Q&A: What to plant in the shade of a tree

Vinca, aka perrywinkle
Vinca, aka perrywinkle
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Q: We have a lovely old tree which casts a lot of shade. The soil beneath is quite bare and we would like to grow a low-growing plant. Is there anything which would do the job?

A: The first name that springs to mind is Vinca, aka perrywinkle.

But as the word ‘rampant’ is sometimes applied to Vinca, you have to choose the right variety.

So if you have a bit of shady (or sunny) land where you think a ground-coverer is needed, but you don’t want to have to spend time ripping up a ‘rampant’ species, don’t pick V major or you will almost certainly regret it. In the right place, it is a very useful and reliable plant, suppressing weeds and providing round-the-year foliage and occasional, but not outstanding flowers. But it is invasive.

V minor is a different matter altogether. And the variegated version, with green leaves edged with white, and lovely little blue flowers for several months of the year, will grace any garden without threatening to over-run it. It grows relatively slowly, is easy to handle and propagate and will thrive in just about any soil and situation – but it does appreciate good drainage at all times.

It can even be grown as a substitute for grass under trees, and spring-flowering bulbs like daffodils and tulips can also be under-planted as companion plants.