Hydrangea, Macrophylla remains one of my favorite shrubs for shade. Deer candy, we grow it now in pots on the deck, where it can’t be grazed.
A Forest Garden offers the blessing of cool, relaxing shade.
Crepe Myrtle enjoys full sun while offering shade to an Ivy Geranium basket and an Asparagus fern.
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.
A basket of Asparagus fern and Begonia hangs near the house on our back deck. Normally shaded, here it basks in late afternoon sunshine.
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.
Colocasia, “Blue Hawaii” enjoys sun to part shade. Here it receives late afternoon shade cast by nearby shrubs.
And we enjoy a variety of plants which grow beautiful leaves and flowers with very little sun.
Begonia, “Gryphon” grows well in morning sun and afternoon shade on our front patio. Recently grazed heavily by deer, it is growing a new crop of leaves.
Shade vs. sun is another of the vagaries of gardening.
Very few areas are all one or the other.
Many “shade loving” ferns can tolerate more sun than you might expect, when hydrated. These grow on a bank in partial shade.
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.
Hydrangea Macrophylla. Purchased on sale in a 4″ pot in late spring, this shrub grows happily in a pot on the deck.
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.
This basket of mixed Begonias and fern hangs in a Dogwood in partial shade. These Begonias are fairly sun tolerant, but we’ve still had some burned leaves during these last few very hot weeks. This basket needs daily watering when there is no rain.
I’ve worked out a fairly successful system over the years to keep shade loving plants happy.
And the secret? Watering.
Caladiums, ferns and Begonias remain my favorite plants for shade.
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.
These plants live right “on the edge” of how much sun they can tolerate. They get full morning sun, and then spend the afternoons in shade. Known to be relatively sun-tolerant cultivars of Begonia and Caladium, they still need daily water and watching.
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.
After buying this Kangaraoo fern, Microsorum pustulatum, from the clearance rack at Lowe’s, I was dismayed to read its tag which said, “No direct sun.” Hanging in this Dogwood tree, it gets partial sun each day. I keep it well watered, and, since May it has doubled in size. You can see a little scorch on some of its leaves, however.
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.
This favorite Rex Begonia has leafed out from a bare rhizome once again. It likes its protected and shaded spot at the base of a tree.
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.
Can you spot the little Rex Begonia in the midst of the Caladiums and ferns?
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