The whole dynamics of grassland ecology ensure that shady garden spots are kept to a minimum. What fires do not burn down, the grazers will level. The only places where shade-loving plants are encountered are amongst rock outcrops, in some riverine vegetation, and some southern slopes of mountains.
Very few of the larger woody plants are adapted to survive severe veld fires and those that do will actually survive a cooler fire such as some of the Sugar bushes. Many others will coppice after a fire, but that is not the ideal situation.
It is assumed that the garden already contains trees big enough to provide shade or that planting will take place on a southern façade. Mature trees are often a feature of older gardens where the habitat has now changed completely.
Shade-loving grasses are the exception. One that is quite often used is Panicum maximum. The fine seed heads can be quite attractive. It is a very variable specie so look out for a nice form.
One that we recently came across is Schoenoxiphium lehmanii. It is closely related to the exotic Carex grasses. It prefers deep shade and should be kept on the dry side. The plant is evergreen and rarely exceeds 20cm in height.
Another grass that is quite common is Setaria megaphylla. This grass is a must if you want to attract birds but it can become monstrous in a garden if the wrong variety is planted. It can vary tremendously in size.
Since shade-loving grasses are very limited in our grasslands, other gems found on the Highveld Grasslands such as bulbs, groundcovers and small shrubs should rather dominate a shady spot. One that is almost grass-like in appearance that works very well in a shady spot is Asparagus virgatus. The slightest air movement puts it in motion.
One that also does well is Chlorophytum bowkerii. The plant stays compact while the inflorescence can reach quite a height.
Many of our bulbous plants are very well adapted to shady conditions and the best known is probably Scadoxus puniceus or the Blood Lily. The Barberton daisy, Gerbera jamesonii, could be a good companion plant as well as some local ferns. Even some of the carrion flowers such as Stapelia gigantica or Stapelia leendertsii could add great interest to the display.
Be careful not to introduce ground covers to this part since they could smother all the dainties. Although these plants grow in the shade water should still be used sparingly.
If it really is just a spot that you want to cover and let it be, there are a few species that will gladly oblige. One that is quite manageable and not too aggressive, is Crassula multicava, especially the one with the reddish leaves.
For some nice color, interplant some low-growing Plectranthus species such as Plectranthus tomentosa (pure peppermint!), Plectranthus ramoisor and Plectranthus oertendali with its beautifuly speckled leaves.
For the more adventurous, I have added some more plants below. More information can be obtained from www.plantzafrica.com.
Perennials for Shady Garden Spots
Bulbs for Shady Garden Spots
Shrubs for Shady Garden Spots
Ground covers for Shady Garden Spots
Climbers for Shady Garden Spots
Succulents for Shady Garden Spots
Read Part 1 of the Gardening with Grassland Species: Grassland Gardens
Read Part 2 of Gardening with Grassland Species: Bushveld Gardens