Gardening tip: Shady gardens

By Jeff Howes

My 760 m2 suburban garden in northern Sydney is a dry garden, over a clay base that receives dappled light especially in my back yard due to very large neighbour’s trees (cool house in summer). The maximum amount of full sun is only a few hours and this varies during the different season.

Archirhodomyrtus beckleri flowers, image Jeff Howes

I need to create privacy in my backyard along my fence line due to my suburbs 1960 – 70s covenant, mandating galvanised ‘Weld mesh’ see through fencing. As well they also mandated no front fences. I have used two different approaches to privacy and growing in dappled light.

Using a variety of ‘semi’ rainforest plants as screen plants as they are hardy, have attractive colourful new leaves. Their flowers are also attractive as is their fruit. They can be pruned hard if needed.

A list of plants I use is as follows:
Acmena smithii including some of the modern hybrids. They can be prone to white scale though.
Archirhodomyrtus backleri grows better with some morning sun, a great plant.
Syzygium paniculatum dwarf form but still a 3 m tall grower.
Backhousia citriodora grows at the end of my fence line, receiving morning sun.
Syzygiums – various of the many hybrids available that all grow to around 2 m or so tall.
Graptophyllum excelsum A great tallish and skinny plant. I grow these on from seed and have many leaf and flower size variations.


Graptophyllum excelsum flowers

For best results :
1. Soak potted plant in a bucket of water to ensure root ball is wet. This will be when bubbles stop coming out of the plant.
2. Dig a planting hole only as deep as the pot but twice as wide. Fill the hole with water and let drain.
3. Plant the plant making sure you tease out the bottom 2 to 4 cms of roots especially if pot bound.
4. Use some good quality ‘5 red ticks’ native potting mix around the plant and leave a depression so when you water it goes down the root ball and not the surrounding soil.
5. Fertilise after a month or so when roots have established.
6. Good luck.

On one boundary, I have a neighbour’s huge 70 plus year old English Oak tree, which creates heavy shade and dry conditions. For screening I have used very successfully  Cordyline stricta (Slender Palm Lily or Narrow-leaved Palm Lily) as it has narrow, strappy leaves up to 50cm long and 1 to 2.5cm wide and grows in my situation to 2.5 m tall with many stems creating a dense barrier.

Again this plant is very prunable and after flowering has attractive black berries. They naturally grow in moist situations but are drought tolerant. Mine are slower growing due to the dry soil. They can become rampant if they are given amply moisture and spread quickly.

I have also found that Correa glabra, the yellow flowering form, grows and flowers well in dappled light and is a hardy plant needing minimum watering.

It is worth experimenting with many other native plants to see if they grow although my lack of full sun has resulted in many ‘non performers’ and poor flowering, as you would expect. I have found any plant with green oval leaves grow much better than those with thin grey leaves in dappled light.

Backhousia citriodora