This month's Design Workshop topic at Gardening Gone Wild is of constant concern in my garden: shade. I deal with it all year long, thanks to the seasonal changes to my deciduous trees and the constant shadows thrown by the house itself and the surrounding fences. On one hand, I'm happy to have mature, beautiful trees on my property, which are a rarity in my suburb where most subdivisions have scraggly saplings at best. On the other hand, my garden is already afflicted with nutrient-poor, hard-packed, poorly drained clay. Adding shade to those conditions is the proverbial insult to injury.
I've tried to find the silver lining, however, despite my thwarted attempts at growing vegetables, sunflowers, and the like. I'm a flower fan, so I have learned to appreciate woodland flowers, which are usually spring-bloomers but make up for their relatively short bloom time by displaying extremely unique flowers. There are a number of Dicentra species perfect for part shade. I grow D. spectabilis and D. eximia, and I look forward to adding D. cucullaria soon. As I've said before, it never ceases to amaze me that a flower evolved to have such a shape as a heart dripping blood! I love the fuzzy foliage of Astilbe, which is perfectly complemented by the panicles of flowers. And many woodland flowers dangle, such as shooting stars (Dodecatheon meadia) and columbines (Aquilegia spp.). These flowers don't shout for attention like peonies, daisies, or bee balm, but they're so lovely they don't have to. They just brighten up those shadowy garden spots.
(Aquilegia canadensis in a partially shady location)
For the later part of the growing season, foliage is really the way to spice up shady areas. There is no need for me to re-hash how varied and creative the Heuchera genus has become. The options with these plants are endless, and you'll get some more dangling flowers too! Of course Hostas fall into the same category, but aside from those stalwarts there are ferns that provide rich color, interesting variegation, and tactile texture. Personally, I never get tired of a Japanese painted fern (Athyrium niponicum). For truly colorful foliage, annual Coleus is a quick and easy solution.
(Everyone loves a Heuchera)
Like most gardeners, I still struggle with dry shade. I continually try Midwestern savanna plants (i.e., those shooting stars, columbines, and others like Polemonium) because they'll at least have a chance of surviving. I cherish the sunny parts of my yard where I have much more latitude with my plant choices, and I've taken to growing vegetables in containers because that's the only way to maximize the sunniest part of my yard. (The gas line runs directly underground on the south side of the house. Why is fate so cruel?) But I try to view the shade challenge as just that--a constant learning experience that has a definite silver lining!