The Shaded Garden
by D.A. Brown
A properly planted, shaded garden possesses a charm of its own, with quiet harmonies of color that are so different in character from its sunny counterpart and at the same time it provides a cool refuge a retreat from summer’s glare. But limited sunlight is often viewed with rather mixed feelings by those endeavoring to maintain’ a garden in shade especially if they happen to be trying to grow plants that will not do well there. Happily, there are many colorful and interesting plants that will. It’s important to have a clear understanding of the type of shade being encountered, for there is a great deal of difference between the heavy, almost total shadow cast by buildings and dense evergreens and the dappled shade of deciduous trees.
Other factors that have to be taken into account are soil texture, whether the site is damp or dry, and position. Thorough preparation is essential and humus in the form of leafmold or peatmoss will benefit both heavy and light soil and should be incorporated during cultivation. Both may also be used as a mulch to conserve moisture and as a protective covering during winter. The addition of sand to heavy soil will improve the ‘texture as will a dressing of ” lime. However, in situations where the earth is naturally acid or where it has been made acid by the presence of none-bearing trees and some oaks, it is probably wiser to grow plants that will ‘stand these conditions than to try to change the nature of the soil by liming.
The question of location is as important in establishing a garden in shade as it is under normal light conditions; and it follows that a north or east exposure will be more difficult to manage than one facing south or west. Draft pockets, created by buildings, etc., can also create problems, although the planting of shelter belts of hardy trees or shrubs, or the erection of a wall or fence will often do much to improve these rather inhospitable situations.
When contending with deciduous trees, advantage may be taken of the period before the leaves become fully developed in spring to stage a grand slam display by using spring-flowering bulbs. This is especially sensible if you plan to be away during the summer. Tulips, hyacinths and daffodils are amongst the easiest to grow and most colorful. They should be planted in the fall, and by careful selection of varieties the flowering period can be greatly extended.
Not quite so spectacular but highly suitable are grape hyacinths (Muscari), glory-of-the snow (Chionodoxa), lily-of-the valley (Convalaria), and both Spanish and English bluebells (Scilla). With the exception of tulips and hyacinths which tend to bloom less each year, the other bulbs may be left to flower year after year and many will multiply some by natural bulb division and others by seeding. The display can be continued with summer flowering shade-tolerant annuals planted between the bulbs or groups of bulbs, or used as a total planting where the bulbs have been dug. Impatiens, baby-blue eyes, (Nemophila), and flowering tobacco (Nicotiana) may be sown where they are to flower or raised inside and planted as soon as weather conditions permit. Treated in this way, wax begonia, Lobelia, Torenia and Fuchsia are highly successful. Where there is sufficient moisture, the delicately marked leaves of Caladium will provide color until frost.
Before planting or sowing is attempted, the ground must be well cultivated, taking care not to damage bulbs remaining in the ground. For those who do not want the bother of seasonal displays, there is a wide selection of perennials, including marry native plants. However, the importance of providing fertile soil plus adequate moisture cannot be overemphasized if satisfactory, results are to be achieved.
For spring and early summer display where shade is not too intense, the following low-growing plants will quickly become established, and, because of their spreading habit, make excellent groundcovers.
Carpet-bugle (Ajuga), grows rapidly in damp situations, producing short, dark, blue flower spikes that contrast with the low, shiny bronze foliage.
Shade Plants per Zone
The book “Encyclopedia of Shade Perennials” is a requirement for anyone with a shade garden. Have you always wonder what type of shade your garden provides? The author, W. George Schmid educates you in selecting the correct plant for the type of shade your garden provides. I am proud to have this book in my reference library.