The question I get asked the most when working on clients’ gardens is what to do with the shady bit at the back where not much seems to grow. My answer is always the same – there are lots of shade-tolerant herbs that work very well as ground cover, helping to supress weeds, while having the added bonus of contributing something edible to the garden.
When we grow herbs we tend to think first of species such as oregano, mint and rosemary which really thrive in full sun, but many others will do well in partial shade, or even in areas that are in full shade for some of the day.
Angelica archangelica grows as far north as Greenland and Iceland, so clearly the lack of sunlight is not an issue for it. Its vast umbels are attractive and useful for filling space where nothing much grows, the leaves are good in salads and the flowers, which appear in June are tasty brewed into tea. Myrrhis odorata, commonly known as Sweet Cicely, is a very useful herb which can be used in the place of sugar to remove acidity (think stewed apples). Like Angelica, it quickly takes up vertical and horizontal space in shady spots.
Claytonia sibirica is a winter-flowering herb whose succulent leaves are deliciously bitter and make good ground cover. It’s a woodland plant native to North America and Siberia, so again, not a fan of the sun. This species has pink flowers while those of Claytonia perfoliata are white.
Allium ursinum, or wild garlic, is by far one of my favourite plants and I’ve already talked about it here. It carpets British woodland, so ideal for our purposes. Thanks to zebbakes for the picture and the bread-making tips! In the same family, Allium schoenoprasum, or chives, are easy to grow in shady gardens or among leafy vegetables like cabbages and lettuces. The leaves need to be picked regularly during the summer to promote new growth.
A yellow bay tree (Laurus nobilis ‘Aurea’) will do well in partial shade and the leaves add flavour to soups and stews when used fresh or dried, as will the “midwife’s herb”, Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca), whose pink flowers can be used in cooking or be made into a tea thought to aid treatment for uterine infection.