Friday, May 5, 2017

Next ... the Plants

Planning the shade garden was by far the most fun part of this project.  I started last fall to go thru catalogs and several reference manuals I have on perennials and woody plants (taking classes has greatly expanded my gardening library!) to find plants that would be happy living in Central Virginia in the shade.  There are two main criteria, other than shade-loving:  their ability to tolerate heavy clay soils and to tolerate the heat and humidity of the summer months.  This is especially a problem at night here.  Many nights in July and August the humidity stays above 70% and many plants don't like that at all!

Oh, the photos!  It was like gorging on your favorite chocolate!  In recent years I have started trying to use colorful foliage to add interest to the gardens, so foliage was a factor, and I wanted to choose a variety of leaf sizes and shapes, flower colors, and look for ways to bring light into this darker part of the yard. 

I looked first at shade-loving selections and then checked them against my "hates this climate" list.  A lesson I learned years ago is that you cannot go by zone tolerance alone.  Zone 7 on the west coast is very different from zone 7 here.  Then I scoured catalogs and web sites to find the best deals on the plants i wanted and placed my orders.  Purchases at local nurseries would come later.  Once I had settled on most of the plants, I drew the plan:

The elm tree that provides so much of the shade is actually to the right of the drawing, with the Vitex underneath the elm.  The neighbor has a water oak (Quercus virginiana) that partially shades the elm, as well as a lot of our yard.  Most of this area gets a little sun in the morning, and a little in the late afternoon.  From the birdbath to the left is sunny all day. 

Before - Solomon's Seal from front to back in the bed.

After: same part of the bed, slightly different angle, but you can see how much less material there is. Locations for new plants are flagged - both white and green.  (I ran out of white.)

In mid-March i started cleaning out plants that had become invasive, and moving things around.  Then I marked out the location of new plants (white flags) and the spray heads (orange heads).  Later as I added plants that were too small to see clearly, i added green flags until they grew a bit. 

Existing plants that I kept include huchera, Lady's Mantle, nandina, Monk's Hood, a native aster, phystostygia, and Solomon's Seal.  The latter three are invasive at best, so 50-75% of what was there needed to be removed.  (That will be a continuing project all summer.)  New plants include Bear's Britches 'Whitewater', Goatsbeard 'Kneifii', columbine mountain rue, several different heuchera, hosta 'White Feather', Brunnera 'Jack Frost', and sarcococca.  The last planted in hope of growing pretty foliage for arranging.
The "mill wheel" in the center is actually the top of an old birdbath.
We had left it to hold water for the butterflies.  When I sat it up
 to clean around it, it just stood there and settled in, so i left it.
 It seems to fit.
With the planting spots marked, planting was a snap and I was able to plant things the day they arrived, and finally made my run to local nurseries to get the last things into the ground.   By mid-April I had finished planting and had started watering .... and, so far it all works.

It will be the end of the summer before I have a good idea what will make it and next spring when things come up again before I really know if it's a successful plan and planting, but i already love the new look.  (Have lost one goatsbeard already, but if I can find it locally, I may try replacing it in the fall.)

But here's how it looks today:
Right end: Heuchera and Solomon's Seal.  There's room to add a couple of tiarella in this area.
 I see a trip to a nursery this week!
The left end from the back side.  White plant is Acanthus mollis, then phystostygia and
 a native aster (too invasive ... am pulling it as other things grow).
The "wheel".  It's settling in nicely with Columbine Mountain Rue behind it
and hostas in frong.
Life is good!


  1. With all your planning (which is part of the fun), the result will be lovely. Looking forward to seeing it grow.

    1. It'll be fun to see what it looks like a year from now. One of my goatsbeards has already died, tho.