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Shade Gardens
by Dan Clost
by Dan Clost


First serious garden earned 25 cents from the Kemptville Horticultural Society when I was 12. Have been poor in horticulture ever since but rich in spirit.

Went to work writing the Good Earth column (over 500 articles published in newspaper, magazine, website and journal.) and learned that what was printed wasn't what I wanted to say and certainly not what Gentle Reader understood me to say. Subsequently have developed a certain clarity and economy of words.

Day job- nursery and production manager for a large nursery/garden centre
Side job- Garden restoration and renovations, design consultations, remedial pruning.
Night job- garden writer and communicator (overnight success in another 20 years)

Dan gardens in Canadian Zone 5b

December 14, 2003

Shade gardening is enjoying an increase in popularity, judging by the questions we receive at the nursery these days. Some folks embrace it as a challenge with a rainbow of rewards just waiting for them and others approach the exercise with trepidation. Gentle Reader, I have long since learned that it is your attitude that determines your enjoyment of your efforts. Shade gardening can be a bit of a challenge, especially if you want to move past the big three of hostas, heucheras and ferns. Not that there is anything wrong with those plants, hostas remain on the top of my "favourites" list. Understand that setbacks, measured in the poor performance of a particular selection, are not failures. They are merely a single chapter in your big book of learning new things. How well that book is written depends on you.

Which is a wonderful and not uncalculated segue into the next section: a review of a well-written book on shade gardening. Thanks to Desjardins Books of Trenton for the opportunity to read from their extensive gardening library. What makes this better is that Bernie is a gardener of enthusiastically modest excellence.

Shade Gardening, edited by Brenda Cole, is one of Harrowsmith’s Gardener’s Guide series. These books are characterised by their clarity and focus on the issue. Yes, some passages seem to be a tad, ahem, flowery, but we gardeners expect that sort of thing.

It is divided into four sections: Brenda Cole’s introduction, David Tomlinson’s chapter City Shade and Bernard Jackson’s bit The Woodland Garden. I heard my little gardening voice say, “Finally, a book that makes a proper distinction between the two.” Too often, these kinds of advisory tomes present information in an overly generalised manner that is found wanting by both the novice and experienced gardener. Each of these two sections provides focussed analyses of gardening in their specific domain that the reader will find immediately useful. Brenda’s introduction contains nuggets of practicality that should be emblazoned in the brains of all gardening book readers the world over. The primary caution is that we need to look at where a book was published or for whom it was written. For example, books from England are excellent but not overly useful for us, unless we live in Victoria.

However the gem of this book lies in Chapter Three: Shade-Garden Plants. It is more than just a listing of plants that do well in various types of shade. Each selection, categorised in sections of perennial, annual, climber, bulbs, ferns, and shrubs, is commented upon by a cross-Canada panel of recognised gardening experts. For our particular area, Larry Sherk of Sheridan Nurseries provides his comments without wasting any rhetoric.

He also makes an observation in the section on yews that should be educational to all of us. “Most people do not realise that they can do equally well in sunny areas.” This can apply to many of the so-called “shade-loving” plants. Yes they perform well in the darker areas but they are not afraid of a bit of sun. As such they are excellent choices for making the transition from light to dark.

There are two components of the book that I do find deficient. The first is the lack of description for the amazing colour photographs. I wanted to know where the photo was taken. The second disappointment, albeit a minor one, is the Climatic Zone Maps at the back of the book. They are difficult to read and while I assume it is the Canadian criterion (since there is a delineation between 0a and 0b) being used, it isn’t stated specifically. [ Just a quick question GR, “Do we gardeners really care about Zones 1 and 0?”]

All in all, Shade Gardens is an excellent little book that can easily be used to enhance your own bit of this good earth. This gem retails at $12.95 and is worth the coin.


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