Montgomery: How to get color in a shade garden
By Betty Montgomery
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Sunny borders with bold, bright blooms catch the attention of everyone but if you have a garden with shade, do not worry; these areas can be lovely, too. There are perennials that boast exotic flowers and others with pretty leaf color. A shade garden can be cool and inviting and is a pleasant place to garden on hot summer days. The good news is that there are plenty of plants that can tolerate or even prefer a shaded position.
Some of my favorite perennials for the shaded area have beautiful flowers and others I grow for the stunning foliage. Both have great qualities and when choosing plants for this situation, you need to think about different textures and foliage color. You do not want to choose plants that all have dark green foliage. Add a splash of cream, golden or white foliage to make the garden come alive.
If you want something new, Wild Swan, a Japanese anemone, produces masses of white flowers with attractive lavender-blue bands on the reverse of the petals. One outstanding feature is it flowers over a long time, blooming continuously from early to late summer. It typically grows 16 to 24 inches and makes a clump almost as wide. The flowers are gracefully carried on wiry stems above the deeply divided, dark green foliage. I have grown several other Japanese anemones such as Honorine Jobert and Whirlwind for years but they do not bloom until fall. Wild Swan blooms in the summer and over a longer period of time.
Hardy begonia is a must for a long period of either white or pink blooms. The flowers stand up above the interesting foliage and add lovely color. I have some growing in damp places as well as drier areas. If it is happy, it will seed about and give you a real show. It comes up later than other plants so do not disturb the ground in early spring or you will lose these lovely, charming plants.
If you live in zone 7 or cooler, hardy geranium Rozanne is a top choice for color. I have it planted along a border and it blooms all summer sporting lovely violet-blue flowers. Do not get this confused with a plant that is also named geranium that is an annual. The annual geranium is quite different from the hardy geranium Rozanne.
Hostas are at the top of the list of most shade gardeners. The array of textures, shapes and sizes of hostas are amazing. You can find some hostas that are quite large and others that are tiny. Two large ones that come to mind are Empress Wu and Sun and Substance. A true focal point for any shade garden, these giant forms are very impressive. Empress Wu can grow 4 feet tall and 7 or 8 feet wide with leaves well over 15 inches wide. Some of the small hosta plants do not get over 5 inches tall with leaves an inch wide. They do flower and can be dramatic while others are quite fragrant.
Brunnera Jack Frost is a real winner in my book. It has lovely clouds of tiny, pale blue, airy flowers in the spring, resembling forget-me-nots. I grow this for the handsome foliage that lights up a shady spot in my garden. The heart-shaped silver leaves are edged and veined with green that remain attractive throughout the growing season. They form a dense and lush mound, which deer and rabbits resist.
One last flower that I want to mention is not too showy but is exotic, toad lily. It has small, intricate flowers that are born on upright, arching stems. Foliage varies with the cultivar, as do the flowers. The blooms remind me of a small orchid and the foliage is really interesting and often two tones of green.
When I hear people talking about ornamental grasses, I never got excited until I started growing Japanese forest grass All Gold. It forms a mound of small, arching gold leaves that grow to about 18 inches, a perfect size to go under a maple tree or to line a bed. Since its color is from the foliage, it goes well with darker foliage plants, looking pretty all season and brightening up the garden.
You cannot beat ferns for a lovely airy look for the shade garden. They lend a natural appeal to a shade spot and are very disease and pest resistant and require little care. Ferns are great companions for other perennials and they come in all sizes. My favorite is the maidenhair ferns, but I would not want to be without some of the autumn ferns either. Cinnamon ferns with a rusty brown hue, add a different dimension, especially as they come out of the ground in the spring.
Two other foliage plants to consider are Solomon's seal, with its graceful, arching stems and some of the gingers. Callaway ginger with its round evergreen leaves has a prominent silver-white mottling. It forms a large clump over time and you do not have to worry about deer dining on this plant.
One of the first things to know when planning a shade garden is to understand what kind of shade you have. Light shade or dappled shade means you have some sun but it is filtered or only sunny a few hours of the day. Deep shade is when you have large trees that block out direct sunlight. Plus, the soil can be damp and take certain plants or dry shade, requiring a different group of plants. These conditions will determine which plants are best for you to grow.
Betty Montgomery is a master gardener and author of "Hydrangeas: How To Grow, Cultivate & Enjoy," and "A Four-Season Southern Garden." She can be reached at email@example.com