Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Creating a Shady Corner

Since I’m still in denial about our foot of snow and deep-freeze temps, I’ll continue the warm-weather tour of my gardens today.

Follow me past the berm I told you about in my last post, down the new paver pathway around the north side of the house, and here we are at my favorite shade bed. (Pardon my neighbor's temporary construction mess behind it!)

Four years ago, this area was a weedy patch of dirt, a real eyesore. It’s a low spot in the yard, under three white spruce. The trees are beautiful now, but back then a couple of half-dead branches sagged unattractively to the ground, and the roots were quite exposed. Mr. Previous Owner had piled a bunch of rocks and old lumber near the shed, and the space looked like little more than a dumping ground.

Our arborist neighbor encouraged us to remove the two dragging branches and cover the roots with a bit of topsoil—not more than a few inches, he warned, or it could smother the trees. He recommended tucking some shade-loving perennials among the roots—but no large shrubs, because they would compete with the trees for moisture and nutrients. Well, that was all the encouragement I needed!

In came the topsoil, followed by a few more perennials every year since. A variety of hostas provide a good foundation. They include several unknown variegated ones inherited from a neighbor making way for a home addition (perhaps ‘Albomarginata’?), a few solid green and solid blue ones, several gold varieties, and of course a couple of the “biggies” (‘Blue Angel’). Last year I added a ‘Fire and Ice,’ which is almost all white. I’m curious to see how it does next summer.

Other “gift plants” include ‘Dragon’s Blood’ sedum, from my mom, a gorgeously floppy blue geranium from a neighbor who moved to New Orleans just in time for Katrina, and a rhododendron from the same neighbor who gave me the hostas. (Don’t tell my arborist neighbor, but I snuck a few other rhodies along the back of the bed to help provide a little privacy here in the Sanctum.)

If you come back in the spring, I’ll show you all of the species tulips that are popping forth, along with white and pink Bleeding Heart (Dicentra), Columbine (Aquilegia), and Bergenia. Last year I added Hellebore and Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica).

Then you’ll see a summer-long parade of perennials, including Lady’s Mantle (Alchemilla), yellow Corydalis, Jacob’s ladder (Polemonium), Solomon’s Seal (Polygonatum), Spiderwort (Tradescantia), yellow foxglove (Digitalis), turtlehead (Chelone), and several varieties of Heuchera (pictured: ‘Snow Angel’).

Groundcovers include European Wild Ginger (Asarum), Sweet Woodruff (Galium odoratum), and Pulmonaria.

Recently, I’ve been experimenting with grasses. A couple years ago I planted two varieties of Hakonechloa, neither of which survived the winter. I am trying ‘Aureola’ again, with a little extra winter protection. I planted Northern Sea Oats (Chasmanthium latifolium) last summer, and am hoping it will do well. Carex elata ‘Aurea’ is barely hanging on—I think it’s too dry under the trees. Astilbe and ferns have likewise found the conditions too dry.

I used Mr. P.O.’s pile of rocks to add little retaining walls here and there, which don’t actually retain much, but do add a little visual interest. Some old slate stepping stones (replaced by the new paver walkway) make a nice, meandering path through the bed. They provide for easy maintenance, and also give a little guidance to the feet of small visitors who love to wander through the garden.

I hope this tour has helped to warm up your corner of the world. As for me, I think I can almost feel my toes again!

Come back soon and we’ll take a stroll together through another part of my little Suburban Sanctum.


  1. It looks very nice. I look forward to your spring and summer pictures!

  2. Thanks, Gardener in Progress!
    What is it with us gardeners that we start the season so enthusiastic and then slack off? I have lots of spring photos but very few from later in the season. Gotta work on that! By the way, I'm envious of all the color in your garden even at this time of year! Very pretty.

  3. Hi Donna,
    You have a gorgeous yard and garden! Such a variety of perennials you've put in! And it will be beautiful in the spring...and I'll be looking forward to watching it bloom!

  4. Thanks for the compliments, Jan! I'm anxiously awaiting those spring blooms too. Only another 10-12 weeks to go... :)Good to hear from you again!

  5. It all looks grand and healthy. All that soil preparation has paid off.

  6. Hi, Anna/Flowergardengirl--
    Yes, it's coming along. With our clay soil and all the tree roots around here it's a constant battle. Every time I plant something, I mix in a little more compost and some course sand. Little by little. I'm anxious to see more or YOUR new gardens. The house you designed is beautiful. The story of the "Hoeing Outlaws" was a real crack-up! Thanks for stopping by!

  7. Thank you for sharing your plant idioms at Human Flower Project.

    - Georgia/

  8. My pleasure, Georgia! Thanks for brightening a dreary winter day with your wordplay!


Thanks for stopping by the Suburban Sanctum! I hope you've enjoyed your visit and will come again soon. I'd love to hear any comments you have before you go, and promise to respond as soon as I can. Thanks!