How to: Garden in the shade with Illawarra natives

Gardening in very shady areas is often really tough. And what happens when you try to limit yourself only to plants that grow locally? Nothing on the list!?! That can be a problem in many parts of Australia, but we are lucky in the Illawarra that the east-facing escarpment allows a lot of shade-loving plants to grow and flourish. And a range of other plants are happy in dappled shade as understorey plants beneath the lighter canopy provided eucalypts. 

There are heaps of local plants that are suitable, though not all work in all types of shade, and very few will thrive in full, heavy shade. But here are a few ideas to get your thinking cap on. 

Settlers' Flax (Gymnostachys anceps) is a tall strap-leaved plant that grows in deep shade, but can also cope with some light. It has bird-attracting blue fruit and a great vertical structure. 
This established Settlers' Flax shows the characteristic long, upright leaves. Image by Kath Gadd. All rights reserved.
These fruit are only just starting to form and are still green. Later they will enlarge and turn blue. Image by Kath Gadd. All rights reserved.
Several of the local ferns also cope with lots of shade, though they will generally also appreciate a moist position. 
The tough and versatile Prickly Rasp Fern, with its reddish new growth. It will take part sun too. Image by Kath Gadd. All rights reserved.
Sometimes Prickly Rasp Fern produces stunning foliage colours. Image by Keith Horton. All rights reserved.
Gristle Fern (Blechnum cartilagineum) may have an unappealing name, but it's a great tough mid-size fern and forms large stands in good conditions. Image by Emma Rooksby. 
Jungle Brake (Peters umbrosa) is a larger and quite coarse-leaved fern that copes with shade and dry periods. Image by Tracee Lea ©.
Last but not least, this is Sickle Fern (Pellaea falcata), which looks and grows similarly to the weedy Fishbone Fern (Nephrolepis cordifolia). Its leaves are a bright shiny mid-green. Image by Emma Rooksby. 
There are also a few shrubs that cope with lots of shade, and many more that like dappled sun. I'll focus on the more shade-tolerant ones here. These are generally suited for planting in the narrow strip between a house and the boundary fence, often a shady and difficult area to manage.

The Small-leaved Bleeding Heart (Homalanthus stillingifolius) is a very hardy shrub to 1.5m with soft, heart-shaped leaves. Image by Kath Gadd. All rights reserved.
Here are the flowers of Small-leaved Bleeding Heart - tiny but
cute. Image by Keith Horton. All rights reserved.
This shaggy shrub is a Bolwarra (Eupomatia laurina), which can actually become a tree, but is easy to maintain in shrub form if preferred. It copes with a range of light conditions including shade. (Photo by Kath Gadd. All rights reserved.
Bolwarra has fragrant white flowers and interesting round fruit. Image by Kirsten Vine.
And of course the classic Orange Thorn (Pittosporum multiflorum, but previously Citriobatus pauciflorus).
It will grow in dappled to heavy shade and can be shaped  or hedged. It also makes excellent shelter for small
birds. Image by Kath Gadd. All rights reserved.
There are plenty other options but I don't want to go on for ever. I will cover more plants in a future post. Most of these plants are fairly easily available in the Illawarra region. 

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