One of the best things about spring is seeing all of the new varieties of plants that appear in gardening magazines, on websites, and at nurseries. One of the bad things is realizing that you may not have room for any more new perennials in your yard! Fortunately for me, both my daughter Hannah and my future daughter-in-law Jamie share my love of plants and are more than willing to accept any donations.  Hannah’s home does have lovely established areas but we can always find a nook for another flowering plant.

Lets-Dance-Diva-Hydrangea-compressor__37886.1517166509Three years ago I gave Hannah a lovely hydrangea, ‘Let’s Dance’, in honor of her upcoming wedding. This variety of Hydrangea macrophylla bears beautiful, pale pink lace-cap flower heads where an outer ring of open florets encircles a center of tiny florets. We planted it into a large oak barrel tub that had to weigh in at 25 lbs. and placed it near her front walk where many other plants in various size containers also had residence. But one night, quite unexpectedly, the hydrangea and its tub mysteriously disappeared! I can’t imagine that someone thought that we were getting rid of it but we can only hope that it went to a happy home.

Hannah’s yard has that fairy garden-like feel; it is a snug, L-shaped yard that is surrounded by a sufficiently aged, unfinished fence where all manner of trees and shrubs grow.

Although the side of the yard that runs along her 1920s home is in the sun for a good part of the day, most of the yard is in some level of shade for most of the day. Patches of phlox, bellwort, and vinca share dappled sun along with heuchera and bleeding heart in the shade of the dogwood and Japanese maple.

Primrose makes an appearance at the base of the dogwood.

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Her ‘front yard’ consists of a 4’ by 8’ bed between the sidewalk and her porch and another 6” by 15’ wide swath that runs along the fence, both of which receive very little direct sunlight.

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It becomes quite apparent as the daffodils in the yards on the other side of the street bloom a week or two earlier. That front fence is a great place for hanging bags of impatiens and trailing ivy that don’t mind being in shade for most of the day. Columbine, painted fern, and a variety of tulips have also naturalized along that area.

Selecting herbaceous plants, trees, and shrubs that do well in so much shade just takes a bit of forethought; there are many species that love to be in a woodland setting.  The term ‘shade’ itself can be confusing. Is it shade? Partial shade?  Part sun?  Full shade? Morning or afternoon shade? Partial sun means a minimum of 4 hours of sunlight a day while partial shade is 3-6 hours of morning or late day sun with coverage during the hottest and brightest times of the day.  Many hydrangea will bear partial to full shade and the climbing hydrangea that has taken over her back steps is proof of that.

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Filtered sun, similar to partial shade, is great for woodland or under-story plants. Bear in mind that this can change over the course of the season as trees leaf out to a denser canopy and create more shade. Study the light in your yard throughout the growing season to determine the light situation. Shade plants may also like a moister soil that emulates the rich, humus environment of a forest floor.

Deep shade, also called full shade, does not mean a complete lack of sunlight. Think of the areas beneath evergreens or the northern side of a home. These areas will receive 3 hours or less of sunlight per day with little reflected or indirect light. We have just such a spot on the northern side of our home. The early morning is when this area receives its daily dose of somewhat dappled sunlight but from 9:00 a.m. on it is in full shade.

The plants that thrive in this area in our yard include clematis, hosta, astilbe, forget-me-not, and more Solomon’s seal. These beds are also where toadflax, lily-of-the-valley, and anemone are happy.

Shade tolerant plants may have thinner leaves that are more sensitive to light and perform photosynthesis at lower light levels. Over-exposure to sunlight can cause leaf margins to scorch, this sometimes can happen when a larger, shade-producing tree is removed and plants are suddenly exposed to more light than they are accustomed to receiving. Additionally, plants that are placed to receive less sunlight than they fully require may thrive but will often produce fewer blooms.

There are many varieties of shade perennials and annuals that can fill in a small space or a large bed, just visit a local nursery and take a stroll through their selection to find one (or two or three!) that catch your fancy.

Susan Pelton (all images by S. Pelton)