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Entries in shade plants (5)


Barren Dry Shade Can Become a Garden; a book review for

Planting the Dry Shade Garden  Graham Rice, Timber Press,

Dry shade can be a serious obstacle for gardeners attempting to design beautiful flowerbeds. Not only is it difficult to establish flourishing plants under these conditions, but it is also a challenge to make such a garden beautiful. Homeowners, who have attempted this project on their own, are often stymied and frustrated. Finally, we have a useful gardening handbook that focuses solely and realistically on this problem.

In some gardens, barren dry shade may be the result of mature trees creating a natural umbrella that blocks sun and rain. Tree roots that permeate growing beds, so that plants have difficulty thriving, may further exacerbate this situation. Sometimes, walls that create shade for part of the day, or a location with a northern exposure, also may be contributing factors. Whatever the cause, and there are more, the author offers suggestions.

Ostensibly, this publication lists the best plants for the most inhospitable, toughest spots in the garden. It is also a work of encouragement; it urges the reader not to give up, to rethink ones strategy, and to come to terms with nature.

The author has wisely framed the intent of the book. The reader must first understanding the problem before adapting recommended techniques. Realistically, all that can be done with the guidance he supplies, is to take the edge off drought and poor light.

To achieve that goal, the reader must understand the variability of shade and available moisture. Accurate information about one’s own ecological conditions enables gardeners to take appropriate steps to improve a site for planting. Sometimes, strategic pruning or trimming can contribute to diminishing the problem. Often, the situation may be alleviated by building raised beds, by installing irrigation, and by applying mulch regularly.

However, these options are only the beginning of a strategy. For best results, gardeners need to know which plants will survive in dry shade and they must select those that are appropriate for their specific conditions and growing zones. For example, some plants will benefit from the sun exposure they receive in early spring before overhead trees leaf out to create impenetrable shade.

What is undeniable is that, with few exceptions, floriferous plants with long blooming periods are not realistic options. Furthermore, the chances are unlikely that one might have masses of colorful blooms all season long, similar to the intensity achievable in a sun or part sun garden. Therefore, the dry shade gardener will focus on attractive foliage and delicate, seasonal blooms that are the features of the authors list of recommended plants.

Most of the book is dedicated to discussing the plants that have proven successful under the harsh conditions of dry shade. The reader will discover 11 shrubs, 5 climbers, 21 perennials, 15 ground covers, 4 bulbs, and 3 annuals/biennials, plus a list of 17 British, and 15 American, native plants.

Readers should feel confident that these recommended plant would be more than sufficient to produce a wide variety of plant combinations to make attractive, meaningful gardens out of inhospitable, challenging locations.

Graham Rice is an internationally known plantsman and the award-winning writer of more than 25 gardening books. With a degree in horticulture from the Royal Botanical gardens, Kew, England, Mr. Rice gardens in dry shade on both sides of the Atlantic in Pennsylvania, Zone 5 and Northamptonshire , England, Zone 8.




Puny Perennial Packs Powerful Punch

When can a very short, pale flower make us stop for a second glance? When that plant is Tiarella Spring Symphony!

It didn’t take much convincing to add it to my shopping cart when I first saw it in bloom at the nursery. Although, the fragrant flowers eventually paled in my sundrenched garden, it added needed color and gentle foaming bottle - brush texture at the beginning the season when most other perennials are not yet ready to bloom. When moved to a shadier spot, the pale spikes were transformed into glowing baby pink candles. Another striking feature is its multi lobed olive foliage painted black along its mid ribs. The visual detail of this plant when it is not in bloom is dramatic.

A bonus is the fact that Tiarella Spring Symphony flowers longer than most other plants. Although it is sold as a spring perennial, its initial bloom period can span an entire month and, if deadheaded, it may continue to re bloom until August. This is of enormous significance to flower bed designers.

In my test garden, the plant has proven to be a very reliable work horse in spite of its diminutive size. The foliage mounds up to only 6 inches in height while the flowering spikes add another 10 inches. The plant has stood up to excessive heat, blazing sun, and very cold winters. I have even planted it in dryish soil that was totally inappropriate and it didn't complain. Best yet, T. Spring Symphony, also recommended as a ground cover, doesn’t spread. This variety of Tiarella is neat and compact. Each mature mound will displace only 10 inches in diameter. For that reason, some gardeners prefer to plant Spring Symphony is compositions of three. When I used it in a collage, I planted only one but made certain to repeat it three times across the span of my design.

Adding this plant to a shade garden composition is like turning on a lamp in a dark room. I can only imagine how it will perform if used as ground cover.


Plants for Designing Anti-erosion Gardens on Shaded Slopes in USDA Zone 4  

Hemerocallis image from

A reader once contacted me for advice about landscaping a bare slope that received little sun. Her concern was that the slope would erode eventually because whatever she had planted on it would get washed away whenever it rained. I sent her a list of plants that might prove helpful in solving the problem and have posted their images throughout this blog.

Achillea image from

Bare slopes may be eroded by heavy rain if the wrong plants are selected. When landscaping surfaces such as these, it’s a good idea to choose plants that have proven effective in erosion control.

Image of Hosta from

Planting Hosta would be one good choice. Its arching foliage acts as an umbrella to shelter the earth thereby preventing the pounding rain from breaking up surface soil and sending it streaming downhill.

Image of one of several large leaf Hosta from

Some of the larger varieties of Hosta have an enormous foliage spread that makes them very desirably for such projects.

Image of ferns from

Another shaded - slope anti-erosion solution is to use perennials and shrubs that, just like Hosta, have thick fleshy roots that grip the soil during rainstorms in order to remain stationary.

Chelone image from

Several useful and attractive plants that grow in shade or part shade are available to help prevent erosion.

Ornamnetal grass Pennisetum image from

When combined together, they create beautiful compositions because of the interplay between the surface interest of their foliage and the variations in color, shape, and tone of their leaves.

Image of Lamium from

Some of these plants, like Hosta and Lamium, are naturally variegated.

Image of Geranium macrorrhizum variegatum from

Others, like Geranium macrorrhism and Pachysandra are available with two choices of foliage. One is solid green and the other is variegated.

Pachysandra variegata image from

For an infusion of rich eye - candy in the garden, consider using the variegated varieties whenever possible.

Image of Ornamental grass Carex from

Variegation raises the bar for composition by providing a rich and effective contrast to the solid green foliage of other plants.

Heuchera Bressingham

The Heuchera family has an even more extensive selection of foliage.

Heuchera Hercules Some varieties have solid green leaves while others are mottled green, combined with white or another color.

Heuchera Peach Crisp http://

There is also a large selection of Heuchera with colored foliage in shades that range into many tones of wine, peach, purple and gold. Shown above is a peach variety called Peach Crisp.


By combining several different species of plants in a variety of textures, shapes, surface interests, and colors, one can enhance the design of any shade garden composition, be it on a slope or otherwise.


However, it is also true that some of the most spectacular designs have been created when only one or two contrasting plants have been used. Some garden designers, and especially landscape architects, often prefer to use only one species in order to make a dramatic statement. In gardening, as in all other creative endeavors, there are always several ways to execute a design.



Bugged by Bugbane or How a Perennial Has Made me Feel Like a Newbie Gardener. I placed an opening order last season with my supplier, I asked him to include two pots of any perennial that was new to the market. My only criterion was that it be tall. He sent me Bugbane! [How I hate that name!] This part – shade perennial was once called Cimicifuga in Latin. Now, high tech genealogical studies have convinced botanists to rename it Actaea.

The cultivar I received, Actaea ramosa Pink Spike, is a part-shade perennial. What makes it different from the other Actaea, which I had eschewed for many years, is its color. It blooms in pale pink rather than in white and I expect that in a full shade garden, its pale coloration will improve. This plant grows to an impressive height of 48 inches, and provides subtle color to the autumn garden, especially at a time when summer perennials have waned. I find fascinating about this plant is how rarely I see it used in partial - shade gardens. Could it be that it is shunned because it is a magnet for flies or other bugs? Actaea are clump – forming architectural plants with broad, textural leaves that produce bottle - brush type blooms. Online research indicates that the blooms remain upright when they flower but bend like a swan’s neck as they age. The bronze - purple color of this variety’s foliage helps to both enhance the pale pink shade of the flower and to provide polite drama for the flower bed. Because the perennial is a magnet for bugs, hence its name, it is best to plant it as far away as possible from doors and from windows that remain open.

actaea ramosa pink spike bloms bulbs.comPink Spike will make a substantial statement on its own, even when newly planted, because its height, shape, form, texture, and leaf coloration are impressive. Nevertheless, I would prefer not to grow it as a specimen. I like it best in a composition of several of the same plant or placed among other partial – shade perennials that have ceased blooming. The interplay between its foliage and that of other plants adds visual interest to the garden. was a mistake to allow the two Actaea plants I received to remain in their pots for as long as they did. By the time they were planted, they were spent. The one in my garden appeared to be alive in autumn, but the other one, planted in a client’s garden, will have to be replaced. When it died last September, I imagined that it might have become dehydrated by remaining pot – bound for so long or that it might have gone dormant early. I will only have a true explanation in a few weeks from now when most perennials revive. At this moment, I have not yet accumulated any understanding about the plant’s characteristics. In that respect I am a newbie; growing Bugbane is a new learning experience.


'Ghost Spirit' a Surprising Perennial

One of the challenges of writing a gardening blog is to find the most appropriate picture to illustrate a topic. I have not been very successful at finding a suitable image for this entry. You will have to examine  the picture very closely to see the subtle swirling leaf variegation that caught my eye. I have deliberately oversized this image so that you might get a better look.

I first spotted Hosta Ghost Spirit in the check-out basket of a customer in line behind me at the nursery. I left the line in order to add this plant to my basket and several other customers did the same. There can be no better recommendation than that.

I purchased this plant because its leaves remind me of what happens when a baker pours chocolate batter into vanilla batter and begins to blend the two. About three quarters of the way through the process, the dark and light colored batters create misty marbling. They are not quite chocolate yet and certainly no longer vanilla. That is the best way to describe the beautiful swirling pattern that occurs on this Hosta leaf in misty blue-green and cream. I will plant it in my garden to see how it performs before including it in my repertoire of favorite perennials.

My research tells me that the leaf of this Hosta starts out white and marbles as it matures. If grown in sun, the variegation will disappear and turn to misty green. To maintain the subtle variegation, this plant needs to grow in shade.