Trees are a welcome feature at many cottages, but they can often mean not only shade, but dry, root-bound soil. Here is a handful of hardy perennials that can take it.
Lady’s mantle (Alchemilla mollis, Zone 2) A tough, familiar perennial, 50 centimetres tall and spreading to 60 centimetres, well suited to low maintenance beds where the big, billowing clumps of pleated, dew-catching leaves and frothy yellow-green flowers can spread out along the edge.
Goat’s beard (Aruncus dioicus, Zone 2) A grand background specimen, this two-metre-tall perennial of broad, fanned out foliage and creamy plumes is easy to grow. Best when given a full metre of space to fill out; spreads to between 90 centimetres and 1.2 metres.
‘Jack Frost’ Siberian bugloss (Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’, Zone 2) Sprays of blue flowers resembling forget-me-nots at cottage opening time in the spring, followed by dark-veined, silver leaves that shine in the shade. Grows 45 centimetres tall with a 60-centimetre spread.
Bellflowers (Zone 2) The peach-leafed bellflower (Campanula persicifolia) sends up metre-high wands of white or blue bells. Very pretty when allowed to seed naturally. More robust is milky bellflower (C. lactiflora), with its 1.2-metre clumps of greenery topped with pyramidal heads thick with lavender blue flowers. Set plants 45 centimetres apart.
Male fern (Dryopteris filix-mas, Zone 3) The elegant frond sheaves expand to one metre high and wide. One of the best long-suffering plants.
Hardy white geranium (Geranium sanguineum ‘Album’, Zone 3) Same size as lady’s mantle and a good companion for it. The dense, dark foliage and small, white, saucer-shaped flowers of this non-invasive, hardy geranium look cool and natural in a cottage garden. For more colour, plant the pale pink bloody cranesbill (G. s. var. striatum).
Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum multiflorum, Zone 2) Wanting nothing more than to be left alone to increase slowly, its arching stems (75 centimetres tall with a spread of one metre) are hung with dainty white bells. Leaves of P. m. ‘Variegatum’ are cream-edged and even slower to muliply.
Sword (a.k.a. Christmas) fern (Polystichum acrostichoides, Zone 3) Long, graceful fronds of shiny dark green reach one metre tall and wide.