April 17, 2015
Made in the Shade with Shade Gardens!
A hot summer afternoon is the perfect time to pour an icy glass of lemonade and head to the shade of two very large trees, where I have a café table on a bluestone patio. This is also my favorite spot for a cup of coffee in the early morning or a glass of wine after a busy day.
The shade gardens surrounding this patio are some of my favorite places on my property, although I do have a lot of sunny garden space as well. I was not always a lover of shade gardens. In the past, I owned properties with very little sun and will admit to having had a bit of sun envy while shopping for plants. The plants for sun always seemed more colorful and interesting; but over the years I have grown to appreciate and love the plants for shade gardens.
Indeed there are many plants that grow and thrive in some amount of shade. To find the plants best suited for your shade garden, you’ll need to know what type of shade you have. Is it full day shade or just morning or afternoon shade? Is it a dry area, such as the shade under a mature tree, as I have, or is it moist shade, such as the area by a woodland stream?
The first perennials to bloom in my dry shade garden appear in March when my Hellebores open with nodding large blooms in white and shades of pink and purple. The blooms sometimes appear when there is still some snow on the ground. The delicate blue bell–shaped flowers of the Woodland Phlox, which form a low groundcover along my walkway, follow the Hellebores.
Other spring bloomers in my garden include Bleeding Hearts and Virginia Bluebells. The lovely heart-shaped flowers of the Bleeding Hearts can be found in pink and white. White flowers in a shade garden are always a nice choice because they really brighten up and pop against the many shades of green. The native Virginia Bluebell, with its blue/purple flower spikes, spreads easily forming masses of color and performs well in wet areas.
In the summer, my garden color comes from Endless Summer Hydrangeas that I have planted in an area with morning sun and afternoon shade, which is what they prefer. These hydrangeas form continuous ball–shaped flowers in shades of blue and pink (depending on your soil pH) from spring until the frost begins. The White Panicles bloom from the native Annabelle Hydrangeas, and they brighten a dark section of the garden against my brown barn siding.
I also make use of texture and foliage color in my shade garden. I have numerous varieties of perennial ferns including: Autumn Ferns with their new burnt orange fronds and deep green Christmas Ferns. Ferns always pair nicely with the ubiquitous, large–leafed Hostas. Variegated Solomon’s Seal, with its leaves edged in creamy white, arch over the patio and brighten up a dark spot. The green mottled leaves of European Ginger form an evergreen carpet by my door and require little water in a dry shade spot.
If I am motivated to plant annuals, I usually opt for the many colors and textures of Coleuses to brighten up my shade garden. Grown for their leaves, the color choices are extensive and range from vibrant lime green to bold reds and oranges. New Guinea Impatiens are also a nice shade annual, since they are resistant to the blight, which has impacted regular impatiens. They have large flowers in many color options, but will definitely require watering in the summer.
I hope you will explore the many plant options for shade gardens and begin to treasure your shady space. Oh, and be sure to include a bench or other seating options in your shade garden, since I am certain it will become your shady refuge, as it has for me!
Kathy Evans | Greenhouse Sales & Visual Merchandiser