Step into the shade

Gardening is not all sunshine and roses– it can be a shady hobby.

A clever gardener knows that shade can be beautiful and offers an opportunity to get creative with design and plant choices.

First, let’s define shade. Part sun is four to six hours of afternoon sun. Part shade is at most four to six hours of morning sun. Just like us, plants react to the sun’s intensity, meaning the direct hot afternoon sun can scorch leaves and burn stems. Full shade receives less than four hours of any sun.

Shade can come from many sources, including trees, bushes, fencing, and structures such as houses, garages, or sheds. Before planting, spend a week observing how the sun and shade move across your gardens.

The little house on a big hill has a long garden bed that begins as part sun, then works its way into deep shade at the other end. This shade comes from trees and fencing. Knowing this helps me choose appropriate plants to add throughout the space.

Coral Bells are a good choice for part sun-part shade spaces. Pick this plant for the foliage, although it does have shoots of pink and white flowers in late spring. The leaves come in colors of deep purple, reddish bronze, and chartreuse. Often the colors are planted together to give contrast and pattern to garden borders.

Another part sun-part shade plant choice is Lungwort. Again, the foliage of long narrow spotted leaves is attractive. The plant does produce a flower in the early spring. Watch for it to change from pink to blue as the bloom matures.

Moving into a more shaded area, Astilbe and Toad Lily are fun choices. The Astilbe has feather-like white, pink, red, or orange flowers that appeared in early summer. Even without the blooms, the plants’ greenery is mounding and fern-like.

A shade garden’s beauty is mixing textures and colors of foliage to create interest when no flowers are present.

Hosta comes in many varieties but is a deer favorite. Choose this plant only if you are dedicated to spraying, have adequate deer-proof fencing, or live in an area without deer. If you do grow hosta, you are lucky. The plants are beautiful, and the size and shades of leaf color are almost endless.

Ferns tend to be deer resistant. Consider the Japanese-painted fern to bring color and interest to deep shade gardens. This plant has silver and white fronds with a deep purple stem and veins. This perennial will die back in the winter but reappear in the spring.

If the interplay of the foliage colors is not adding enough zing to your concept, try adding impatiens or new guinea impatiens. Both are annuals that work well in containers. They will add colors of red, pink, white, and orange to part-sun, part-shade areas of your garden. Don’t be afraid to pinch the stems back as they grow; this will encourage the plant to bush out rather than grow tall.

Wax begonias are another part-shade plant for containers. The thick dark waxy leaves are dark bronze, and flowers can be pink, orange, red, or white. Because of the deer that call my place home, I grow begonias and impatiens in pots on the deck.

Coleus are annuals grown for their brilliant leaf color. The multicolored leaves come in many varieties and colorways. Look for white and yellow, deep reds, and reds mixed with yellows. These plants can grow to be three tall and work well in the garden bed or containers.

If you have any doubt about the luxury of a shade garden, think about the times you have been delighted to find a bit of shade on a hot summer day. The cool temps, the soothing colors, and the overall tranquility of a shady spot are a welcomed surprise to all – just ask the momma doe who gave birth in my fern bed. She nestled her fawn under the shelter of trees and ferns for days while they bonded and grew strong.