1. Aspidistra elatior 'Variegata'
"The humble Aspidistra was long used as an indoor plant and I still remember pots of it in the barbershop Mum took me to as a small child. No wonder it’s called a Cast Iron plant!" says Stephen. Released into the garden, this leafy green will make a handsome foliage plant to 60cm or so and only needs a little bit of attention to stop its foliage from being ruined by marauding snails.
2. Aucuba japonica 'Rozannie'
A Japanese shrub, with the common name of Japanese laurel, that’s usually seen in variegated forms. This has glossy, straight green leaves that are quite beautiful in the shade. And Stephen tells us this plant comes with its own added bonus: "This hermaphrodite form will produce large crops of long-lasting red berries on a bushy, metre-tall shrub."
3. Euphorbia amygdaloides var. robbaie
This is a shade lover in a usually sun-loving genus. It produces a suckering thicket of deep-green foliage topped in late winter with heads of lime-green bracts. Be careful where you release it, as it’s very hard to get rid of if you need to, but it makes a great choice for dry, root-infested shade. Just be sure to prune the flowered stems at ground level after blooming and control its wayward tendencies.
4. Fatsia japonica 'Variegata'
Another Japanese shrub that’s a must-have, with its huge, glossy hand-shaped leaves on rarely branched stems to 4m tall. "A tropical look perfect for those of us not lucky enough to be in the tropics!" Stephen notes.
5. Plectranthus oertendahlii
This is another frost-tender plant, but one that may be a bit difficult to control in warmer climates. It trails along the ground and can cover quite some space in a fairly short time. The tops of the rounded leaves are deep green with silvery veins, and the underside is a rich purple. "Come winter, it produces tiny, white owers that certainly light up the shade, as do most others of this worthy and attractive genus, so go Plectranthus nuts!"
6. Iris feotidissima
This strappy-leafed plant grows in clumps and has rich, evergreen leaves that are beautiful in their own right. The flowers are, for an iris, small and dull in colour, usually cream with brown veins, or dusty mauve with darker veins. But this plant is grown for the huge, green seed pods. As they mature, they split open, exposing orange seeds that are wonderful for arranging in the house.
7. Ruscus aculeatus (hermaphrodite form)
"Here’s another plant that doesn’t need a boyfriend to produce fruit, which, in this case, sits in the middle of what passes for leaves, making it a great conversation piece," says Stephen. This form is quite dwarf and has slightly prickly mounds, little more than 30cm each way. Ruscus, in any of its forms, is perfect for the driest and darkest spots in your garden. Plus, the new shoots can supposedly be eaten like asparagus.
8. Mackaya bella
This South African shrub has glossy green leaves and grows to about 2.5m, making it ideal as a screen or fence cover. In late spring and early summer, it produces masses of white trumpet flowers with violet veins, giving the impression of soft mauve from a distance. This plant will tolerate higher light levels than most of the others here, but doesn't do well in hot sun. It can be a little frost tender, but always bounces back.