Make light of the shade: The crops that thrive on the cusp of darkness

By Emma Townshend
Sunday 23 October 2011 07:52

It came up as a status update on Facebook: "Shady patch in corner of garden where nothing will grow. Someone said try onions. Is that right?" Facebook may not seem the obvious place for smallholder discussion, yet in the past year I've seen posts on chicken incubation, tomato blight and blossom end rot, plus several proud updates concerning the year's first asparagus. Janet Street-Porter talks about the evils of social networking, but there is a gentler side...

So what about that annoying patch of deep shade? Within about an hour of the status being posted, there are lots of suggestions. Nobody seems that keen on the idea of onions. Someone quotes Dr Hessayon: "Partial shade is acceptable for raspberries." Hmm. It's not looking all that promising.

But there are crops that will grow in the shade. The first step is to work out what kind of shade it is. Is it shaded by a wall or fence that will stop rain falling at the base? At the foot of a tree, which will also take moisture and nutrients away? Does it get sunshine early in the morning, giving it a quick blast of rays for a few hours before you even wake up?

Once you've worked out what you have, you can tackle the question of what to grow. Do you have shadow for just some of the day, created, perhaps, by a neighbour's annoying loft extension? The good thing about this kind of shade is that the soil can still be good quality. Dig in compost for further improvement, and consider investing in some rhubarb plants. Two plants will keep you in crumble for the entire summer.

On the other hand, dry shade at the foot of a wall or tree is great for growing salad leaves in pots or growbags. You'd be hard-pressed to replace nutrients and compost to the extent required, so creating a whole new growing environment from scratch will give the best results. You'll need to water heavily by hand, but on early summer days that almost counts as a pleasure.

Choose leaves that prefer cool conditions, such as chard, spinach, mustard leaves and lamb's tongue lettuce. Beetroot, too, will produce delicious little red-veined leaves in pots, which you'll eat way before there's any actual root on the horizon. Or finally, try courgettes, particularly if there's sunshine for part of the day: a few hours of shade will slow down their ridiculous rate of productivity to something you might actually get around to eating, too.

Dark stars


Sow now: with gentle picking, one or two plants will regrow almost the whole year through. Look forward to a shady harvest within 10 weeks. Try Bright Lights – it has beautiful pink and orange stems. £1.75,


Great for first-time vegetable growers — they just try so hard. Save on the worrying and buy tiny plants: Thompson & Morgan's Courgette Collection is five choice plants of three different recommended varieties. £9.99,

Salad leaves

Buy a ready-made mix, or choose your own flavours. Lamb's tongue, Mizuna, and a few sprouting peas is a great combination. Try Jekka McVicar's Provençal mix, including corn salad, lettuce and sorrel. £1.50,

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments