A Forest Garden offers the blessing of cool, relaxing shade.
Even on the hottest July day, we step into the refuge of shade, appreciate what breeze there might be, and gather the energy to continue with whatever tasks come to hand in the rest of the garden.
Our shade here is spotty. A previous owner cut several large trees, and we have lost several more to storms.
So the area nearest our home gets more direct sunshine than we’d wish at the height of summer.
The trade off, of course, comes during the rest of the year.
We get solar heating in winter, and we have enough light coming through the windows to grow our garden indoors during the cooler months.
But when it stays consistently hot, for days at a time, we appreciate every bit of shade we have.
And we enjoy a variety of plants which grow beautiful leaves and flowers with very little sun.
Shade vs. sun is another of the vagaries of gardening.
Very few areas are all one or the other.
Most fall somewhere between “part shade” and “part sun” depending on the time of day and time of year.
The very nature of a “forest garden'” also allows for sun to shine through the bare branches of trees during the winter; and the trees’ canopies to catch and use the sunshine all summer, giving shade to the garden below.
This can make selecting and siting plants even more challenging. What may work for a plant in May might be too much sun by August.
A plant which could never survive in a full sun area in June might thrive in the same spot in November.
I’ve worked out a fairly successful system over the years to keep shade loving plants happy.
And the secret? Watering.
Not really a secret, you’re thinking? Too obvious?
Probably…. But the secret of frequent watering is frequent observation.
Well hydrated plants can tolerate far more direct sun than dry ones, at least among the shade lovers.
And frequent attention to watering allows changes in a a stressed plant’s position before a condition goes too far.
In our garden, moving a plant a few feet in one direction or the other can make a tremendous difference in how much sun it receives.
Some need a little more sun to encourage flowering.
Yet too much sun can burn their leaves. It is a fine balance.
Morning sun affects plants differently than mid-day or afternoon sun. Some plants can thrive in an Eastern exposure which would fry on the Western side of the garden.
Many of our shade lovers live in pots and baskets which can be moved around as the seasons progress each year.
And we move plants as often as needed to keep them, and us, happy.
We also practice “layering,” just as nature does.
Shade loving plants can live in hanging baskets hung in trees. A particularly delicate plant can live underneath another, enjoying shade provided by its companions.
Plants, like people, thrive in communities.
Building a community, where each plant’s needs are met, is an ongoing challenge.
But when it works out well, it multiplies the beauty of the individuals.
You see, a “green thumb” is actually just a matter of attentiveness. Observation is an honest teacher.
Once a gardener understands a plant’s needs, it is simply a matter of providing the correct amount of light and water, nutrition and protection to allow that plant to grow into its potential for beauty.
And then there is the small blessing of summer shade… for the garden and the gardener.
Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014