Documents: Donna's Picks:

Shady Neighborhoods
by Carla Allen
November 10, 1999

One of the most difficult conditions sometimes encountered by homeowners is dry shade. I'm speaking primarily of locations that are created beneath trees - feeder roots draw much of the moisture from the soil and the natural leafy canopy overhead sheds a significant percentage of the moisture provided by rainfall. Difficult conditions indeed in which to grow any type of plant. I contacted three gardeners I had interviewed in the past to record their top choices for dry shady areas. Sue Eldridge lives in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia.

Her gardens have hosted many weddings over the years. A large portion of her property consists of dry, shady conditions and she's had plenty of experience battling this challenging combination. "Certainly Hosta has to be one," she told me. "It's a real workhorse." Daylilies are another favorite of hers.

They are a group of plants that are fast becoming popular for their many fine qualities. Their hardiness, ease of culture and lovely late blooming flowers are all desirable attributes, especially for novice gardeners. Aruncus, also known as Goat's Beard, is a tall growing perennial that strikes Sue's fancy. Large creamy plumes are produced in mid-summer and most gardeners find this to be a regal showpiece for the back of a large garden. It could almost be considered a shrub because of its height (4-6 feet) and effect.

One annual that has become a tradition in Sue's garden is the wax begonia. They have become the only annual she uses, having gained her great respect for their ability to handle the ever present shade. "The dryer it gets, the harder they bloom," she marvelled. "In August when it's especially dry, they are at their peak." Stephanie Pothier, a gardener in Deerfield, Yarmouth County, grows primarily shrubs and perennials. She has also found the Aruncus and Hosta to be well suited to dry shade.

Others she recommends are Loosestrife of any kind, Lily of the Valley and Forget-me-nots. "They grow anywhere", she said, "reseeding and coming up where they want to grow." Other plants Stephanie suggested emphasise the fact that "textbook" descriptions do not necessarily apply to all conditions or plants.

Old-fashioned Bleeding Heart is generally recommended for moist, rich shady areas but Stephanie's have done well in dry shade. She's also found Azalea to succeed in her more difficult areas.

Experienced gardener Stephen Donaldson has raised beds beneath many of his trees - an attractive alternative to planting directly in the soil. Stephen has noticed Astilbe, Hostas and Rhododendrons growing well in the darker, dryer spots of his property. Tuberous begonias do well also and are great for the wide range of color they provide. Myself? I have a garden beside an old garden shed by our parking area that has developed over the years into a decidedly dry, shady spot due to the growth of the poplar trees that were originally there. Through the process of elimination (plants that didn't like it there eliminated themselves!)

I now have a happy jumble of plants that are doing quite well. They include a Hick's yew, Pachysandra (Japanese spurge), Lysimachia (Creeping Jenny), Lily-of-the-Valley (Convallaria), Pulmonaria (Lungwort), Polygonum (Soloman's Seal), Foxglove (Dicentra), Ostrich fern, False Bleeding Heart and New Zealand Brass Buttons. They have proven to be so successful and luxuriant, weeds are finding few spots to sow themselves. This formerly "problem" garden has virtually evolved into a carefree zone and I couldn't be more pleased!

Carla Allen is a syndicated garden columnist and editor of East Coast Gardener. She and her husband David own South Cove Nursery Ltd. located near Yarmouth, Nova Scotia.   

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