Shade Gardening



So many garden look great in spring, then enthusiasm wanes and the color’s gone. No need. I hope that this picture inspires you to extend your perennial garden’s range into fall.

This is my mother’s part-shade backyard garden in Stamford, CT. The eye-catching star is a white windflower (anemone) from White Flower Farms. You’ll also see ice pansies in deep red, plus every available shade of purple and blue.

While perennials are the best garden investment, a couple of flats of pansies (bi-annuals), to me, are a must. (See Issue 33). This batch came from the local supermarket.

The yellowing foliage and gold seed scapes are courtesy of the hosta clan. At the red in the lower right is one of my mother’s new (and very satisfactory) low-bush blue berries (Issue 56), that we planted last spring. In the rear are Leatherwood ferns, bog rosemarys, more hosta, assorted ground covers, and earlier-flowering perennials.

The area to the left of the pillar in the rear, now know as “Kal’s Garden”, used to be pachysandra, a/k/a the aluminum siding of home gardening. Last spring my friend Kal, with support from her husband Roger (who made us a great Indian lunch), helped me double-dig the patch to expand the garden strip designed for year-round close-up viewing from indoors and from the walk-way.

Between the blueberry and the astilbes (not pictured) is a collection shade ground covers, melded into a thick patchwork quilt.

The components are the yellow of hybrid creeping jenny, the purple of tri-color-variegated ajuga, and the green of ornamental strawberries. If you look carefully, you’ll also see a few brown oak leaves.

These spreading perennials look this good early spring to late fall and often hold their leaves and color all winter in a sheltered spot. Once established, all three ground covers are hardy, care-free, and choke out most of the weeds. While the contrasting foliage is more than enough to satisfy the eye, the strawberries bloom fuchsia from early spring to early fall; the ajuga chimes in by late spring; and the whole mess is under-planted with a collection of miniature spring bulbs that bloom March to June. This mix, which I first saw in a NYC churchyard, stands up to light foot traffic and can be very useful where the grass won’t grow under shade trees.

©Susan W. Sweeney 2003

What the readers said about last week’s FALL IN THE GARDEN and other things:

I’m so proud of my fall anemones — they proved to be very photogenic. Liz (CT)

If they [the shade ground covers] really choke out the weeds, I want some! Barbara (NY)

This and the fall leaves are an inspiration. Just yesterday we drove up state for the foliage. Lin (NY)

I took your advice, and fell in the garden. Instead of the color waning, the color waxed on the bruises, bringing an array of autumn color to my left thigh…. maybe I’m not falling right? I really need to know, because I have my movement class at Yale to consider. … Marc (CT) [you’re imaging a hard surface (ouch! no wonder the bruises); instead, dive into bottomless piles of crisp oak leaves …]