Shady Characters: Plants that Grow in Shade
Believe it or not, there are some plants that grow in shade quite well.
Impatiens edge a few of Margaret’s shade-friendly garden spots.
Margaret A. Haapoja
Many folks despair of what to do with their landscape’s shady areas, not even considering the plants that grow in shade. Sure, we all know about the beauty of bright red gerberas, gaillardias, coneflowers and geraniums, but what do you do when your beds just aren’t sufficiently sunny to allow those winners to thrive? I lamented our own lack of sunny beds until I met Clayton Oslund many years ago. Founder of Shady Oaks Nursery in Waseca, Minnesota, Oslund is fond of saying, “Shade presents an opportunity, not a problem, in the landscape.” For many years, the Shady Oaks catalog was my bible as I planted perennial gardens in our wooded grounds. Now strictly a wholesale nursery, Shady Oaks is owned by Clayton’s son, Gordon, who follows his father’s philosophy.
“Shade gardening, to me, is all about foliage color, shapes, sizes and textures,” says Gordon Oslund. “Mixing foliage colors of gold, blue, green and variegated types brightens up a shady place, and the mix of colors gives a calming effect to the garden. Mixing large-leaved plants with those of fine texture creates interest throughout the growing season. And it’s much more comfortable gardening in the shade versus the hot sun.”
The Shady Oaks catalog divides shade into five categories from zero, for plants that perform well in full sun as well as in occasional shade, to category 4 – heavy shade. Barbara Ellis, author of Shady Retreats, a book that offers 20 plans for colorful private spaces in your backyard, differentiates more generally from full sun to partial shade to full shade.
“Partial shade is where all the gradations appear,” Ellis says. “The biggest difference for gardeners, there is morning sun versus afternoon sun. A site that gets morning sun is still fine for an awful lot of plants that need full shade because you don’t get the hot sun in the afternoon.” She suggests gardeners take notes as to where the sun is in their yards on any given day in the growing season.
Today, our perennial beds in Minnesota are a collage of color and texture with plumes of pink and white astilbe and taller goat’s beard, mounds of smooth-leaved bergenia, bold stands of hostas and spires of gold above toothed foliage of the Rocket ligularia. In early spring, tiny blooms of tiarella contrast with shiny European ginger and large white trillium flowers while martagon lilies and white bleeding heart add interest. White Nancy lamium, Lamiastrum galeobdolon, and golden moneywort edge the gardens. Tuberous begonias and coleus add color later in the season along with
impatiens I start from seed.
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