The Indigenous Shade Garden


Article Written By: Johan Jansen van Vuuren
Store Manager @ GardenShop Menlo Park 


The dappled shade you find in certain spots of your garden is often a neglected area, perhaps with only a few Agapanthus growing in patches, underneath the big trees.

In this article, we offer some helpful tips and solutions for creating an exciting garden in any shaded area, with pops of colour and varied textures, while using some of the best indigenous plants that South Africa has to offer.

Even experienced gardeners usually make the mistake of assuming that a shade garden, underneath trees, needs less water and that the soil holds water longer than the rest of the garden. This is not true, as big trees mean massive root systems that deplete the soils nutritional elements and ability to retain water. However, this problem is very easy to rectify. One should simply imagine a forest floor, which grows beautifully because it is always covered with a thick layer of dead leaves. These leaves become compost and act as a good, thick layer of mulch, retaining moisture in the soil. Thus, all you need to do before planting your shade garden, is work in a lot of compost and cover with a fair amount of mulch. If the mulching is done correctly, you can use less water on the area, especially when using indigenous plants.

With the soil ready for planting, you will need to dig carefully. There will be many rambling roots to compete with, so the trick is to create pockets between the big roots of the trees while removing the small hair roots. Line the pocket that you’ve created with weed guard, fill it with soil and plant!

Having a colourful, flowering shade garden throughout the year is a challenge, as most of the indigenous flowering plants only flower in spring. But don’t limit your shade garden by just using flowers in an attempt to brighten it up. With the right use of different textures, and colour foliage you will be pleasantly surprised by how bright and brilliant a dark shaded area can become!




Although most of these plants grow well in the shade, they will still need some light to be healthy. Thus, you should cut back the low hanging branches so that more light can get in underneath the trees. In addition to this, you should fertilise the area on a regular basis, to ensure the soils nutritional value is kept up and not constantly depleted by the trees surrounding root system.

Good Luck and Happy Planting!

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