In keeping with this blog’s theme about gardening as a source of pleasure, and to reflect the strong interest in shade gardens, I am pleased and honored to share this guest post with my readers.
The very shady area between the driveway and the back entrance to the red frame summer cottage had always been a problem. The cottage was built during the civil war and there were three very tall pine trees whose umbrella of branches and leaves hovered over the area, making it almost impossible for anything to grow there.
For years my mother-in-law, would vigorously scrape up the area with a rake, throw some seed down and wait for the grass to sprout. The first year there would be a nice lawn, the second year the lawn would be so-so, by the third year we were back to where we started: an area where nothing would grow.
When I inherited the garden, I wondered if there was a better way to use this space. I got a break shortly after when one of the tallest pine trees died, letting in the some much needed sun. I decided to create a woodland shade garden.
Along the house, a few very large hostas seemed very happy so I split them and added a few more to the basic frame for the garden. A cobblestone walkway leading from the driveway to the doorway bisected the garden and I decided to enclose the entire southern section (it received the most sun) and screen it so it had a concealed feeling.
I chose Arborvitae to block off the driveway and to create a barrier along the southern line and planted climbing hydrangeas, tying strings up to some nearby trees so the climbing foliage would be taller and denser.
A mix of rhododendron, ferns and azaleas were planted along the walkway and I introduced pebble paths that wandered through the foliage. One path leading from the walkway into the center of the southern garden became home to a green patio chair and table set. Various plants (annuals and perennials) surrounded this centerpiece, which also contained a small water fountain.
Slightly larger perennials, like coneflowers and Joseph’s Ladders, a woodsy Adirondack chair and a metal birdbath radiated out from the same center. The net effect was like being in a secret garden, although my granddaughter preferred to call it a fairy garden
The garden on the north side was still handicapped by a lot of shade and I planted it in a more conventional manner. The pebble path winds through hostas and English ivy and around its centerpiece, a small ivy-edged pond that is shaped like Lake Huron, apropos since the front of the cottage looks out on that magnificent lake.
There is an assortment of astilbe, ferns and other shade loving plants that occupy this area as well. Some few annuals – begonias, dahlias on a sunny edge - provide color and texture. Partially hidden statues of a child reading and an angel musing at the pond’s edge seem to be secrets a visitor – or grandchild – can discover.
Each year the garden grows, as I experiment with new plants and flowers, but this once barren ground is now alive and flourishing and giving a family and friends - as well as the gardener - pleasure.
Scientist, educator, and author Ronald Gauch, Phd. is retired Associate Dean and Associate Professor at Marist College, School of Management and Faculty member of the Center for Lifetime Study. He gardens both in Hyde Park, New York, across the way from the historic Vanderbilt Estate, as well as in Lexington, Michigan, on beautiful Lake Huron.
Links to Works by Ronald Gauch