby Sun Rose and scalloped Bergenia create a verdant carpet and contrast to the taller textures of hellebores, Plectranthus and Geranium ‘White Guernsey’, with its luminescent white flowers, or the strappy Lord Howe Wedding Lily. 

Cool places: Intuitively we are drawn to cool shady spots in our gardens, so design this into your plan. A well-placed bench provides a perfect picnic spot and a grassy glade beneath a shade tree is a peaceful setting for an afternoon nap. It is a common sight in summer to see visitors dozing under the majestic Desert Ash at Heronswood. 

Trunk features: It can be tempting to start with taller shade-loving plants at the trunk of your canopy, but trees and their trunks are a feature to be embraced, as seen with the sprawling buttressed roots of the Moreton Bay Fig at Heronswood. The wonderful texture and colour of bark is often overlooked, so showcase it with complementary planting at ground level to highlight, not hide, these unique features.

Living lessons

Inspiration for shade gardens can be found in our three world-class gardens. We can also find ideas for design and plant selection at our botanic gardens, especially Adelaide and Melbourne, both notable for their use of plants that thrive in dry shade situations. 

The Garden of St Erth’s bush garden has experienced the realities of climate change, with annual rainfall declining sharply in the decades since Tommy Garnett planted a rhododendron collection under the surrounding eucalypts. Several rounds of planting ideas have been trialled in the bush garden. Through firsthand experience in the challenging conditions, the planting selection has been honed and developed for success.

The challenge of eucalypts

Eucalyptus are renowned for the aggressive competition they place on other plants for nutrition, whilst their leaves provide thin shade through the summer months. Members often ask us what they can do beneath eucalypts and The Garden of St Erth offers successful ideas and inspiration. 

When selecting understorey plants we have avoided tall growing species. The multiple gum tree trunks are exposed and their impressive vertical mass is juxtaposed against the rock features and textured shade plants beneath. Plant selection is eclectic, with both exotic and native plants combined and celebrated in contrasting foliage. Prostanthera, Westringia, Correa glabra and clipped Correa alba, with their delicate soft grey leaves, contrast with the sizeable textured foliage of Hellebore argutifolius, Melianthus major and Mahonia. New Zealand Cabbage Tree (Cordyline australis) also provides that glorious ‘illusion of lushness’ for a plant that tolerates periods of dryness. Euphorbia (both E. robbie and E. wulfenii) are tolerant of the root competition eucalyptus present. The acid green of their flowers in cooler months provides the perfect electric zing. Succulents such as Blue Chalk Sticks and Aeoniums border the base of the garden and are tolerant of both full sun and partial shade. 

Shade will continue to be a valuable refuge in a garden so let’s look to success stories and explore and experiment with new ways of gardening in the shade. As the climate changes, the unique opportunities that shade gardening brings will be even more pertinent.

Embrace the shade!


“I want to get people out into the garden”

Georgina Reid visits Michael Bates’ striking Sydney garden

“This garden solves all its problems with plants”

Georgina Reid visits Ian McMaugh’s jungle courtyard in the urban subtropics

A brief reflection

Stephen Forbes (a Diggers Director) shares his experience as the former Director of the Botanic Gardens of South Australia

All in a day’s work

The Heronswood kitchen garden produces an enormous 3,000kg of organic produce each year. How do we know? Because everything is meticulously weighed and measured.

An oasis of green in the bush

Clive Blazey introduces this secluded getaway, not far from Daylesford and Ballarat

Beautiful Vegetable Gardens

Biddulph Grange: one of the wonders of the Victorian age

Heronswood gardener and Botanica tour leader, Julie Willis, visits a masterpiece rescued by the National Trust UK

Botanica Spring Garden (Japan)

Clive Blazey visits Japan for the Botanica Spring Garden tour

Botanical Ark (Daintree, Australia)

Clive Blazey visits Alan and Susan Carle's beautiful garden in the Queensland rainforest

Castel Ruggero (Chianti, Italy)

Margaux's family create perfect harmony, “A living personification of my mother and father”

Choosing perennial flowers for the

wilder parts of the garden

Cloudehill (Olinda, Australia)

Owner and garden creator Jeremy Francis takes us through the four seasons at Cloudehill

Collecting Amazon Lilies in the wild

Andrew Carrick tells the story of re-establishing lilies in the Adelaide Botanic Gardens

Create a summer flowering perennial border

Julie Willis creates Heronswood’s summer perennial border and explains its subtleties.

Cruden Farm (Langwarrin, Australia)

John Christie tells us why trees are an integral part of the gardens at Cruden Farm

Designing landscapes

Landscape designer Keith Edwards explains how he designs

Gardening can change the world

Georgina Reid wonders why we don’t value the natural world

Gardening is about progression

“Gardening is a progression beyond the innocent cultivation of obvious plants” clive blazey

Gardening is for the birds

Creating a safe space for bird life in your garden.

Gardening with Biologicals

Stephen Forbes explains the importance of what we can’t see in our gardens

Gardens By The Bay (Singapore)

Clive Blazey introduces the wonders of Singapore's Gardens by the Bay

Growing 200 fruit trees in your backyard

Marcelle Swanson visits inner-city fruit grower and author Louis Glowinski

Heronswood (Australia)

Is Heronswood one of the world's finest gardens?

Meet Australia's citrus gurus - The Tolleys from Renmark

Clive Blazey discovers a garden where citrus, dates, mangoes, peaches and apples thrive

Moira’s Garden (Gaza)

Andrew Laidlaw describes how the first Global Garden of Peace is taking shape in Gaza

Ninfa (Lazio, Italy)

Clive Blazey visits the 'world's most romantic garden', the inspirational Ninfa in Italy

Playing with Perennials

Q&A with Heronswood's Gardeners

Get to know Heronswood's talented gardeners

Seed Savers Garden coming to Heronswood

Sharing the passion and skills needed to protect the future of heirlooms at our new garden.

Sissinghurst gardens is given the kiss of life

Tommy Garnett, our finest garden writer, describes the redemption of Sissinghurst

Szálás (Subotica, Serbia)

Ines Balint shares a special garden connection and love of food with her family in Serbia

The colour wheel at Heronswood

A new garden development that highlights why ‘it isn’t easy being blue’ in the flower garden.

The garden at Broughton Hall

A dramatic landscape garden that marries horticultural skill with an artist’s eye.

The grandfather of citriculture

Marcelle Swanson talks to world-renowned citrus expert Ian Tolley about his life's opus ‘Commonsense Citrus’

Three up and coming gardeners

Tony Fawcett explains why an outstanding gardener should be on every farmer’s list of go-to gurus

Tim Entwisle's Top 10 Favourite Plants

The Director of Melbourne's Botanic Gardens shares his botany of desire!

Two hundred years of hard gardening experience

Clive Blazey talks with Will Ashburner and Frank Broersen

Vegie gardening from Alaska to the Sunshine Coast

Kevin Redd doesn’t follow the rules, choosing to experiment with the vegies he loves, no matter what his climate.

Warrior for environmental change

Marcelle Swanson asks Joost Bakker about his philosophies for a sustainable future

Waste is a human Invention... there is no waste in nature

Clive explains how our waste is a symptom of an unsustainable lifestyle

Why garden?

Exploring new research into the wellbeing benefits of gardening.

Wildflower Meadow

One of our biggest aims at Diggers is to ensure that gardeners succeed.

Winter Solstice

Wisley (Surrey, UK)

Lisa Remato visits the inspiring RHS garden at Wisley
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2022 Gardening Diary and Calendar Combo
2022 Gardening Diary and Calendar Combo
2022 Gardening Diary & Calendar Combo The complete garden combo for 2022! The beautifully illustrated Diggers Club Diary features a week to a page, seeds to sow each month, blank pages for seasonal observations, and handy pockets for your seed packets and plant labels, while The Diggers Calendar showcases stunning garden photography to inspire y...
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2 year membership + Garden Calendar and 2 Seed Packets
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Join the club and receive an exclusive gift, valued at $30. A stunning calendar featuring key dates, a guide to which seeds to sow each month and plenty of space to add your own events. Plus two free packets of some popular seeds – Tomato 'Black Cherry' and Lettuce Heirloom Mix.
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