Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Light & Colour: Gardening for Shade Part I

Now that May has arrived and people are eager to get back outside in into their gardens, I find that I am solicited for gardening advice on a daily basis. One of the most common questions I am asked is: "What do you suggest for a shade garden?" Well, this post is part of a response, and will hopefully provide some inspiration to those with shaded gardens. I have a little bit of everything at my house, but I have really come to enjoy playing with my shaded spots. Though my favorite plants are those that like to be baked in poor soils and sun, shade gardens let me play with texture and colour to a greater degree.  

One of my gardens, and it gets all degrees of sun. A work in progress.
First of all, you need to clarify what you mean by "shade." Is it dappled shade, part shade, bright shade, or full shade? Dappled shade is bright and may even get a bit of direct sun, though nothing substantial. Part shade is best thought of as an area that gets 3-5 hours of sun per day, most of which is in the morning. Full shade doesn't get any direct sunlight, though how shaded it is may fall on a spectrum from bright to deep. You also want to keep soil and topography in mind. Shaded areas often have  more moisture in their soil, and if the soil hasn't been worked in a while you may be dealing with clay. You also want to be keenly aware of where water may pool because the last thing you want to do is drown your new plant! Lastly, come to terms with the fact that in the shade, you will be dealing with slugs. No getting around that one.

An old picture now, but this is my patio.
Once you have determined what kind of shade you are dealing with, you can start thinking about plants. The good news is, if you have bright, dappled, or part shade, there are many things you can plant. If it is full shade, especially deep shade, things will be trickier. If you are wanting flowers in a shade garden, your options are a bit limited and are often a bit more expensive, but nonetheless worth the investment. Below is a list of late Spring and Summer flowering options that are perennial, though begonias and fushias also come in annual forms. by no means is this an exhaustive list, but rather a few of my obsessions and some uncommon options. We all know that hydrangeas  clematis, fushias, oriental lilies, and hellebore thrive in shaded areas. I want to give you something a bit more unique.


Kirengeshoma palmata: A deciduous shrub, 3' or 4' tall and wide. Gets unique waxy and spongy bright yellow bell shaped flowers against medium sized prehistoric-looking bright green foliage. Blooms mid-summer on into early fall. Part shade to full shade. 

One of my trilliums. This one blooms red.
Trillium: Provincial flower of Ontario! But out here on the West Coast, trillium is not so common. In fact, in the Vancouver gardening community, it is thought to be a collector's plant. Deciduous and dormant in the summer, it in clump forming and grows to about 1'. Delicate flowers with three petals against large lobed and waxy leaves in Spring (so much better than a tulip!). The most common variety blooms white and fades to pink or burgundy, but red, purple, and soft yellow varieties are also available. Dappled shade is best.

Actea/Cimicifuga: Amazing enough just for the contrast with its dark foliage (usually deep purple or black), and super fun to say. Also known as "snake root," actea gets long plumes of (usually) white flowers in summer. At the Nursery we call it the "Hippie Plant" because the flowers smell like patchouli and incense. LOVE IT! Grows to 4' tall and wide, and prefers part shade. 

Ligularia: The only ligularias that I feel are worth suffering through the slug damage for are those that get the amazing bright yellow bottle-brush plumes of flowers on them. Ergo, get stenocephala ("The Rocket") or przewalskii ("Dragon Wings"). Stenocephala gets 5.5' tall with the flowers, and 3' wide and flowers mid- to late summer. Przewalskii gets just as big, flowers late spring to early summer, and seems to be slug resistant! Part shade to full shade. 

Astilbe: A deciduous woodland shrub (if you can call it that) that gets to be about 2'. Spears of delicate flowers in the summer. Part shade. Compliments ligularias and actea for a unique woodland look. 

The green is one of my acanthus'. It has 2 flower stalks already! 
Acanthus: I. Am. Obsessed. With acanthus. It gets huge--4' or 5' wide over time--and it gets columns of white and purple sharp-toothed flowers in the summer. To me, acanthus is one of those plants that has flowers that are as cool as its foliage. The leaves are thick and strong and also get a little pokey over time. For those of us who love dangerous-looking plants like agaves and cacti but live with a shaded garden, this plant is perfect. Variegated varies seem to be more tempting to slugs than the green ones (or at least this is the case at my place). Part shade to full shade. 

Cardiocrinum Gigantium: The 7' tall, super rare Himalayan lily that takes seven years to come into bloom. If you find it, BUY IT! It'll be expensive, but then you have a truly coveted plant. And it self seeds! Part shade.

My arisaema is in the process of unfurling.
Arisaema: Cobra lilies super cool flowers that easily form a clump in part shade . The plant looks pretty hideous as they emerge from the ground in the spring, but as they slowly unfurl they become this neat and exotic-looking large pitcher-like flower with amazing dark colouring. The foliage is large waxy lobes, so you get a bit of shine in your garden. Grows to about 1' and blooms in late spring.

Begonias: Begonias...have been hard for me to come to appreciate. I find they are often done up a bit too "Granny," or that they are just shoved into city planters because they are cheap, colourful, and bloom into the fall--no thought, no love. But, every plant has a purpose, and begonias humbly serve theirs. I planted some salmon orange coloured ones in a window box the other day with some eggplant-coloured coleus , silver dichondra, and a touch of white allysum and you know what, they look great. If you get begonias, get the non-stop tuberous ones because in the fall you can dig up the corms, through them in some vermiculite in a closet, and save them until next Spring. Easy. JUST DON'T MAKE IT LOOK LIKE GRANNY'S!!!!!!!

That's about all I have for flowery plants. I'll follow this up with a post about foliage for shade, and trust me, this is where it gets REALLY good. 

No comments:

Post a Comment