Shady Ladies (and Max)

For some of us, surely, the serenity of shade gardening—as the counterpart of sun gardening, with its festive mood—is just what the inner doctor orders.”
– George Schenk
   in The Complete Shade Gardener

If anything ever happens to this ancient white oak which graces the front of our house, I shall call for a National Day of Mourning.


It is a splendid old thing, isn’t it? From my bedroom window, I can almost reach one of the branches. And it gives us wonderful shade which has led me down the garden path towards discovering a new passion.

I’ve been a gloriously happy full-sun gardener reveling in daylilies, roses, herbs, iris, and all the rest of the vibrant sun-loving perennials out there. Shade gardens. Ho-hum.  So boring, right?

Wrong. In fact, since moving to our old house, I’ve become completely smitten with the quiet beauty of shade plants. They have a sense of decorum which so appeals; they play well together never shouting, “Hey, look at me!” Firm believers in the “less is more” mantra of the elegantly dressed, they are the Chanel of the garden, not the Lilly Pulitzer.


Do you see him?

Shade gardens are about texture, not color. Foliage, not flowers. Of course, I exaggerate. The shade garden can be quite the colorful thing if given half a chance.  Here we have the ubiquitous hosta mingled with ferns, heucheras, lacecap hydrangea, astilbe, and dycentra. Makes for a nice mosaic, doesn’t it?


Let’s take a look at a few ferns:


I mean seriously. How beautiful is this Japanese Painted Fern? And I promise you the gardening skill needed to grow this plant is minimal. It practically grows itself if given the right setting. As do the lovely ghost ferns below:


The Autumn Fern is another shade garden stalwart. It is a hale and hearty plant with lovely foliage that changes color in autumn, hence the name. I am advised by a friend that it is wonderful in arrangements as well.


An essential shady lady is the heuchera. A multi-colored hillock with delicate veining, it is much tougher than it appears. My deer do not seem to like it – perhaps because they’re satisfied with other more savory items in the garden – but for now, I will call it deer-resistant.

This is heuchera “Pinot Gris”. The glossy purple leaves in back are heuchera “Purple Palace.” And isn’t the Japanese Painted Fern which emerged on its own in this spot just such a pretty accent?


Do you see him?


Experimenting with heuchera color


Heuchera “Fire Chief”

A new heuchera, this is “Glitter.” And she does!


Foliage, not flowers, remember? But each spring the shade plant – for an ephemeral moment – enjoys a moment in the spotlight.


Tiarella foamflower and dicentra bleeding heart.


Strawberry Begonia


Jacob’s Ladder or Polemonium

Known for its dew-catching foliage, the lady’s mantle:



Just as the spring blooms fade away and the garden grows quiet, the caladiums decide to strut onto the botanical stage. Believe me, next year’s shade garden will have one or two more varieties of this exceptional plant. A happy neighbor is the tassel fern, also new to the garden. It is a very well-behaved little plant so will not be among the expunged.


I have no idea of this caladium’s name. Three bulbs were handed to me by another gardener, “Hey, see if you like these!”

I took this photo just the other day. At this time of year all gardens are getting a little bedraggled, but look how the caladiums are still going gangbusters. Oh yes, there will be more of these in the garden next year!IMG_20141003_072223

Here the berries of the aptly named Grape Holly or Mahonia. Somehow they are always at their peak deliciousness just as migrating birds come through. Mother Nature is clever that way.


Whoops, who’s this? Another member of the concrete menagerie, the turtle is quite at home in the shade garden.


I had some cast-off hosta plants and so created another small shade garden under the pecan tree figuring if the deer descend, so be it. I’m using this area as a sort of proving ground for various unfamiliar plants. This photo was taken just at dusk when Max, the Great White Hunter, spied some deer in the field. He’s sizing up his chances at catching them. Lord knows what he thinks he would do with one should he ever be successful.


I’m sure you see him now!

And apropos of absolutely nothing garden-related, here’s Max after a foray into the woods chasing approximately eight deer. Not kidding!


“How does she always know I’ve been in the woods?”

And this is what happens to naughty little boys:


“Get me out of here, Mom!”

OK! Back to the point here. Hope you enjoyed a glimpse of the shade garden, and I would love to know if there are any other shady ladies you would recommend. There’s always next year!

Thanks for reading,


About Silver in the Barn

Life in a 1915 farmhouse in Central Virginia. And the odd thought or two.
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74 Responses to Shady Ladies (and Max)

  1. You are an amazing gardener, Barbara! What a wonderful suite of posey’s and photos! I appreciate the time it takes to tend to a perennial border. Yours looks very well loved.

    Now. Dare I? Yes, I dare. Shall we name the turtle?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Sandra says:

    Beautiful pictures Barbara, I particularly liked the Caladiums, and will incorporate these into my shady glades. I’m going to visit my on-line retailer right now. I’m an avid Hosta fan, and this year I halved all four of my varieties, leaving one half in situ and putting the others into pots which I grouped on the patio around my other annuals. I must say the potted Hostas have done much better than the ones left in situ and they enhanced the usual bright display.
    And I’d say Max got his just rewards for his exploits… 🙂


    • I, too, am enjoying hostas in containers. They really can do better in them, I think, when not subjected to what lurks in the soil (slugs and voles), or worse, deer. Caladium is a bulb, Sandra, in case you don’t know. Very easy to grow. Essentially I waited until the soil warmed, put them in nice fluffy soil a few inches down, and then waited. Took about three weeks to see anything and then once the plant emerged, WOW, it took off at a lightning pace. Good luck!!


  3. joannesisco says:

    ooo – I loved the tour through your garden this morning! You really have a talent!! I’m more of a wannabe. I like the concept of gardening but I’m lacking in the execution.

    I have one shady corner of my yard and the past couple of years I’ve planted coleus in that area. They seem to love this corner and it’s now my favourite spot because of all their bright greens, reds, and purples.

    … and little Max’s face at the end made me laugh. He seems to be saying ‘whaaat?!’ 😀


  4. Parnassus says:

    Hello Barbara, I would love to spend some time sitting under your giant oak, enjoying the shade garden you have planned so carefully. It struck me that shade gardening is a lot like enjoying the herbaceous plants that grow in the woods. Although some sun gets through in the spring, when many of them flower, most of the time they are in full shade, calling attention to their growing habits and beautifully shaped leaves. The coolness and quietness of the woods evokes a special mood that enhances the appreciation of may-apple, bloodroot, violets, leeks, trillium, and jack-in-the-pulpit, among many others.


    • Good morning (evening), Jim. And I would love nothing more than a visit from my amazingly erudite friend. We have about twenty acres or so of deeply wooded land, and I know so little about what is actually growing in there. It’s an entirely new world of plants to me. BTW, my husband is halfway across the Pacific headed to Taiwan as I write this. So wish I could be going but just not in the cards this year. Barbara


  5. vannillarock says:

    i am NOT a gardener, but do enjoy looking! love that very healthy looking mahonia- i am sure i have it somewhere, but id have to ask my better half. if you like fern there are some HUGE varieties in new zealand.


  6. Sue Mayo says:

    I think of all of your gardens, the shade garden might be my favorite. The majestic tree providing all the shade needed for the beautiful display underneath says it all. Max should know by now the those tag-alongs will give him away every time.


    • Hello, Madam! I tend to agree with you although I am fickle….a glorious display of something sunny will sway me, I’m sure, and I need a sun garden in which to parade around with my awesome SUN HAT, right? And don’t you have a name choice for the turtle? C’mon, I’m sure you can come up with something….


      • Sue Mayo says:

        You fickle! I’m shocked! It is an awesome hat I must admit. It is so you. As for the turtle, I okay with Myrtle. Your next project for Roger should be a cement pond with lots of beautiful fish and lily pads.


      • I’m sure if Roger reads this he’ll be overjoyed at your suggestion, Madam. You know he just loves being deployed to various garden projects!! My friend, N., had a pond but she had to deal with menacing hawks and raccoons. I’m not sure I could deal with that here. And then wouldn’t there be snakes?


  7. Jodi says:

    BEAUTIFUL – I am so inspired! I have many shady spots here too, so look forward to referring to this for inspiration. Do the deer bother much? Your gardens are just amazing. Love the concrete menagerie, placement of plants, comforting feeling, and the passion you portray with your words. Mikey loves to chase the deer out of our yard too, but they still come when he is sleeping and eat my hostas and other plants 😦


    • Jodi, you are in luck! Many shade plants seem to be deer-resistant, for instance ferns, astilbe, and caladium. I even manage to keep the ultimate deer-bait, hosta, alive by planting it in back of all the other plants. Also, I’ve planted a bed of sort of unattractive hosta near the woods as an offering to the deer hoping that will divert them a bit. They are such a menace, aren’t they? And good boy, Mikey, chase those varmints away!


  8. Ahh what a lovely little stroll through your foliage! How beautiful this all is… really puts the rest of us to shame, Barbara. 🙂 But that’s ok – we don’t mind bowing to your excellence. In England, gardening is more a matter of necessity than choice, and around this old place, I have way more necessity than I would care for. Having said that, in a cottagey-type old fashioned garden, neatness is not necessarily the goal. Which is just as well… I had many stands of hosta in my last English garden, but it was forever a struggle with the snails. But I have found Bergenia to be very hardy for shady places as well. And Vinca – always great for filling in those spaces between. I have plenty of fern here, too – though no idea of variety, as they are all likely volunteers. And how wonderful to see your bleeding hearts! I have several – they are a firm favourite! 🙂 What a lovely post – thank you!


    • Just been googling, MH, the bergenia. Now how could I possibly resist a plant described thusly:

      The common names for Bergenia are pigsqueak (due to the sound produced when two leaves are rubbed together), elephant’s ears (due to the shape of the leaves) and large rockfoil.

      Pigsqueak it is!! The write-up mentions it is closely related to Rodgersia which is dying a slow painful death in another location (note that the dismal failures never see the light of a blog post) but based on the name alone, I have to give it a try. Thanks so much!


      • Hahaha! Pigsqueak is truly and properly a squeaky plant! 🙂 They do well with plenty of water, so if you find a low lying area in the shade, they will thicken out and multiply like crazy. To the point where the occasional cull is needed. But they’re a cracking plant all around. Mine stayed green the year round, and I did have a burgundy-leaved variety which also kept its colour all winter. (In your climate, I make no guarantees! We have cool summers and plenty of rain.) But their stalky pink blossoms are truly a delight… just the right adornment for these shady ladies, who like the occasional bit of bling. 🙂

        Liked by 2 people

      • I think that’s my problem, then, with the Rodgersia. I’m not watering that area enough. I’m going to move it into the “real” shade garden and give it a good soaking and we’ll see what happens next year. I’ll add the pigsqueak nearby and we’ll see how this all plays out. YAY!! I’m rather excited about this!!


  9. Your shade garden is so lovely! I’m envious, but also inspired.You are so right about the Japanese painted fern. So easy to grow and it almost thanks you when it gets divided.
    Have you tried European Ginger? It does well in my dry shade.


    • Hi, Linda! I have something called a ginger which has been sitting in that little test garden under the pecan tree for three years now. I check it occasionally to make sure it is not really plastic because it just sat there. BUT this year, it started to grow a bit. It has very thick, glossy, dark green rounded leaves with a sort of mottled look to them. Quite handsome and maybe it’s the same plant you have? I’ll have to rummage through my highly organized (ziploc bag filled with plant tags) system and see what the proper name is. BTW, I was in a shade nursery in Williamsburg. They were growing the Japanese Painted fern with purple oxalis. I don’t love that plant on its own, but grown as a companion to the fern? Oh, Linda, it is out of this world.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. kristieinbc says:

    Your shade garden is very lovely! Our home has several huge trees surrounding it, so I have some shade plants as well. Your post has given me some ideas for including more, so thanks for that. I know next to nothing about shade gardening. And that Max! Too funny! He seems to be as successful at catching deer as Fergus is catching squirrels. 🙂


    • Kristie! Those squirrels are a source of constant frustration to Max. They taunt him from the high branches as I’m sure they do to Fergus. I hope you do explore a bit more of the wonderful shade plants out there; you might find shade gardening is right up your alley with all your big trees.


      • kristieinbc says:

        Have you had any success at stopping Max from barking constantly at the squirrels? We have two young ones that have decided to hang out on our back deck and Fergus goes nuts every time he sees them, which is, in turn, making me go nuts.


      • If Max saw squirrels hanging out on our deck (which they do not), he would go berserk. I read somewhere that the prey instinct in dogs is even stronger than the sex drive. So…..maybe hang a feeder full of peanuts elsewhere and drive the squirrels away from the deck that way?


  11. caffienna says:

    Terracotta turtle might want some “turtlehead” chelone plants that make pink flowers ?


    • OK, I’ve just googled the chelone. Another must-have to the garden with a description like this:

      Chelone (rhymes with “baloney”) was a nymph in Greek mythology who insulted the gods by ridiculing or not attending (versions vary) the marriage of Zeus to Hera. The gods punished her by turning her into a turtle.

      Baloney was an on-going item in a comment thread a few posts ago….having to do with naming the Pig. You may have inadvertently come up with a nice suggestion for the turtle’s name too!

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Roger says:

    Hello Dahlink, four hours to go!! And no pond!


  13. ritaroberts says:

    WOW ! What a beautiful garden you have Barbara, and yes I spotted him immediately ,the little rascal (Just kidding ) He looks like he had fun in the garden with you. We have plenty of shade in our garden from the Acacia elbiza variety trees, but the only flowers I can grow are Geraniums because its either too hot or too windy so everything gets dried up one way or another. Any advice for me here Barbara ? Wonderful pictures or all your plants Thanks for sharing your wonderful garden with us.


    • You know I put him in there just for you!!
      Rita, have you explored the wonderful world of succulents? There is amazing variety and beauty to these plants and they can endure drought and beauty very well. Also try pots of tough herbs like lavender, rosemary, various ornamental thymes, oregano. These things love that heat and should thrive. Thanks, Rita!!


  14. Inner doctor orders; I love that! More ought to consider listening to and heeding those. I once had a Max; he did much the same with deer and fox. My two canine companions now are both black so romps don’t show quite as easily when they return from the woods. 🙂


    • Hi Eric, I never saw myself having a white dog; funny how thing work out in life. Definitely not advised for a country dog! We had started out wanting a little cairn but the breeders rejected us! So we ended up with a Westie and have never looked back. The inner doctor should be heeded more frequently, I totally agree.


  15. dorothy says:

    Wow…love your gardens..whether sun or shade…brings such joy to my day. You have created a lovely painting there and Max always adds that special touch. Where was Berkley? Keep sharing your gardens..we enjoy the beauty of your hard work. I think Murdle works…


    • Berkley has far too much common sense to ever chase a deer. And he’s fourteen now, so his forays into the woods have come to a close. The turtle is not igniting much enthusiasm in the name game. I think Maggie may have her choice this time around!


  16. Eliza Waters says:

    Loved this, Barbara! What a handsome guy Max is when he is on high alert. Had a good laugh over the look from the grooming table! ‘Help me!’
    A truly lovely shade garden you have there and your Heuchera collection is superb. You asked for other suggestions – Hakonechloa and Solomon’s Seal (Polygonatum) are nice, as is Barrenwort (Epimedium). Another favorite is Pulmonaria ‘Diana Clare.’

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Eliza. Fabulous suggestions for rounding out my garden! I tried Hakonechloa one year and it disappeared, probably into a vole’s digestive tract. But it is such a stand-out, I will give it a go again. The others you mention I haven’t tried yet so many thanks for these pointers to something a bit unusual. FUN!

      Liked by 1 person

  17. Hi Barbara,

    Nice post, and, love your strawberry begonia! What zone??? Also I’m jealous of your Mahonia – they survive here but they’re not happy. Always look a little ‘burned’ out. And try some spring bulbs too. They’ll be done doing their thing before the tree leafs out so you’ll have an extra long season.

    Happy gardening (and pup grooming),



    • Caroline, you’re right about bulbs. I don’t think of them in this space and I should. Great idea. I’m in zone 7. I don’t think mahonia like it up in the great frozen north, at least I don’t remember seeing them. Thanks again!


  18. nrhatch says:

    Love your garden, your majestic oak, your yard, and your naughty pup! 😀


  19. Wait. There’s a plant called Pinot Gris?? If I plant it next to a bottle-brush will I get a wine supply?
    Your shade garden is beautiful. Not enough water here.
    Given his somewhat hidden location, how about Lurkle the Turtle?


  20. M-R says:

    Thanks for READING, Barbara ? – nono !! Thank you for posting ! Thanks for such a glorious input of colour and beauty !!! As for Max … why no ‘After’ shot, pray ? 🙂


  21. reocochran says:

    I felt right at home in your shade garden, with all the colors and textures. I studied the beautiful photos, as you mentioned the varieties, I learned a lot from this post! I loved the photo of Max, who really has quite a face to love, with his dirty and prickers caught in his fur face looking right at the camera. Eight deer, oh my! This would be a fantastic children’s book, since they would fall in love with Max. You could have the detail of plants written in smaller type for the parents to read…


    • You are such a romantic! I love that idea, Robin. Often, to tell you the truth, we have many more deer traveling through the property on their way….elsewhere. But a family of around eight seems to live here and we’ve adapted to their routine. They devour acorns every evening at this time of year.

      Liked by 1 person

  22. dorannrule says:

    What a beautiful shade garden you have! I try but only the hardiest succeed and most others succumb to weeds and deer. There is one called Jacob’s Ladder I think that thrives (if it is sprayed with Liquid Fence), and Laurel does well in the shade here if the deer don’t get to it. Max is an absolute riot and that look on his face is priceless. He might also be telling you how sad he is not to have caught one of those pesky deer. 🙂 I love this post Barbara. Great photos.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Dor. Max has actually been concerning me lately with his chasing after the deer. They are grazing under other tall oaks right now – a big group of them – eating acorns. There’s some females and some little ones and one buck. And that buck is not too happy with Max and is not running off when Max charges. I get the feeling he is considering heading towards Max which would not be good. I’ve got to somehow stop this from happening!! Yes, I like Jacob’s ladder very much!


  23. bkpyett says:

    What a treat having a stroll around your garden Barbara! The variety of leaves, and all looking so healthy too, make a splendid vista. One plant I’m encouraging in my smallish shade garden is Clivia, they are tough, but just need some snail bait to stop their attackers. I love the romance of your garden and the little white dogs are perfect in their setting. Robin’s idea is a good one!!


  24. Lovely. 🙂 I especially enjoyed your pup’s cameo.


  25. Thank you for your inspiring shade garden tour and that Grand Dame, the Oak, is the reigning Queen of the shade garden! I wished I had more shade…the little bit I get under my locust trees makes for an extremely dry area that needs constant watering for the plants to survive. I am eyeing a North-facing side of our porch that only gets a little bit of morning sun to establish a small shady woodland planting. but, need to get hubby on the ball to install the planting hardware…you know how that goes…:-)


  26. Max knows exact;y what he would do if he caught a deer…drag you out to drag it home and then demand that you make umble pier from the innards for his delectation.
    I loved your shade garden….and now am trying desperately to remember the book on dry gardening i had which dealt with dry shade…such a famous English gardening lady…but the name escapes me…no doubt to return to me in the small hours to wake me.


    • I see your mind works as mine does, Helen….a bit of a misfire here and there, but eventually and unexpectedly, the answer arises. Fingers crossed that it will not come to “umble pier” around here any time soon!


  27. Oh what a lovely posting, Barb! It’s been much too long since I have meandered through your garden. Perhaps it’s because our yard is so shade-filled, or because I’m so fond of shade filled-forests, but I’ve also found myself drawn more towards shade-loving plants of late when thinking of perennials. The pictures are superb! Especially wonderful to see the “naughty boys” 😉


  28. Aussie Emjay says:

    Your tree is magnificent and Max is adorable. He has that same look on his face as my daughter used to get when she’d raided my makeup case and not wiped all the remnants off her face 🙂 We have a Japanese Maple in our small front yard and I’d be terribly upset if something happened to it. I love that one of your plants is named “Pinot Gris”.. …..


    • Thank you, Emjay. I love the image of your little girl with smears of lipstick on her face! How quickly those days pass. And the “Pinot Gris” earned its spot in the garden specifically because of its name but has proved to have other good qualities since…

      Liked by 1 person

  29. Max’s forlorn look is so adorable. I love your shade garden – especially the bleeding heart flowers and the caladium mixed among the ferns. Beautiful!


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