My yard is dominated by large trees of varying types. Oaks, hickories, maples, white pines; beautiful majestic beings that provide coolness in summer and protection from harsh winter winds. As a gardener, I have learned that while the shade these trees provide limits my choices from plant lists, I can still create a beautiful garden where soft colors weave in and out and create an atmosphere of coolness, serenity and calm.
One important technique to achieve visual interest in the shade garden is variation in elevation. I love Thalictrum ‚ÄòElin,’ with its height up to seven feet and its soft, lacy leaves. Purplish stems topped with lavender flowers and blue-green foliage give color variety as well as height. ‚ÄòElin’ will be happiest with a few hours of sunlight. Find a spot under a high tree canopy and you will be rewarded by her charms.
A. pachypoda ‚ÄòMisty Blue’
Another vertical plant is Actaea pachypoda ‚ÄòMisty Blue,’ also know as white baneberry or Doll’s Eyes. This eastern U.S. native forms a mound of almost blue tinted foliage with stalks of white flowers in the spring, reaching 2-3 feet. When the flowers fade, small white fruits with distinctive black dots in the center form on the stalk, thus the name ‚ÄòDoll’s Eyes.’ The fruit is readily consumed by birds but the entire plant is highly resistant to deer.
H. americana Dale’s Strain
Moving down to lower level plants, every shade garden needs to have heuchera, and one of the best is Heuchera americana Dale’s Strain. Also derived from a native plant, Dale will benefit from a higher canopy. The plant can grow to a foot tall, with white flower stalks of up to 24″ tall. But it is the beautiful marbled foliage that makes this plant stand out in the garden.
You don’t have to rely only on pachysandra as a groundcover in the shade garden. Pulmonaria, particularly a variety such as ‚ÄòSilverado’ with its silvery leaves, is a great substitute. Don’t forget all the many varieties of epimedium, with its dainty foliage, and about as trouble free a plant as you can find. And plant breeders have been providing us with new varieties of Japanese forest grass, Hakonechloa, with varieties such as Beni Kaze, All Gold, and Macra.
And, all of the above are deer resistant. What more could a gardener ask for? Go forth, plant, and while others wilt in the heat, revel in the glory of the shade garden.
==Sally Hemsen, President, Friends of The Frelinghuysen Arboretum