CITY GARDENERS OFTEN lament that with each passing year their gardens are becoming more and more shaded. Others complain that surrounding buildings block the sunlight.
When dealing with shade, lack of light is not the only factor to consider. Often, inadequate moisture is a concern, too. The canopy of a large tree or the overhang of a house can act as an umbrella, deflecting rainfall away from the ground beneath it.
Soil fertility may also be a problem. The roots of trees and shrubs quickly use up available nutrients in the soil. Most shade-tolerant plants prefer a well-drained, fertile soil, so if your soil is sandy or claylike, add lots of organic matter, such as peat moss, compost or well-rotted manure.
The trick to creating a beautiful, made-for-the-shade garden is to choose plants that enjoy that environment. And, there are lots of plants that tolerate low light and some that actually thrive in it. Know which plants are most likely to succeed. Here are some of my favourites:
A plant for all seasons
For colour throughout the season, annuals can’t be beat. Impatiens are a dependable standby. To light up a shady nook, I like the robust New Guinea types that sport brightly variegat- ed foliage and neon colours.
Another must-try is the begonia “baby dragon wing.” This is a new mini form that is easy to grow, very heat-tolerant and blooms continuously.
For something a little different, try mimulus (monkey flower). The blooms have interesting spots and come in a variety of colours.
One of my favourite shade perennial standbys is the maiden- hair fern (Adiantum pedatum). Although delicate looking, it is really very tough. It is happiest in moist, rich, well-drained soil.
And what would a shade garden would be without hostas? Thumbelina is a dainty little plant that has medium green leaves with a creamy-white margin and lavender flowers.
Touch of grass
Ornamental grasses are very popular right now. However, there are few that grow in shaded conditions. Carex, although technically a sedge, is a good substitute. It has grasslike, finely textured foliage that arches into moppish mounds.
If you are looking for an attractive ground cover, try bugleweed, especially under trees where grass is difficult to grow. “Chocolate chip” is a newer variety that has narrow foliage and is a dwarf with very tight growth habit. Lady’s mantle (Alchemilla) is a flower arrangers dream with its greenish gray foliage and chartreuse flowers. Faeroensis “pumila” is a dwarf variety with a very tight mounding habit.
With a little bit of forethought, it is possible to create a lovely shade garden by choosing the right plant for the right place. Most garden centres have a section devoted to shade-loving plants. You’ll have no problem finding varieties to suit your taste and garden. The real problem will be trying to limit how many you buy!