The past week of temperatures higher than 80 and sweltering humidity have reminded me just why I love the breezy shade of my back gardens. My shade gardens grow down the slope of a hill and under the canopy of several 75 to 80-foot red and white oaks, numerous maple and beech trees and a couple of redbud trees. At this time of year, most of these back gardens are in full shade, although the sun does trace a line of filtered light through the trees as it crosses the sky during the day.
I spend a lot of the summer out of the sun on this breezy slope and, consequently, have figured out which plants might thrive in the shade, which might be devoured by the wildlife we cohabitate with along the Potomac and which will lend brightness to the shady spots.
As I began to develop my gardens, and as they have changed through storm damage, age and wildlife depredation, I realized that shade is not a constant. The rule of thumb for gardeners is that a shady area is an area that receives less than four hours of direct sun per day. But the kind of sunlight -- whether it is morning, mid-day or afternoon sun, and whether the light is direct or filtered light, plays an important part in nurturing a plant in a given spot. The best kind of light for a shade garden is morning or afternoon sun and dappled light throughout the day.
There are really three kinds of shady areas:
1. Filtered shade (partial shade) occurs where sunlight is filtered through the leaves of large bushes or small leafed trees like the dogwood. Vines on a pergola, or an open slat fence, can also provide this kind of shade. The verge of a wooded area where it meets a grassy lawn will have the same kind of shade.
2. Dappled shade occurs under the canopy of large-leafed trees or evergreens. The ground under these trees tends to be dry because the leaves of the trees keep off a great deal of the rainfall, and their roots compete for moisture in the ground.
3. Dense deep shade occurs where there is a canopy of large trees and the understory growth gets very little sun (usually two hours or less per day). There are plants that will thrive even in kind of shade and provide textural and color interest.
In the next couple of columns, I will discuss plant choices that will work in all of these shady areas, the possibilities of plant combinations and strategies for avoiding deer and other garden pests.
Those of you eager to get a start on shade gardening can attend the Basic Gardening Class on Shade Gardening at Green Spring Garden Park in Annandale that I will be teaching. The course is taught for a $10 fee and takes place from 1:30 to 3 p.m. on Friday, June 2. You can register online at Parktakes.
Eleni Silverman is a Master Gardener, Vice President of the Belle Haven Garden Club, Chair of the Landscape Committee at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology and author of the garden blog "Belle Haven Garden Maven." She admits to a fascination with all things gardening, believes even compost is engaging, and will eagerly discuss the relative merits of leaf mold versus hardwood mulch.