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.
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?
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.
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 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!
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.
And apropos of absolutely nothing garden-related, here’s Max after a foray into the woods chasing approximately eight deer. Not kidding!
And this is what happens to naughty little boys:
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,