Tammy SchmittInto the dark side; a dry shade redesign

I stand in the garden and stare. I do this often, all this standing and staring. I pace silently, my eyes scanning the shady beds, irritation rising in my throat like bile. The plants lie jumbled, a dog pile of leaves and stems. Brunnera squeezes past the hellebores for a quick glimpse of the sun, stretching across desiccated hostas and pop up violets to announce itself with a slight yelp.

The beginning of the shade garden before I extended the beds. I extended them another 18 inches or so after this photo was taken

The beginning of the shade garden before I extended the beds. I extended them another 18 inches or so after this photo was taken

The area at the base of the river birch is so dry several hosta nearly died

The area at the base of the river birch is so dry several hosta nearly died

The top of this bed is at the bottom of a small hill and is moister than the area at the front. It's hard to tell in these photos, but this area is on a very slight slope

The top of this bed is at the bottom of a small hill and is moister than the area at the front. It’s hard to tell in these photos, but this area is on a very slight slope

Shallow and badly designed. I stop photographing this area come summer when spring blossoms no longer hide the mess. Perennials planted nine years ago clog the bed like commuters at rush hour, a blob of green in a narrow bed. The beds need to be extended and new plants added. I stop and mentally scan plant lists I’ve cataloged over the years. Bone dry shade: the list is short and frustration swells. Epimediums needed to be divided, the brunnera rescued, and the hostas given moister soil. The Solomon’s Seal were slowly drowning in a sea of Anemone canadensis and I couldn’t find the bigroot geraniums or purple euphorbia. I analyze and fret.

This area is moister than the rest of the shade garden and features spigellia, Japanese anemones 'Honorine Jobert', pulmonaria 'Moonshine', as well as thornless blackberries and other perennials

This area is moister than the rest of the shade garden and features spigellia, Japanese anemones ‘Honorine Jobert’, pulmonaria ‘Moonshine’, as well as thornless blackberries and other perennials

What if I pick all the wrong plants? What if you don’t? What if it all looks craptastic next year? What if it doesn’t? This is going to be a ton of work. Yes, it is. Now get your butt out there and get it done.

So I did.

I started by increasing the depth of the beds by about three to four feet and creating a deep curve. The curve helps catch rain and trap it in a drainage basin for the river birch. It also keeps this area moister. I removed all the sod with a shovel, laid it out to dry so the worms would return to the moister soil underneath, and then shook as much soil as possible from the grass before composting the remaining turf. Almost 40 bags of composted leaf mold were used to fill in the new extension. The hardest part of the redesign was finding plants that would thrive in dry shade but also attract pollinators. Plants that attract and support wildlife are marked with an asterisk*.

I’ve broken down each each area of the garden into different sections based on their light and moisture conditions. The area below receives morning sun and afternoon shade and has moist, well draining soil. Because visualizing how this will all look next spring/summer takes a bit of imagination, I’ve created collages to highlight the different plants I chose.

With the exception of the dwarf lespedeza, which I've already killed once, and the 'Lodden's Anna' campanula, all of the plants in this area are from other spots in the garden

With the exception of the dwarf lespedeza, which I’ve already killed once, and the ‘Lodden’s Anna’ campanula, all of the plants in this area are from other spots in the garden

The shade garden merges with my mostly sunny Founding Flowers garden, which was also redesigned. Two David Austin roses were transplanted to the sunny side (not pictured) while a swath of ‘Romiley Purple’ veronica * and a large patch of stokesia * were divided and added to the moist tip of the partly shaded curve. Variegated ‘Ascot Rainbow’ euphorbia and no name hostas were added for foliage interest.

Plants for bright, partial shade

Kalimeris is sold as a sun loving perennial but it grows well in bright, dry shade, too. Solomon's Seal purchased on clearance and already dormant has been planted in front of the crape myrtle. The northern  sea oats grass (chasmanthium) has already been cut back

Kalimeris is sold as a sun loving perennial but it grows well in bright, dry shade, too. Solomon’s Seal purchased on clearance and already dormant has been planted in front of the crape myrtle. The northern sea oats grass (chasmanthium) has already been cut back

Because this area is so dry, a soaker will be added to keep the soil moister. The new drainage basin created by the deep curve will also help trap water, although it will quickly be devoured by the ever thirsty river birch. This bed is also full of anemone canadensis. Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’* and ‘Autumn Charm’* are also sun lovers that thrive in dry partial shade. I forgot to add the sea oats to the collage.

Plants for dry, partial shade

These won’t all bloom at the same time. This bed features plants that bloom from late winter (hellebore) to fall (sedum). If you follow each collage from the upper left hand corner (hellebore) to the pink fluffy sedum in the middle, you can trace the bloom schedule of the plants in each bed.

Afternoon shade and moistish soil

(There’s no significance in the colored letters. The black letters were hard to see)

The first plant to bloom in this area will be the Solomon's Seal (far left), followed by the red columbine and Bowman's Root. By mid summer the 'Goldsturm' rudbeckia (middle left) will be lush and colorful. This bed is an odd spot for a baptisia, but it's happy so I'm leaving it alone.

The first plant to bloom in this area will be the Solomon’s Seal (far left), followed by the red columbine and Bowman’s Root. By mid summer the ‘Goldsturm’ rudbeckia (middle left) will be lush and colorful. This bed is an odd spot for a baptisia, but it’s happy so I’m leaving it alone.

In the moistest part of the shade garden, broad leafed mountain mint * and ‘Goldsturm’ rudbeckia * – which thrives in moist, bright partial shade – were planted with a cluster of native Bowman’s Root, Japanese anemone ‘Max Vogel’ and ‘Honorine Jobert’, ‘Laura’ geraniums pratense *, spigelia marylandica *, and native red columbine*. Pulmonaria ‘Dark Vader’ and ‘Moonshine’ were added to brighten the shady beds. I removed the plant that was growing between the mountain mint and the baptisia and will let the mountain mint fill the area.

This area is moist enough to keep the Japanese anemones happy but too dry to allow them to become aggressive. Short pink ‘Serenade’ hybrid anemones (non-aggressive) and ‘Pink Octopus’ campanula were added to the front border. It’s possible the red and yellow columbine might clash with the pink and blue flowers of the pulmonaria. But it’s also possible that I might not mind.

Afternoon shade and moistish soil

The first to bloom in this bed are the epimediums (upper left), followed by the columbine and Bowman's Root. The last to bloom are the pink 'Max Vogel' and white 'Honorine Jobert' Japanese anemones.

The first to bloom in this bed are the epimediums (upper left), followed by the columbine and Bowman’s Root. The last to bloom are the pink ‘Max Vogel’ and white ‘Honorine Jobert’ Japanese anemones.

This bed is at the bottom of a hill and is the moistest spot in my shade garden. However, because of the two crape myrtles, the soil is well drained. Epimediums can take very dry soil but after years of fighting for moisture with the river birch, I thought I’d give them a break by planting them in moister soil. There was much cheering and applause.

Filtered pm shade

This collage also shows the bloom time of the plants, starting with the yellow epimediums in the upper left hand corner. These are followed by Golden Alexanders*, 'Chester Thornless' blackberries*, pulmonaria 'Moonshine', salvia koyamae, and spigelia marylandica*. The 'Chocolate' eupatorium* and Big No Name hosta aren't pictured.

This collage also shows the bloom time of the plants, starting with the yellow epimediums in the upper left hand corner. These are followed by Golden Alexanders*, ‘Chester Thornless’ blackberries*, pulmonaria ‘Moonshine’, salvia koyamae, and spigelia marylandica*. The ‘Chocolate’ eupatorium* and Big No Name hosta aren’t pictured.

The almost finished redesigned shade garden I just need to add soaker hoses and mulch and I'll be completely done.

The almost finished redesigned shade garden
I just need to add soaker hoses and mulch and I’ll be completely done.

Shivering in my thin garden pants, I finally stand, my knee pads thick with compost, and begin to pace. I follow the new curve but don’t analyze or fret. I just smile.

she believed 3

 

Most of the native and hard-to-find plants were purchased at Lazy S’s Farm Nursery. The ‘Max Vogel’ anemones came from Bluestone Perennials. Everything else came from my local nurseries.

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Tammy Schmitt

About Tammy Schmitt

I am a passionate middle school teacher and gardener. I've gardened in South Dakota, South Carolina, and in upstate New York near the Canadian border. My current garden, in an overdeveloped suburb near Washington DC, has been my most challenging. My desire to create a true refuge for our native birds and butterflies has helped me battle unpredictable weather and compacted clay soil. My garden isn't perfect, but it's always a beautiful escape. Read my full blog at Casa Mariposa.

One thought on “Into the dark side; a dry shade redesign

  1. Linda on said:

    You have certainly put a lot of thought into the plant selection, Tammy. I love the colour combinations you have used and i look forward to seeing photos of the garden in the future.

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