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Monday, January 23, 2012

Got Shade?

So far shade gardening has not been my forte.  Many homes are situated in a manner that at lest some part of the yard is shady and visible to everyone passing by.  You can either fill these areas with gravel or mulch or let them turn into weeds, or use them as a place to keep your compost and empty pots; or you can try to make them a part of your gardening experience by creating a shade garden.  Vegetables? Fruits? Herbs? Forget it. It's just not going to happen so don't go getting any ideas about try to grow these things in the shade.  Some more useful options are moss, hosta, or rhodies.  Rhododendrons are native to my area and it's obvious why.  The dark moist richness of the forest floor is all a rhody really needs.  They grow quite well in the gaps between the tall firs and strain outward to catch a passing ray or two of sunlight.  While rhodies will tolerate full shade, they prefer to glimpse some sunlight at least a few hours of the day.  Moss likes moist shady areas, and there are many varieties in different colors and textures that can fill a small area and at least make it look green.

The best way to plan for a shade garden is to visualize what plants grow in the forested areas near you.  Here in western Oregon we have fir stands, and growing below the treetops are rhododendrons, ferns, Oregon grape, mushrooms, huckleberries, bleeding hearts and Dutchman's britches (common names for the different colored flowers of the Dicentra genus), and columbine.   In shady cultivated gardens you can spot acanthus, begonia, hellebore, impatiens, fuschia, and hosta.  Some blend of the wild-growing and cultivated, the foliage and the flowering can offer the best contrasts for a shade garden.

If you have the room put in a rhododendron, surround it with a few types of fern, and fill in the small spaces around these with lower growing hosta, then tuck flowers like begonia, impatiens, bleeding hearts and columbine in around each.  The bonus of a shade garden is that you don't have to water nearly as much, in some cases not at all.  Many shade plants are also perennial, like hosta and fern, columbine and bleeding heart.  One year spent putting together your shade garden and an annual trimming of dead branches and leaves and pruning of shrubs can be all it takes to have a beautiful space where previously there was a muddy pit, or a tangle of weeds.

When choosing plants look carefully at the tags or the descriptions in catalogs, watch for a little half-black sun symbol, or completely black sun.  These mean partial or full shade.

Catalog entry for shade or partial shade plant.

If you are truly at a loss on how best to plant in a shady space, you can always resort to a rock garden, or a water feature (which will benefit from the lack of sun and grow less algae).

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