In the past two weeks, I’ve been exploring the kinds of shade that might be found in a garden: filtered or partial shade, dappled shade and deep shade. Last week I wrote about the satisfaction that a gardener can have in choosing versatile plants for an area that gets primarily filtered or partial shade.
This column will focus on areas that get dappled shade — the kind of shade that occurs under the canopy of large-leafed trees or evergreens. It is also the kind of shade that is a welcome respite from summer sun and heat and where a constantly moving shade pattern protects under-story plants from the adverse effects of sun and heat.
Dappled shade can be dry shade, as the leaves of the trees keep off a great deal of the rainfall, and tree roots compete for moisture in the ground. Plants in this kind of shade must be able to adapt to dry conditions.
Because I'm discussing several plant varieties, I have linked each plant to information on the Missouri Botanical Garden website — one of my favorite sources of information. Click on the link if you want detailed information and photographs.
As in areas with filtered shade, gardeners can use flowering annuals to provide color or lighten up an area in dappled shade. Impatiens (impatiens walleriana) will provide color in hues from white to pink to shocking red, and because this plant holds its blooms above the foliage, the effect of color is intensified. Edging lobelia (lobelia erinus) and begonias (begonia semperflorens cultorum) are two other annuals that perform well in partial shade and provide a continuous bloom through the season. You can find them in white-flowered varieties as well as pink and red.
Shade-loving annuals with colorful foliage can also enliven an area in dappled shade. Coleus (Solenostemon scutellarioides) is a proven performer, and in the past few years a great variety of foliar shapes and color patterns have been developed. Coleus can be used in a shade garden as as a focal point, combined with other shade-loving plants, or planted in a mass. A few of my favorites for dappled shade are Dappled Apple (a lovely chartreuse variety), Daredevil (bright yellow scalloped leaves with shades of red and purple in the center) and Freckles (wide, yellow leaves splashed with shades of 'Sedona' orange.)
There are a number of web sites devoted to coleus: Coleusfinder.org and Rosy Dawn Gardens are two sites that provide lots of photographs and suggest plant combinations. Some coleus have been hybridized to do best in sunny gardens, so you will need to make sure of the particular plant. If you decide to include coleus in your shade garden, you must remove the flower that will bloom mid-summer; if the coleus flower is not pinched back, the foliage will decline.
Annuals such as impatiens, begonias and coleus can provide an amazing variety of color, form and texture in a garden with dappled shade, but they must be purchased and planted every year. Perennials can perform the same function. They have the added bonus of returning each year and being relatively easy to care for. They also can be divided as they reach maturity to provide more plants for your garden.
Last week’s column described the use of herbaceous shrubs, such as hydrangeas, in the filtered shade garden. Hydrangeas will also shine in dappled shade. Hydrangea macrophylla (bigleafed), including both mophead and lacecap varieties, will do well in dappled shade. The new cultivars such as ‘Endless Summer’ are easy to grow and will repeatedly bloom all season.
The perennial that is a true workhorse in any shade garden is the hosta. In addition to the stunning beauty of their foliage, hostas require little care, live a long time and add great texture and color to a shady area. They are most valuable for their foliar impact, but they do have beautiful blossoms, usually white or lavender, which can be intensely fragrant.
Of the nearly 45 different species of hostas, those with variegated or chartreuse-colored leaves do the most to brighten up a garden in shady conditions. Hostas will tolerate and even thrive in areas of deep shade, but the leaves of chartreuse or variegated varieties of hosta need dappled shade for intense coloration.
Hostas can adapt to situations in which the rainfall is sparse or tree roots compete for moisture. They are also a perfect container plant. If your dappled shade is over a deck or patio, you can create a lush, serene environment with large container plantings or groups of potted hostas.
Hostas come in a variety of sizes, from the diminutive “Mouse Ears” (6 inches across) to large varieties such as ‘Blue Angel’ and ‘Titanic’ which can reach 4 feet in height and 6 feet in spread. The members of the American Hosta Society are avid advocates of the cultivation of hostas; they have local chapters and maintain a wonderful website devoted to all things hosta at The American Hosta Society.
I will be devoting an entire future column to cultivating hostas. Suffice it to say, you will never be at a loss for variation in size, texture or color when choosing hostas. Shade gardeners who garden in walled compounds can (and should) plant hostas with abandon. The rest of us must contend with another hosta lover — the deer population.
I have battled deer with garlic, heavily scented soap, tresses of long hair and coyote urine. I have tried peeing in the woods. None of those remedies worked for long. I have "fenced in" my property with deadfalls of fallen branches, strewn pathways with pebbles and odd shaped rocks and planted plants deer don’t like (sage, lavender, bee balm, rosemary and ferns, to name a few) in front of my hostas. For a time, this approach worked. The deer moved through my woodland area down slope and far from my beloved hostas.
The worm has once again turned. Two days ago, I was savoring a cup of fresh coffee on my front porch and glanced up to see a young buck as big as a pony staring calmly at me while he feasted on a rosebush at the edge of the woods. This time I’m going with Liquid Fence. Forgive the temporary stench of rotten eggs; I might be protecting your hostas, as well as mine.
Next week, the last column in the series will be devoted to gardening in deep shade, which 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 this kind of shade and provide textural and color interest.
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.