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Gardening in the shade


Gardening in shade can be tricky but take heart - there are wonderful opportunities to play with flowers, foliage, texture and color.

Let’s face it. We’ve all been frustrated by that super-shady spot in our landscape, usually under a beautiful mature tree, where our roses, marigolds, salvias, ornamental grasses and other sun-loving plants and flowers just won’t grow. But never fear! There is a myriad of fantastic foliage plants and fabulous flower combinations that will fill and brighten any patch of shade in the landscape.

Want flowers? No problem. There are many flowering plants, other than the typical impatiens, that thrive in locations with partial to full shade. With a little hunting, you can find shade-loving flowering plants for the entire season. In mid to late winter, hardy cyclamen (Cyclamen coum) will thrive in a shady spot that has plenty of drainage. Late winter is also perfect for Lenten-roses (Helleborus orientalis) whose blooms of purples and creams are some of the first to appear in the season. Spruce up spring with any number of bulbs – winter-aconite, grape hyacinths, crocuses, Grecian windflowers and daffodils, for example. All of these bulbs emerge and flower before most deciduous trees leaf out in mid-spring, creating more shade underneath them. Indian-pink (Spigelia marilandica) is an excellent native flowering perennial that loves areas of dappled shade. In spring, it is full of tropical-looking red and yellow tubular, star-shaped flowers. Bleeding hearts (Dicentra spectabilis) are also high on our shady spot wish list. Variegated Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum odoratum f. pluriflorum ‘Variegatum’) also blooms in spring, but gives the additional benefit of decorative foliage. Watch for its fall show of yellow hues. Chinese peony (Paeonia obovata) provides a glorious spring bloom, but just wait until autumn when its decorative seed pods of bright red and blue make you sit up and take notice. For dry shade, red barrenwort (Epimedium rubrum) is a real help. Mid-spring blooms followed by great glossy green foliage makes red barrenwort a superb groundcover for those drought-prone shady locations. And keep an eye out for its bright red fall foliage.

But why stop at flowers? Consider the many foliage plants that love your shady spots. Hostas are always a hit here, especially if you can provide ample moisture and keep the deer away. Coral bells (Heuchera sp.) come in countless leaf forms and patterns. There’s a coral bell for every situation. Any number of ferns will do the trick as well. Try autumn fern (Dryopteris erythrosora) which provides copper-red new shoots and evergreen foliage. Looking for a finer foliage texture where most ornamental grass won’t grow? Consider bottlebrush grass (Elymus hystrix, a North American native grass that prefers shade. Japanese Hakone grass (Hakonechloa macra) is also a sure winner in shade. There are many cultivars, but ‘Aureola’ will give you fine texture and a gleaming golden yellow and green variegation. And don’t forget sedges (Carex sp.) if you have adequate moisture.

So tackle that shade and fill it up with the many shade-loving plants that are out there!


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