One great pleasure of gardening is creating beauty by combining plants in the perfect microclimate. The subtle nuances of many environmental factors are part of the challenge that makes gardening a constant adventure. Each day I learn something new about the plants around me.
Perhaps growing up in a desert makes me appreciate one special place in the garden. My favorite area has always been the shade. Shade gardens offer comfort and protection from the sun and heat. Cool oases are so inviting and are perfect places to escape the rigors of summer.Not all plants are suitable for shade gardens. Wrong selections soon become weak and spindly and stop growing. Yet the right plants make a delightful creation. These come from throughout the world yet have the same characteristic of being understory plants that do not tolerate the intense direct sun. Fortunately, there are hundreds of wonderful choices.
Annuals, biennials, perennials and woody shrubs, vines and trees can all add to these beautiful designs. Combinations of these diverse plants can create a cool, inviting retreat that adds immensely to our enjoyment.
Traditional annuals for shade include impatiens, wax and fibrous begonias and coleus. Others that work well with some degree of shade include alyssum, ageratum, balsam, Belles of Ireland and clarkia. Godetia, lobelia, nicotania, stocks and vinca add to these gardens. Useful biennials include pansies, violas, sweet Williams and Canterbury bells.
Suitable groundcovers include Aaron's beard, barren strawberry, bishop's weed, ajuga, creeping Oregon grape, English ivy and lamb's ear. Add leadwort, houttuynia, periwinkle, pachysandra, sweet woodruff and winter creeper euonymus to provide the carpet for this special garden.
Perennial flowers are the real backbone of the shade garden. Dozens of choice plant varieties add beauty and literally create the shade garden. All shade environments include several factors and water needs can be critical.
Plants that thrive in dry shade include epemediums, hardy cyclamen, lamium, vinca major and lamiastrum. Lunaria, digitalis and some bergenias also work.
Most shade gardens tend to be moist. Often ferns work well and are almost synonymous with shade. Equally well adapted are the hostas. These spectacular plants derive their great beauty from their rich foliage. Leaf color may be gray to bright green, variegated, striped or speckled. Flowers appear but are secondary to the leaves. Add bruinnaia, berginia and aruncus for additional interesting foliage.
Columbines add height and great beauty to these gardens. Other plants with strong vertical lines include acanthas, delphiniums, monkshood, digitalis, garden phlox, lupines and ligularia. Add different shapes with corydalis, coralbells, hellebores, bleeding hearts, pulmonarias, Japanese anenomes, amsonia, lady's mantle and many campanulas.
Shrubs that flourish in shade include several natives. Red twig and yellow twig dogwood, ninebark, thimbleberry, mountain lover and snowberry all do well with filtered light. Barberry, boxwood, euonymus, laurels and yews are tried and true performers. Kolkwitzia, Oregon grape, mock orange, honeysuckle and some viburnums also tolerate some shade. For something a little more unusual try hydrangeas, Japanese maples and even a few azaleas and rhodo-den-drons.
Choose shade-tolerant trees from among those that grow in the understory of the forests. This leaves out the invaders and the very large conifers. Use these plants to create the shade for your garden. Within the garden itself use tricolor and selected weeping beeches; serviceberry; Japanese, vine and hedge maples. Alder, white and river birches, redbud and some willows are also shade tolerant. Conifers that take the same conditions are larch, Douglas fir and arborvitae, but all outgrow most shade gardens quickly. For a special specimen, consider dogwood or magnolia.
Shade can be a valuable commodity. It not only protects tender plants, it can also protect tender gardeners and make their lives a little easier and more pleasant. Never make the excuse that it is just too shady for anything to grow. That excuse is only for pseudo-gardeners who are too lazy to learn more about the plants that flourish with protection from the sun.
If all the plants mentioned above are not familiar, remember some nurseries carry more than a thousand perennials, many of which will tolerate shade. For more information get the publication "Selected Perennials for the Wasatch Front," available at the Salt Lake County Extension Service office at 2001 S. State, Room S-1200, Salt Lake City, UT 84190-2350. Cost is 75 cents at the office or $1.50 by mail.