Picks of the bunch at Chelsea: small, shady garden plant ideas

Last Friday I dragged my partner around the Chelsea Flower Show. He said it was fine but he really only perked up when we found the food vans. The poor sod had to put up with me oohing and ahhing over plants for two hours first.

While his great motivation for attending the world’s premiere flower show may have been pulled pork in a gutless white bun, mine was to find inspiration for the shady, paved cricket pitch I’m hoping to turn into a miniature Sissinghurst.

It was, in large part, about discovering new plants. And I present here 6 of my favourite discoveries (which are, happily, also the ones I managed to photograph without someone’s Nanna reaching across my shot to nick a cutting).


Chelsea flower show small garden ideas 2

You know, I’m not even sure I’d ever heard of Heuchera before. I don’t remember ever seeing them in an Australian garden centre. But I’m now captivated by them. The proud flower stalks carry such dainty flowers and the range of foliage available is huge.

Heuchera stay relatively small and compact, they’re happy to face any aspect exposed or sheltered, are happy with part shade and, best of all, they’re hardy. Ideal, really. No drama. I imagine they’re the sort of plant that would offer to split the bill on a first date, without you having to drop hints.


Chelsea flower show small garden 8

Hostas, conversely, aren’t new to me and there’s nothing particularly special about this variegated version (except for the fact my partner liked it, which I’m taking as permission to buy it).

I like the structure of the leaves, the way they’re so upright and yet broad – so they rise up out of a bed. They like partial shade, are summer flowering, and they’re bushy and very hardy. The only downside, from my point of view, is they’re deciduous (and despite dying back in winter, they don’t qualify for the winter fuel allowance. Trust me, I checked. Bloody Tories).

Zantedeschia “Black Hero”

Chelsea flower show small garden 9
Zantedeschia “Black Hero”

This gorgeous little Arum really caught my attention. I love the rich chocolatey colour of the bracts.

Again, it’s upright and compact. Unfortunately, it’s not hardy and won’t survive a frost too well. It dies down in the winter months and the best bet is to bring the tubers indoors (which my partner will be thrilled about in the same way he’ll be thrilled when he learns I plan to keep my garden spade and fork in the kitchen cupboard).

So, I don’t know if this Black Hero will make it into the garden but I do love it.



Chelsea flower show small garden 10 polygonatum

I just adore this polygonatum, with its pairs of white dangling bits, all lined up in a row like a scene from the rugby club showers.

Rather pleasingly, this herbaceous perennial (ooh, look at her with her fancy words!) is hardy, shade-loving and happy in a north-facing position.

There are just two things that worry me:

1. It is, at some level, toxic. We’re planning to get a dog, so I need to get more information on that

2. It’s rhizomatous, and of the asparagus family, which means it’s likely to spread faster than a dose of clap around a lads holiday to Ibiza.

You can find out more about polygonatum here.

Acer Palmatum

Chelsea flower show small garden 11 Acer Palmatum
Acer Palmatum

“A tree, Dan?” I hear you say. “Are you bloody mad?”

Fair comment.

But I have an idea I know a spot in the garden where I just might be able to get away with a small Japanese maple (Acer is the posh name for a Japanese maple). I could be wrong. Perhaps I’ll bugger up the drains and flood our street with sewage? But these are such gorgeous trees, I think it’s worth the risk.

They have foliage colour in autumn and flowers in spring, they’re OK with partial shade (which is great for my garden, because if there’s one thing I don’t need to create, it’s extra shade), it’s low maintenance and it’s hardy (Christ, perhaps I should marry it?)

Read more about the Acer palmatum here.

Salvia “Kisses and Wishes”

Chelsea flower show small garden Salvia kisses and wishes
Salvia “Kisses and Wishes”

There are so many salvias out there that if you were walking around a garden with Monty Don and pointed at a random small flowering shrub and said “lovely salvia”, chances are he’d smile knowingly in agreement.

But I particularly like this one, a new variety called “Kisses and Wishes”. It has an appallingly naff name but the pink flowers are so sweet.

They’re deciduous, not wildly hardy, and they like full sun. So they’re far from perfect for the space I have available. It reminds of that teenage crush I had on Jack from Dawson’s Creek:  I’ll keep daydreaming about it while remaining in total denial.

So, that’s it…

There’s nothing too showy or ostentatious about any of these plants but, they’re the ones that stood out to me. I like foliage. I like subtle flowers. I like that woodland feel that’s so incredibly compatible* with a tiny, inner-city garden.


*not compatible at all.

2 Replies to “Picks of the bunch at Chelsea: small, shady garden plant ideas”

  1. What an exciting project Dan! Any room for a few herb pots? And don’t forget trees can grow very nicely in a pot to stop the roots getting into sewerage. Will look forward to following the progress! Congratulations on the house and all the best.

    Helen ps you are not 38????? Surely not!!

    1. Oh yes, I want to put a tree near the house, so that will have to go into a pot to keep it out of the plumbing! (It’ll be right next to the bathroom.)
      And yes, 38. Time flies! It only feels like yesterday I was 18.

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