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I have a small semi-shaded patch of garden, where I have sown common bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) seed over several years; they are now growing well, possibly going to flower for the first time this year.

But after the bluebells have finished in late spring, this patch of garden is left with bare soil for the rest of the year, which isn't great for the bluebells because they're used to moist shady woodlands. I would like to plant something else to give ground cover for the summer.

Restrictions:

  1. the bluebells must be able to sprout and flower from March through May without interference and without the display being compromised
  2. the companion plant must cover the ground for the summer, to prevent it from baking
  3. the companion plant must cope with me adding rotted leaf litter as a soil improver every winter

One piece of advice I found suggested Hostas:

Hostas are some of the best and easiest companions for spring blooming bulbs in partial to full shade.
Larger hostas tend to emerge a bit later in the spring, which is perfect timing for pairing with spring bulbs. They won’t crowd the bulbs out when they are in bloom, but they will gladly unfurl their leaves like an umbrella over them once they are spent.

I don't particularly like hostas much, so I wondered if there were any other suitable plants. The local woodland (north England) which the bluebell seed came from doesn't have many inspirations; it's mainly brambles throughout summer.

3 Answers 3

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Usually, bluebells grow in wooded areas, so they are under trees or large shrubs - the difficulty is when they are planted in non woody areas, when, yes, there's a big gap in the border when they start dying back down again. If you don't want to plant a woody shrub or two, then there is another contender in the list shown in your link, which is Hemerocallis. These die down in winter, meaning you can easily apply your leafmould without causing a problem, and they start growing in late spring - by the time they flower, the bluebells will be done for the year. There are other ground cover plants such as Campanula portenschlagiana which is evergreen, but most ground cover plants will spread, meaning the bluebells will need to push their way through to flower; whilst that might work, it might not, and a ground cover plant will limit the amount of soil to which you can add your leafmould.

Hemerocallis varieties come in a range of colours and tolerate part shade; there are early, mid and later season flowering options too. Further info here https://www.rhs.org.uk/plants/hemerocallis/growing-guide

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You could do worse than taking a look at Beth Chatto's book Shade Garden: Shade-Loving Plants for Year-Round Interest. If you ever find yourself down south in Essex, her garden is well worth a visit.

Also, are there any quality woodland gardens near to where you live that you could visit for inspiration? Check out the Royal Horticultural Society, National Trust and English Heritage, for example. If you visit during the working week (Monday to Friday) there's more chance of having a chat with the gardeners to see what they might advise.

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I saw some persicaria Brushstrokes that punch through the flopping spent leaves of the bluebells and carry on a display till late summer/first frosts. This is potentially a nice tropical look.

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  • @Noomi hi, and welcome to the site. If you remove the question - the first sentence - from your answer, then the rest of it (suggesting Persicaria Brushstrokes) is a good standalone answer I think. Feb 7 at 10:05
  • @RohitGupta incorrect - there is an answer in the post. And if you think that a post doesn’t answer the question, we would expect a flag, not a discouraging comment.
    – Stephie
    Feb 7 at 18:16
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    @VinceBowdren feel free to do a community edit next time.
    – Stephie
    Feb 7 at 18:17

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