As the summer heat wave begins, we stake our claim in the shade. Whether it is an afternoon conversation, reading on a blanket or watching the kids play in the yard; the shady areas of your garden can be more than just a dark corner. Beautifully landscaped; this refreshing destination can also become an alluring retreat away from the intense summer rays. With proper planning, plant selection and hardscaping; this area can be appreciated for more than just a place to rest.
The concept of a shade garden need not conjure images of dank mud and mosquitoes. First, view the shady area from all sides and at different times of the day. Is the sun exposure full shade or bright shade with blasts of direct sun in the morning or late afternoon? Selecting plants specifically for the time of day that they receive light and noting the duration of exposure can improve the sustainability of the plantings. Plants that can thrive in morning sun light and look great in the shade include:
- Fuchsia magellanica ‘Conica’, ‘Edith’, ‘Globosa’, or ‘Gracilis Variegata’ are some of the larger and more cold tolerant specimens of hardy fuchsia
- Dicentra spectabilis ‘Gold Heart’ or ‘Alba’ for flowers that stand out in the shade
- Hosta ‘Sum & Substance’, ‘Guacamole’, ‘June’, or ‘Patriot’ that overflows with texture
- Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’ with endearing, silver, heart-shaped leaves
In the hotter afternoon sun these plants can become droopy and limp from overexposure. Tougher shade
plants that can receive the short blast of afternoon sun include:
- Epimedium varieties that also do well in dry shade, E. x rubrum has a striking red edge
- Geranium ‘ Ann Folkard’ that combines striking magenta flowers set against lime foliage
- Polystichum munitum for strong vertical presence and a tough evergreen specimen
Next, what is the cover and backdrop of this dark area? Are you planting against a stump, fence, or evergreens? Sometimes this shady area presents itself visually as large dark blob. Look closely and dissect out the most nebulous sector. For this area, entertain the idea of adding plants that contain their own light combined with incredible texture. Choose plants that contrast with their surroundings; orange impatience against the moss covered stump, the dark glossy green leaves of Acanthus caroli-alexandri against a silvered-cedar fence or variegated Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’ Japanese forest grass nestled among evergreens. These perennials are gleaming rock stars on this dark stage and ignite the shadows. If tree branches are covering this area, hang interesting art to turn in the breeze and add movement, life, and drama. Critters of the covered world include frogs, spiders, and turtles, to name a few. Add a brightly colored, glazed ceramic frog to peek from among the cover of round Ligularia dentata leaves, a 3’ giant metal spider can be suspended from an overhanging branch, a family of turtles made with glass tile mosaic shells can be a project to create with the kids.
If your own home creates this shady space then purchase a vibrant outdoor canvas from a fabric store and staple it to a frame for stunning weatherproof outdoor art. Get drastic; cut and form a triangular hole in the hedge to serve as a portal of light to create a peek-a-boo view of a distant hill or an interesting scene. Create a shaft of sunlight by removing a vertical series of overhead branches. Enable this spotlight to reflect more sparkle by placing the splashy, evergreen Aucuba japonica ‘Goldstrike’ or an oversized ceramic container filled with Hedera colchica ‘Dentata Variegata’ (that you promise to keep at bay) to create a spectacle each day. Lanterns, tiki torches, or even tea candles in mason jars suspended from branches can add light and romance to the evening party.
After all of your observations, planting and correct placement of hardscape features, don’t forget the space for your chairs & table, hammock, or lounge chair to relish the cool & refreshing haven you have created.