Shady characters thrive in dark spots Garden: A place in the sun is not always the best location for many popular plants.

March 08, 1998|By Ary Bruno | Ary Bruno,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Right now, with deciduous trees and bushes leafless, there is probably sun in your life -- well, at least in your garden. In a few more weeks, though, the trees will begin to leaf out, slowly spreading circles of shade that you may or may not welcome.

Whether it is from trees or from buildings, shade is often felt to be the bane of attractive gardens, and many a gardener has been perplexed as to how to deal with it.

Yet, shade can be a blessing -- and a great opportunity. Many of the most popular flowers and foliage plants can only be grown in shade or partial shade, and will shrivel up and die straightaway in an open, sun-all-day location.

Then, too, the kind of shade you have makes a great deal of difference in what sort of choices you make.

The most challenging is deep or full shade, often found under dense trees, like beeches, maples or evergreens. There are a few plants that can always be counted on, provided they get water -- for the ground under such trees is frequently dry and full of tree roots -- and some sensible care and compost.

Vinca minor, big-blue lilyturf (Liriope muscari) and spotted deadnettle (Lamium maculatum) are good choices. If you would like to cover a wall or fence in this sort of shade (for many large trees are planted on property lines), Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) works well. A lovely bamboo, Sasa senanensis, is said to do well even under Norway maples.

Seasonal situation

Another strategy is possible in situations where there is dense shade for only part of the year. This is frequently the case close to or beneath large deciduous trees.

Many spring-flowering bulbs, which bear their blossoms and mature their foliage before the trees have come into full leaf, are good to use. Naturalized daffodils, snowdrops, snowflakes, crocus, wood hyacinths (Scilla campanulata) and Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica) can all be used to carpet a backyard woodland.

This is especially nice for those who prefer to retreat inside to air conditioning at the height of summer. A good ground cover combined with spring bulbs can yield a nicely undemanding garden for the hottest time of the year.

Also, consider thinning out the lower branches of the trees or even removing some of the lower limbsto admit more light.

Open shade is the kind found on the north side of buildings, where there's never any direct sun, but where the sky is visible and not blocked by trees.

Many pretty things can be grown here, especially if you can give them a little encouragement by painting the wall white or some other brightly reflective color.

I have had luck on just such a north-facing wall with native day lilies (Hemerocallis fulva), hostas, astilbes, impatiens, bleeding heart and sweet woodruff. Other good choices are ferns (especially if the soil is humusy and moist), columbines and coleus. The low-growing and graceful ornamental grass Hakonechloa macra is also a good choice.

Many woodland plants and bulbs are successful in open shade as well. From day lilies, trilliums and bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) to lilies-of-the-valley and wood rushes (Luzula nivea and L. sylvatica) there is a virtual feast for the gardener to pick from.

East, west, under oaks

The very best sort of shade is referred to as half, filtered or partial shade. It is often found on the east and west sides of buildings or under tall trees like oaks. Sun for part of the day, in either the morning or afternoon, is most common.

Many sun-loving plants will perform well in half shade (although they will likely produce more foliage and fewer flowers than in a site getting the sun all day long). Many plants and flowers that flourish in filtered light could not stand eight or 10 hours of summer sun.

Siberian irises, foxgloves ('Glittering Prize' is outstanding), forget-me-nots, Japanese anemones and Phlox divaricata all enjoy this sort of situation. Rugosa roses will also make themselves at home, especially if they can get the morning sun.

Day lilies do exceptionally well in filtered light, and there are hundreds of varieties to chose from so that it is possible to have steady bloom from June through September.

It can be quite a temptation, and some gardeners have created filtered-shade gardens precisely to have this opportunity.

Native woodland plants offer another wide selection, from foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia) to native columbines (Aquilegia canadensis) and jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum). Do be sure to buy nursery-propagated stock from reputable growers, however.

In later spring, you can take advantage of flowering shrubs, like azaleas, rhododendrons and Japanese pieris.

Japanese aralia (Fatsia japonica) has a lovely, if somewhat surreal, display of white flower balls. Portuguese laurel (Prunus lusitanica) has wonderfully fragrant flowers in clusters and handsome evergreen foliage, and there are many fine virburnums -- of which 'Mohawk' is possibly the best.

There are fall-blooming candidates as well. Ligularia stenocephala, "The Rocket," also known as leopard plant, is a dramatic presence in any garden, with its large, toothed leaves and 5-foot spire of yellow flowers.

Autumn clematis grown on a shady fence or up a tree bursts forth in a froth of petite, sweet-smelling white flowers in September and into October. Native redstem and largeleaf asters (Aster puniceus and A. macrophyllus) will also be in bloom in the woodlands.

If you really want something out of the ordinary, try the maple-leaved "Waxbells" or Kirengeshoma, which, given a woodsy soil rich in humus, can grow to 4 feet tall and wide, with clusters of dainty, nodding yellow flowers at its branch tips.

And, of course, with the thinning of the ozone layer, a shade garden may be just the thing for those who like to spend as much time as possible out of doors.

Pub Date: 3/08/98

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