I used to live in the historical gold mining town of Ballarat, we had a large garden that was pretty and productive, especially in spring and summer. We searched for sun everywhere.

But, the chill, bleak weather really got to us. We all hankered for sun and warmth.  So, with 3 young children in tow, we moved to our new home in sunny Queensland.

The first few searingly hot summers inducted us into Queensland weather quick smart. We planted trees on our bare urban block to give us sun relief and many years later, we had a cool shady garden. The problem is, as many people experience, the shade while welcome in summer, makes growing many flowering plants and vegies a big challenge, especially in winter.

So, is it possible to grow vegies and herbs in a shady garden?

How much sun?

Most vegie gardens need at least 5 hours of direct sun per day. The sunlight provides photosynthesis and allows the plants to produce sugars that give us our fruit or leaf harvest. Tomatoes for example will sunbathe all day as will eggplant, corn and beans. So, if you have a shady garden, these will probably not be in your harvest basket. If you are positioning a new vegie patch, choose the sunniest spot you can. Morning sun is good, so planting to the east or north of shady trees or a tall building is more effective than growing vegies on the southside.

Root competition

Growing in shade often means you have tree roots competing for moisture, nutrients and soil. Keeping shaded areas moist is essential for vegies and herbs that grow in shade. Try building up the soil using raised edges. This will ensure your next meal has enough soil to grow in. Tree roots will be attracted to the luscious conditions in the raised bed, so line the base of the bed with a layer of root barrier (available from nurseries). Trim so it comes up the sides, somewhat like preparing a cake tin with baking paper

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Let the sun shine in

There are different degrees of shade, and this is a key to how well some plants produce. Stand under and look up into the canopy of your trees. Do you see much sky above? If you estimate there is more than 50% of the sky blacked out by leaves, growing vegies underneath is unlikely. The more sky you see means the lower the canopy density, and the brighter the zone under the foliage the better.  A 35-40% canopy cover is about the maximum for successful productivity in the shade.

The dense canopy of leaves and branches can be selectively trimmed to allow in more light while still retaining the shape of your tree.  Remove branches that hang low or that block northern or eastern sun. Avoid training vines into the tree too, as these will cast even more shade.

Moist shade is a must

While some plants will thrive in some shade, many succumb to the local drought conditions under a tree or house eaves. To ensure that the soil remains moist and fertile, fertilise more often to offset the needs of the tree.

The Australian Soil and Land Survey Field Handbook published by the CSIRO by has a handy canopy reference chart to help you determine the percentage canopy cover and thus the shade depth in your garden. Find it online at http://lrrpublic.cli.det.nsw.edu.au/lrrSecure/Sites/Web/about_fieldwork/lo/Vegetation/documents/canopy_cover_chart.pdf

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My favourites for bright shady spots
Taro (loves it wet)
Spring onions
Beetroot (in bright summer shade)
Sweet potato
Asian greens including tatsoi and mizuna
English spinach (in summer) and Warrigal Greens,
Endive and radiccio
Sweet potato
Kan Kong
My favourite culinary herbs for shade
French Sorrel
Mints including native mint
Rocket and cresses
Kra Chai
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