Tuesday, July 20, 2010

I've Got It Made in the Shade

Is there such a thing as a perfect garden?  After viewing many public gardens and some magnificent private ones, both large and small, in the past few years, I think there might be such a thing..  But I can assure you that if perfection exists, it's in someone else's garden---definitely not in mine. 

There is always a long list of unfinished chores to accomplish--weeding, edging, trimming, fertilizing, and on and on.  Or looking at the garden in bloom, I realize I need more color or different textures or some height.  Looking at the shade garden (above) in mid-April, I enjoyed the spring-flowering bulbs, but realized I should have planted more last fall.

But in mid-May, with the spring bloomers fading and the heart of this garden finally in full growth, I had a moment of bliss.  My shade garden, for me at least, is almost perfect.

I had just planted a small shady area at our old house, when we decided to move to the family farm in the late summer of 2004.  I didn't want to abandon all those new plants, so one fall weekend I dug most of them up and hastily transplanted them to the easiest shady spot I could find here--right next to a huge spruce tree.  They thrived in spite of fighting for water with the spreading roots of the spruce.

The pricey (at that time) 'Endless Summer' hydrangeas settled in as well as several other single specimen plants.  But the mainstays of the garden then and now are the hostas.  Most of them are NOIDS, being either passalongs or part of a "bargain bag" collection offered by a discount plant catalog. A few more were purchased later and added, but their tags are buried somewhere.  I wish I knew the name of this chartreuse hosta and where it came from, because it's my favorite. Serendipitously, it's at the center of a grouping of hostas.

Of course, I love the varied foliage of hostas, but I also enjoy the purple and white blooms that appear above them in mid-summer, adding a little color to an otherwise predominantly green landscape.

This shady area was very small, so in the fall after I retired, I decided to expand it, digging it up by hand and doubling its size.  It's still a small garden by most standards--I've said before not to expect any expansive sweeps of gardens if you visit here; all I really have are some flowerbeds situated hither and yon that I collectively call my "garden."  But for me, what the shade garden lacks in size, it makes up for in beauty. 

The next spring--two years ago--I decided to border the expanded area with old-fashioned coral bells.  Several very small, inexpensive plants were purchased that filled in only the center front of the garden.

But then I discovered the wonderful world of heucheras!  'Purple Palace,' 'Plum Pudding,' (I still don't remember which is which), 'Dolce Creme Brulee,' 'Key Lime Pie,' 'Tiramisu' all called out to me with their promises of no-calorie sweetness. The border is now filled with these, which I much prefer to the plain old coral bells.  (Though 'Key Lime Pie' has since disappeared--perhaps another hungry varmint thought it made a good dessert.)

And what better companion for hostas and heucheras than ferns. Only one Japanese painted fern was originally moved, then a few bareroot starts from the same discount catalog were planted. 

They did nothing for the first two years, but suddenly they have taken the leap and even multiplied.  Add to those, some passalong cinnamon ferns kindly given to me by Lisa, and I now have almost as many ferns as hostas.

Astilbe haven't fared as well here, but the constant rains of June gave my lone survivor a better start this year.

This area is actually what you would call dappled shade and gets a few hours of direct sunlight, making it possible to grow a sun-lover like this daylily glaring in the sun.

As you can see, everything is packed in tight here, meaning you must look closely or you might miss something.

This spring I noticed this stem coming up and wondered what it was.  Fortunately, I realized it wasn't a weed and left it alone.  On the garden walk last week, I saw much larger specimens of this plant and realized it was Solomon's Seal.  A few minutes of thought, and it came to me that this must have come in with the cinnamon ferns.  Thanks, Lisa, for the bonus plant!

Careful inspection on a dewy early morning may find heuchera blooms draped with glistening spiderwebs.

Often small creatures can be found hiding in the blooms or the foliage, like this daddy-long-legs on a hydrangea bloom.

Even stranger creatures might be found like this gift from Beckie.  Actually, I staged this photo, considering writing a parody of Stevie Smith's "Not Waving, But Drowning" for June's Muse Day post.  But as much as I like that poem, it's rather depressing for a Garden Muse Day, and Mr. Troll is far too jovial for gloomy thoughts.

Still, he does look as if he's drowning in this sea of lamium, doesn't he?  A few  lamium once bordered  the shade garden, but as they encroached upon other more desirable plants, I've moved them--and moved more of them--to a bare area underneath the spruce.  It's not looking this good right now, but in early June it certainly made me look like a gardener with a very green thumb.

As summer has progressed, the nearly perfect garden of May is showing some imperfections.  Tiny holes are evident in nearly every leaf, probably the work of earwigs, the worst infestation I've ever seen here.

Probably the biggest flaw, though, is of my own doing.  I keep buying plants and more plants, then "shoehorning" them into small bare spots ala Joy, without thinking about the size they will become when mature.  Spring sale impulse buys included this heucherella, 'Sweet Tea,' which fortunately fit into a small spot.

It was a tighter squeeze, though, for this peachy-bronze heuchera bought at the same sale.  'Southern Comfort' provides a little liquid refreshment to go with all those dessert heucheras:)

A much larger bare spot was found for another impulse purchase,  this Jacob's Ladder 'Snow and Sapphires."

But a few weeks later, when I added this pink caladium nearby,  there no longer was a spot of soil visible. Today as I look at the shade garden at the height of summer, I am beginning to think everything is much too crowded, and some thinning out needs to be done.  I think it's time to get out the spade again and head westward . . . or maybe northward . . .

Another example of  "it seemed like a good idea at the time" is this fountain given as a birthday gift by my daughters.  I loved this small water feature, and the blue is the perfect accent here in the shade garden.  There's only one problem--it's a solar fountain, and the water flows only when the sun is shining on the collector.  Oh well, it's still pretty to look at.

And finally, while I'm being critical, this garden lacks a focal point, unless you count the large 'Sum and Substance' hosta at the back of the garden.  I may have solved this problem, however, after a shopping trip to a garden center with Beckie yesterday . . . stay tuned for a later update.

Despite the obvious imperfections, I still enjoy this garden area where I have it made in the shade.

Thanks for hanging in here with me on this long post--I can't seem to stop talking once I start:)  But I hope it wasn't too bad, because I neglected to mention one obvious advantage to this area this hot summer-it's the only cool spot in the garden!


  1. This is a great post, Rose, and don't worry about being long! It's fun to see how your garden has evolved. Count me in on the fun of shoehorning stuff into a small space--I do that and I have large spaces, but they're jam-packed. I tell myself that helps keep the weeds down and the moisture in the soil. My story...feel free to use it too!

  2. Your shade garden is absolutely gorgeous! There is no such thing as perfection, and if there is, well then that is just way too much pressure. I love all of your heuchera - I only have one type in my yard (Fire fly). After seeing your beautiful collection, I definitely want to add more varieties to my yard (and now I want a shade garden) :)

  3. Good morning, Rose. I'm exactly the same way with my gardens. My plants are pretty tightly packed but I like that look. I hate seeing bare ground or bare mulch in a garden, it always looks raw to me, just don't like it.

    Love your fountain! I'd call that a focal point and the gazing ball too. Your hosta beds look great. Love the different colors and textures.

    You guys have been getting a lot more rain than we have. We need some really badly.

  4. I really like the long posts that really get to the meat and potatoes of the garden and gardener. It really comes thru just how you feel about this garden. It is lovely. A great tapestry of color and textures and most soothing in the shade. You have every right to be proud of it. And don't worry about finding spots for new plants. They have a way of working themselves out, you just wait and see and you'll know what I mean.

  5. Love your shade garden, Rose! The gazing ball, solar water feature, and gnome are just the best. And I can never get enough of coral bells. My two shady areas are my favorite beds, maybe because they're my smallest and most manageable beds!

  6. A fun post, Rose! I love the cottage garden look with all the plant babies tucked into their beds. I don't think there is such a thing as perfection in the garden--if it is perfect, it is only for a moment. The garden is always changing, and I find myself saying to visitors in the garden, "If you had only been here last week when the _________ were in bloom". I am trying to stop this annoying habit and just be happy with an ever changing (one might say fickle) garden. I do love the tour of your shade garden. I am finding my garden changing from sun-loving to a shady one. I think you have many points of interest in the garden with all your lovely accents; the water feature, the cute little knome, the gazing ball...and all those lovely plants.

  7. This is a delightful post Rose. I think your shade garden is perfect. Wow that ocean of lamium is beautiful. I can't seem to get it to take hold here. I have tried several different types. Thanks for the link love. Try to stay cool.

  8. I think it's universally true - perfection is always in someone else's garden. Your shade garden looks perfect to me. You ought to take a look at "The New Hosta Encyclopedia" by Grenfeld & Shadrack to ID your Hostas. I bet your chartreuse one is 'Gold Standard.' Love the gnome in the sea of Lamium! I really enjoyed this post.

  9. Rose.....it's beautiful, really beautiful. There is something quite magical about a shady border.
    I love the combination of plants. I can see you have taken care and thought with this bed. Solomon's seal is something I planted this year. I think it is a stunning plant and intend to add more next spring.

    BTW Rose.....Piet Oudolf says that hosta's will perform well if they have to fight for water. It also makes the leaves tougher, therefore, discouraging snails to have a chomp.......your lovely bed seems to prove he is absolutely right.....but then, of course, he would be. He is my hero.......as well as Mr P of course.

  10. Rose, It looks wonderful~and no soil showing means fewer weeds! I think you've found the perfect plants for your garden~Hostas, ferns and heuchera are combined beautifully in your garden~The gazing globe looks pretty snazzy, too.


  11. perfect or not, it's still beautiful. it's your own personal paradise. love it all <3

  12. With all of that eye candy, luscious names and all, gardening should be considered a great diet plan. Who has time (or money) to be hungry when we're always feeding that insatiable desire to plant more, more, and still more? Rose, your shade garden looks perfect to me, especially with that gift from your daughters.

  13. What a nice shady area you've got! I love the hostas very much, but my problem are the slugs! Grrrrr, yesterday I carried a lot of them to the wood and told them not to come back, else they end up dead. My hostas look like sieves *sniff*.
    Thank you for the nice trip through a cooler spot. I could use it, it's hot here too and my air conditioning is out of order.
    Have a cool day!

  14. Jodi, Thanks for the encouragement. I forgot to add the best part of packing plants in so tightly--there aren't many weeds that can grow here:)

    Tracy, I've given up on being perfect, too--too much stress:) I started loving heucheras two years ago, and now I can't get enough of them.

    Marnie, Every time I see a bare spot in my garden, I think "now what could I put there?" Yes, we're finally getting some rain--4 inches forecast for today, so I'd love to send a little of it your way. It's thundering now as I type.

    Tina, Thanks; my husband used to say I could turn a paragraph into a 3-page essay:) I'm thinking about moving some of those hostas, especially the variegated ones to another place next year. If I had a digging helper, I'd have room for everything!

    Monica, I have a lovely blue birdbath that once stood here, too, but some animal knocked it over and broke it. I'd love to get it fixed and add it here. Yes, this is the easiest bed to maintain.

  15. Jenny, Thanks for all those kind words. You're right--it is good to remember that the garden is always changing. The lovely lilies I had the last few weeks are finished blooming; I hope there will be something else to take their place.

    Lisa, Thanks; I don't know what makes the lamium do so well in this spot, but it's almost invasive here.

    MMD, Thanks for the tip on the book--I'll have to check that out. Somewhere I have tags for some of the newer hostas...if I could only find them. I think we're all the most critical of our own gardens.

    Cheryl, This is one garden area that hasn't had much careful planning; it just evolved. Glad to know I've been following Piet Oudolf's advice without even realizing it:) Slugs haven't been much of a problem here, but the June rains brought out lots of hungry critters that usually don't come here.

    Gail, hostas, heucheras, hydrangeas, and ferns--my idea of a perfect shady garden! Funny, I never liked gazing balls before, but this blue one has grown on me.

    Rachel, Thanks! What is most important is that we like our own gardens, right?

    W2W, The grocery budget has been cut, and the clothes budget slashed to next to nothing in order to buy more plants:) I was happy with my daughters' gift, too.

    Alex, I do hope those slugs took your advice and stayed away. And I hope your A/C works soon--I couldn't survive this summer without it!

  16. So beautiful, I love all the shades of greens and purples. I would be happy with just this patch as my only bit of garden! It's really lovely Rose :)

  17. I love your shade garden! You've made wonderful use of shading and colorful foliage. Also, it's good to plant shade plants closely because it maintains soil moisture in dry shady situations.

  18. Rose, As much as I love talking to you, I LOVE reading your posts. They are always fun, informative and full of delicious photos.

    I can attest to the beauty of your shade garden and to it being a lovley cool spot this summer. Looking at the spring photo and the now photos shows just how much those plantings can grow. But I like the full look and as you said less room for weeds.

    Thanks for such a lovely day on Monday. It was just what I needed-spending the day with my best friend talking gardening and plant shopping!

  19. I'm going to have to refer to this post again in future as we have a small bit of garden that is very shady and filled with nothing much at the moment. I was thinking about shrubs but seeing how wonderfully your hostas especially work I will rethink.

  20. I love shade plants and most of them have such pretty foliage that who needs any blooms. Your shade garden is really a gorgeous collaboration of texture, color and patterns. That fountain is really nice, too bad about the solar part, maybe move it to a sunnier spot? That variegated Jacob's Ladder caught my eye. I planted one last year and it never came up this spring. :(

  21. That does look like a perfect shade garden. I bet it's a nice retreat from this summer's heat.

  22. You have obviously put a lot of time and thought into your shade garden, Rose and it has paid off wonderfully. I love how you have packed so much in without it looking overcrowded.

    Your Hostas look lovely, Mine have always fallen foul of the snails but after seeing yours I am tempted to try some again.

    I have a shady area which may well benefit from some of your ideas. Thank you, Rose, you have given me much food for thought :)

  23. Hello Rose,

    I love your shade garden. I love the beauty of hosta leaves and wish that we could grow them here. I can see why it is the spot to enjoy yourself in the summer.

    I love your title picture with the coneflowers. In answer to your question, the flowers in my title photo are the flowers of the Desert Willow tree :-)

  24. Rose, it's looking just Wonderful!! You will soon have a chance to plant more bulbs... carefully. ;-)

    I cannot believe that lamium. I lament that it doesn't want to grow for me, but perhaps that's okay, too.

    Do you know where your solar fountain might be found by someone (me)?

  25. Beautiful flowers! you really have a healthy garden. Wish I can visit there some other time. Thanks for sharing.


  26. Your garden is beautiful so many wonders and I love the gnome and waterfall.

    Beautiful photographs!

    Thank you for sharing.

  27. You have a very pretty shade garden. there is such a great variety of foliage types and colours. That chartreuse hosta does look super at the centre, and is set off by the others around it. It's hard t stop at one Heuchera, when there are so many lovely types. You are fortunate that your Japanese painted ferns spread for you. I love these ferns, but here they are small and slow growing. The fluffy astilbe flowers look cute popping up between the other leaves. They do like their moisture. You also lucked out with a volunteer or stowaway Solomon's seal.

  28. What a wonderful tour of your shade garden, Rose.

    Back in the spring, I planted 'Key Lime Pie'....hope it doesn't do a disappearing act like yours did. Although I did see that something/someone has nibbled on it.

    I have just one Japanese painted fern that was planted last summer. It's grown some this year and I'm hoping that next year it will take off like yours have.

    The sea of lamium is totally gorgeous...luv it.

    Earwigs are all over the place. A few have even made their way inside the house. Why is it that they only munch on certain kinds of hostas?

    The foliage on your 'Snow and Sapphires' is so pretty.

    The touches of blue in your garden fit in beautifully. I didn't know there was such a thing as a solar fountain, but then I know nothing about fountains.

    Yes, you certainly do have it made in the shade. Enjoy.

    donna - Note: my verification word is rosess.

  29. Delightful tour watching your shade garden grow, Rose. My shade garden is my favorite! So happy to hear Thelma & Louise are again on the prowl and will be anxious to again see/admire your next post.

  30. I like the tightly-packed look too Rose - I strive for it here!

    Your shade garden is truly gorgeous. Your hosta looks like it might be Guacamole.

    Thank heavens for shade this hot, hot summer!

  31. I LOVE the combo of plants you have for your shade garden. It's really lovely and you should be darn proud of it!

  32. Suburbia, I think this is my favorite garden area--so cool and peaceful.

    Rose, I didn't know that about maintaining moisture--thanks for the info!

    Beckie, I hope you enjoyed Monday as much as I did. And I always appreciate your ideas on my garden.

    Liz, It's surprising how many plants actually prefer shade; hope this gives you some ideas for your own garden.

    Racquel, The shade garden has taught me to appreciate the beauty of foliage as much as any blooms. Oh dear, I hope my Jacob's Ladder returns next year.

    Sarah, Yes, it's the only garden area I care to work in after 9 AM:)

    Songbird, Glad you can use some of these ideas. This garden has evolved on its own more than following a plan:)

    Noelle, The shade garden is my own little cool retreat; no, I doubt this would work in Arizona:) Thanks for the i.d.

    Shady, The solar fountain came from Target, and best of all it wasn't too expensive. I've been known to plant bulbs on top of bulbs:)

    Flower, Thanks for stopping by.

    Wild Magnolia, Thank you; my friend told me I had to have a garden gnome:)

    Northern, The Japanese ferns have not spread like the others, but they finally have grown after a few years of seemingly staying the same size.

    Donna, I still haven't figured out what happened to 'Key Lime,' unless I accidentally dug it out while bulb planting. The solar fountain is nice because I don't have an electrical connection nearby.

    Joey, You have such a lovely shade garden that I appreciate the compliment. Thelma and Louise haven't been on quite so many outings this year, but we're trying to find more time.

    Linda, I've seen 'Guacamole' and I wondered if this was it. Yes, I am so tired of the heat!

    Jean, Thanks so much! This garden isn't planned so much as it is a case of buying something I like and then finding a place for it:)

  33. So pleased I found your site - from cate
    we have a lot in common - in my new small home by the woods I am once again creating a garden.
    I will return.

  34. Your shade garden is gorgeous!
    It reminded me of one I used to have until lighting struck my 100+ year old Ash tree. My shade garden burned up! I replanted the Ash but it will be years before my shade garden returns....
    the ways of the garden... always changing.

  35. Rose, I LOVE LOVE LOVE your shade garden! If I had to choose a garden, I'd pick shade over sun any day. I'm a big foliage lover, though, so that probably explains that. Yours is exquisite.

  36. Your shade garden is amazing! -- so many wonderful colors and textures.


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