Shady Situations

JUL 22
2013

You've planted trees. The woods have thickened around your house. Your neighbors built an addition (and you kind of wish they checked with you first). All of the sudden, you notice the sunny spot in your yard is now a shady spot. In the yard I grew up in, my family worked hard to create sun-loving gardens bordering a bricked pool area. Over time, trees in the surrounding landscape and wood line grew and their canopies greedily blocked our sunshine. While my sisters and I worried over the dwindling poolside tanning hours, my mom's concerns were not for her children's deficits, but for those of her plants. After years of cultivating a sunny garden, it was time to rethink the shifting landscape. Here are some lessons learned from this shady situation:

First, all the evidence points to a simple fact: there is not much room for the word "finished" in a gardener's vocabulary. This little truism calls for a "go with the flow" gardening attitude.  Some plants thrive, some may struggle, your landscape shifts, hungry critters visit, you make additions to your home; your life changes, your yard changes, and your gardening frame of reference will change in accord.

To be a flexible gardener, it is helpful to know a handful of plants that are also flexible. Tolerating both sun and shade, such plants include boxwood, holly, nandina, laurel and yew. These foundation-type shrubs are perfect for anchoring a landscape, creating a hedge or a privacy screen. Best of all, if the light changes in your yard, these plants won't mind.

When switching from planting in the sun to planting in the shade, you don't have to sacrifice color (my mom's major fear). Warm tones of reds, pink, peach and yellow could be represented by azaleas, astilbe, bleeding heart, foxglove, lamium or begonias. On the cooler side of the color wheel, hydrangea, rhododendron, columbine, plumbago, lungwort, monkshood, forget-me-nots, or woodland phlox offer blue, purple and lavender. And don't forget how striking white-bloomers are!

In addition to having numerous color options, another bonus of gardening in the shade is having fun with foliage. Many plants best suited for partial sun to shade come with some pretty cool leaves. These include: Japanese maple, hosta, ferns, coral bells, brunnera, Solomon's seal, creeping jenny, ajuga or coleus, all coming in different shades, shapes and textures.

Though the task seemed daunting at first, gradually adding shade tolerant plants completely and perfectly changed the look (and feel) of my mom's garden. So the lesson here is, when life throws you a curve (or a sweeping shade), you know what to do: Keep calm and garden on!

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