by Sharleen Pratt, Master Gardener in Training
Now that the colder weather has arrived and the days are shorter, it’s time to dream about next year and possibly plan a new garden. Do you despair at the challenges surrounding a shade garden? We can enjoy the cooling effects of the shade and experience a garden that regales all of the senses. When choosing plants, consider interesting foliage and texture rather than solely depending on flower colour.
If you are planting under mature trees, especially non-native maples you must always remember that those vigorous, feeder roots quickly out-compete new transplants for water and nutrients. Every fall add several layers of shredded leaves as well as compost for additional nutrients. Remember to water often the first year.
There are many wonderful bulbs that would give you that burst of colour in the early spring before the trees get their leaves. The sun coming through the branches in early spring is perfect for encouraging Daffodil (Narcissus hybrids), Grape Hyacinth (Muscari botryoides) and Siberian Squill (Scilla Siberica) to flower before the tree canopy is in full leaf.
Hosta (Plantain Lily) are a must have in a shade garden and provides variations in leaf size, shape and colour. This perennial has hundreds of species and thousands of cultivars and they are tough, reliable plants. Along with the Hosta, you might consider Bleeding Heart (Lamprocapnos spectabilis). Their flowers hang down like dangling hearts and are a real source of delight. The dryer soil under a canopy of trees would quicken their disappearance shortly after flowering and would work well under the emerging large leaves of the Hostas. Another old-fashioned perennial is the Heartleaf Bergenia (Bergenia cordifolia) that has large waxy, heart shaped leaves. It also has some fall interest when the leaves take on a reddish winter hue.
Lungwort (Pulmonaria) are also shade tolerant and their delicately patterned foliage draws the eye throughout the summer. There are several species, some of which are variegated which can add texture and colour to the shade garden. Another perennial to consider is the Brunnera ‘Jack Frost’. This plant was named as the Plant of the Year for 2012. It bears panicles of light blue flowers held above silver leaves with green veins and edges. Once established, they can be fairly drought tolerant. An overlooked plant is the Foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia). It is a native groundcover and is happy in both full to light shade. It bears tall racemes of delicate white or pale pink flowers for six weeks in early summer. They grow best in moist, humus-rich woodland soil.
To give the shady garden some texture and shape, look at some of the broadleaf evergreen shrubs. The Oregon Grape Holly (Mahonia aquifolium) prefers moist, well-drained, acid soil. It produces very fragrant yellow racemes in mid-spring, followed by globose, dark blue fruit. Another broadleaf evergreen for shade is the Rainbow Leucothoe (Leucothoe fontanesiana ‘Rainbow’) a member of the Heath family with white urn-shaped flowers.
Take a close look at your growing conditions and plant accordingly. Put a bench under a tree and once established, the shade garden will be a wonderful oasis to roam and sit with a cup of tea and take in all the many senses surrounding you.
A good article that lists many perennials and groundcovers for a shade garden can be found at Landscape Ontario.