Shades of GREAT

Plenty of plants thrive away from the sun­shine

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - HOMES - COLLEEN ZACHARIAS

ON a hot and lazy sum­mer af­ter­noon, a shady area can be the most de­sir­able part of the gar­den, if only to cool off. Suc­cess­fully es­tab­lish­ing plants be­neath the shade cast by a tree, fence or neigh­bour­ing house, though, can be chal­leng­ing. Ken MacDon­ald, land­scape de­signer and owner of Prairie Sky Land­scap­ing, says typ­i­cally, low-light ar­eas in the gar­den are met by many gar­den­ers with a cer­tain amount of res­ig­na­tion, even dis­ap­point­ment. MacDon­ald says it is a mis­taken no­tion to as­sume shaded ar­eas in the land­scape ul­ti­mately limit a gar­dener’s ac­tiv­ity or choice of in­ter­est­ing plant ma­te­rial. “The abil­ity to skil­fully de­sign and im­ple­ment a vis­ually at­trac­tive ar­range­ment of plant ma­te­rial while suc­cess­fully over­com­ing the in­her­ent chal­lenges of shade gar­den­ing,” says MacDon­ald, “rep­re­sents a sig­nif­i­cant step in a gar­dener’s per­sonal growth.” MacDon­ald speaks from ex­pe­ri­ence. When he moved from his sun-filled prop­erty in Birds Hill to a tree-lined neigh­bour­hood in East Kil­do­nan, MacDon­ald found through trial and er­ror he had to adapt plant­ings to the new shade con­di­tions cast by ma­ture trees as well as com­pe­ti­tion for mois­ture from trees’ roots. Over time, he dis­cov­ered an ap­pre­ci­a­tion for plants that thrive in vary­ing de­grees of shade; not nec­es­sar­ily flow­er­ing plants, but a whole range of shade-loving plants with con­trast­ing tex­tures, unique shapes, and yes, even colour. To trans­form an un­der­used shady area in a gar­den that may be bland or mo­not­o­nous due to sparse or un­der­per­form­ing plants, MacDon­ald rec­om­mends gar­den­ers be­gin by as­sess­ing the mois­ture lev­els: for ex­am­ple, ex­am­ine the soil be­neath ma­ture trees and struc­tural over­hangs fol­low­ing rain­fall. Don’t be fooled into think­ing a good down­pour au­to­mat­i­cally soaks into your soil. Wher­ever there are ma­ture trees and a low branch canopy to in­ter­cept mois­ture, dry ar­eas may per­sist and be in need of ir­ri­ga­tion. Al­ter­na­tively, shady ar­eas can re­tain mois­ture longer. “Of­ten over­looked is the soil mix used when plant­ing,” says MacDon­ald, who sug­gests pre­par­ing the soil by adding a thin layer of rich or­ganic ma­te­rial avail­able as a three-way or four-way mix to help plants de­velop their root sys­tems. The first grow­ing sea­son is par­tic­u­larly im­por­tant, so pay close at­ten­tion to wa­ter­ing. The fol­low­ing year, add another thin layer (2.5 cm) of or­ganic mat­ter, keep­ing in mind less is more and en­sures the bal­ance of mois­ture and oxy­gen as well as gas ex­change to the tree’s roots is not hin­dered in any way. Prior to plant se­lec­tion, eval­u­ate the avail­able light your shade gar­den re­ceives at dif­fer­ent times of the day. Note the ex­tent of sun and shade pe­ri­ods, how long they last, as well as the qual­ity of the shade. For ex­am­ple, do you have full morn­ing sun with dap­pled light for brief in­ter­vals in the af­ter­noon?

If the shade is be­ing pro­vided by an east or west-fac­ing fence, then the area will only be in shadow for a por­tion of the day. If the fence is fac­ing north, then the area will mostly be in shade for the bet­ter part of the day. Dense shade is more prob­lem­atic, par­tic­u­larly be­neath conifers. Soil can be dry and de­pleted of nu­tri­ents. In ad­di­tion to ap­ply­ing a layer of or­ganic mulch, in­cor­po­rate a bal­anced fer­til­izer. It isn’t enough to dig a hole, pop the plant in, and then walk away. The plant will need as much help as you can give it if it is to thrive in dense shade. If suc­cess is dif­fi­cult to achieve, an al­ter­na­tive to bare soil or scrag­gly grass is to add a layer of wood mulch. Late last sea­son, MacDon­ald dis­cov­ered shred­ded red­wood mulch avail­able in large bales at La­coste Gar­den Cen­tre and con­sid­ers it an im­pres­sive prod­uct. In­ter­spers­ing in­trigu­ing fo­cal points such as gar­den art el­e­vates the whole ex­pe­ri­ence, says MacDon­ald. “Use th­ese pieces in a strate­gic man­ner, not to com­pete with plant­ings but in­stead to com­ple­ment. You can’t go wrong with sub­tlety.” The use of shade-tol­er­ant an­nu­als in ei­ther hang­ing bas­kets or at­trac­tive, dec­o­ra­tive con­tain­ers opens up all sorts of pos­si­bil­i­ties and can be very ef­fec­tive at lend­ing a burst of colour in an area re­stricted to vary­ing shades of green. MacDon­ald cre­ates spec­tac­u­lar con­tainer de­signs in his own gar­den that pro­vide not only eye-catch­ing colour but also ver­ti­cal in­ter­est. Prun­ing lower limbs and thin­ning the crown of de­cid­u­ous trees by re­mov­ing larger branches ei­ther in late Oc­to­ber or early spring can help to in­crease the amount of avail­able light. Ground­cov­ers and smaller peren­ni­als and an­nu­als can be planted in the un­der­story, but take care to not dis­turb a tree’s sur­face roots with larger plants such as shrubs. MacDon­ald par­tic­u­larly stresses the im­por­tance of re­mem­ber­ing to read the plant tag for in­for­ma­tion on ap­pro­pri­ate light con­di­tions. Plants are more likely to reach their full po­ten­tial if they are sit­u­ated in the proper light con­di­tions. MacDon­ald gives the ex­am­ple of Sum and Sub­stance, a com­mand­ing hosta with mas­sive char­treuse-coloured fo­liage. Suited to a lo­ca­tion with full morn­ing sun, its unique colour bleaches out if it is lo­cated in an area that re­ceives full af­ter­noon sun. Gold­mound spirea, another ex­am­ple, is of­ten found planted in full sun, although the plant tag rec­om­mends part sun. MacDon­ald says it can ap­pear almost chlorotic if it is planted in an area that re­ceives full sun for most of the day. “There is a huge dis­tinc­tion be­tween a plant thriv­ing in a given area or merely sus­tain­ing it­self,” says MacDon­ald. When MacDon­ald first moved to his cur­rent res­i­dence, there were a to­tal of six plants in his en­tire yard. To­day, with at least 70 per cent of the grass re­moved, this serene haven is char­ac­ter­ized by lus­cious fo­liage in con­trast­ing colours and tex­tures, curved path­ways, taste­ful fo­cal points and bright colours. Viewed at street level, it be­comes im­me­di­ately clear shade gar­dens are not re­stricted to swaths of mulch, low-grow­ing plants and ground cov­ers. Do plant choices for shady ar­eas mainly con­sist of hostas, ferns, lily of the val­ley, bleed­ing heart and rows of im­pa­tiens? Lovely as they are, con­nois­seurs of shade seek a di­ver­sity of plants for a ta­pes­try of fo­liage and blooms as well as unique form. The hor­i­zon­tal branch­ing pat­tern of Pagoda dog­wood, a small treeform with a ma­ture size


In a sea of green, no mat­ter how lovely, a punch of dra­matic colour en­livens a shade bor­der. Rex be­go­nias thrive in dry shade with dap­pled light. New for 2015: Juras­sic wa­ter­melon will make a state­ment like no other plant. Shred­ded red­wood mulch avail­able in large bales

trans­forms bare soil into an at­trac­tive area. Re­place the dis­ap­point­ment of sparse grass in shady ar­eas with a lush se­lec­tion of shade tol­er­ant plants. Even blooms are pos­si­ble if you make your selections

care­fully. The view from this wooden deck looks onto a pri­vate set­ting en­hanced by di­verse plant­ings.

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