Cre­at­ing a shade gar­den this spring

Ontario Gardener Magazine - - Contents - By Ila Throck­mor­ton

In my gar­den, un­der the shade of a young green ash, a gar­den is tak­ing shape. There is room here for hostas which are still young and ten­der. Not yet fully grown, their leaves will not yet over­lap as they will one day when the gar­den ma­tures.

Hostas emerge late in the spring gar­den and be­fore they do, I plan to have a stun­ning dis­play of daf­fodils, blue grape hy­acinth and clumps of early tulips, all of which will be pretty much fin­ished by the time the leaves come out on the tree above. When that hap­pens and shade creeps into the gar­den, the mir­a­cle that is Ja­cob’s lad­der (es­pe­cially the cream and green var­ie­gated one) will un­fold its strings of pearl-drop flow­ers and the shy lit­tle wood vi­o­lets will be re­veal­ing their dainty blue flow­ers.

In front of the hostas, pretty lit­tle heuchera, what we used to call coral bells be­fore they got so fancy, will rest in tidy mounds, the orange hues of ‘Mar­malade’, con­trast­ing with the bril­liant greens of ‘Lime Rickey’ and the deep pur­ple of ‘Plum Pud­ding’, while the sil­ver veins of ‘Pewter Moon’ will show nicely against its spires of coral bells. ‘Pur­ple Palace’, more bronze than pur­ple, has maple-shaped leaves and self-seeds in the gar­den so be care­ful not to let it take over.

To of­fer some del­i­cate re­lief to the bulk of the hostas, the red stems of three maid­en­hair ferns sup­port del­i­cate fronds. Lower and leatherier is the deep green of the deer fern, be­side which preens a sil­ver and pur­ple Ja­panese fern.

Epimedium, bishop’s hat or some­times called bar­ren­wort, horny goat weed or (my favourite) fairy wings, is the most del­i­cate of all, their heartshaped leaves trem­bling on slen­der stems. In early spring, clus­ters of small white, pale yel­low, rose or laven­der flow­ers some­times ap­pear be­fore the leaves. The fo­liage can be en­chant­ing shades of green, bronze or green with

Shade plants can be the most re­ward­ing part of the spring gar­den

red or pur­ple veins. When well-es­tab­lished in a shady spot, Epimedium can make a spec­tac­u­lar ground cover a foot or more deep.

At the out­er­most edge, where the soil is damp year round, early bloom­ing prim­ula, the reg­u­lar store-bought va­ri­ety of early spring, grow hap­pily as soon as the snow melts. They thrive in this cool, wet spot, and af­ter they fin­ish bloom­ing, the broad crinkly leaves hug the ground. The won­der­ful thing about prim­ula is that the mounds spread a lit­tle wider each year cre­at­ing more masses of cheery, freshlook­ing flow­ers for many weeks.

Ajuga is a happy denizen of this peace­ful place. It’s also called bu­gle­weed and is some­times known as car­pen­ter weed be­cause its juice is said to stem the bleed­ing from self-in­flict-

ed wounds of those who work with wood. This ground hug­ger car­pets a shady area over time, send­ing up wel­come spikes of blue in the spring. I like the bronze fo­liage of the one called ‘Cho­co­late Chips’.

Browal­lia, one of the pret­ti­est shade an­nu­als, grows in small shrubby green mounds and is cov­ered with blue to mauve or even white, five-petalled flow­ers that per­sist for months. This is an un­der­used an­nual that can add a great deal of life to a mid­sum­mer shade gar­den.

Don’t for­get all the won­der­ful Pul­monaria or lung­worts, with their sil­ver-speck­led leaves, that give us an early gift of blue, white or pink flow­ers, then re­ward us all the rest of the year with their light-emit­ting fo­liage. Be sure to dead­head the flow­ers once the blooms have faded as the leaves at­tached to the flow­er­ing stem will turn brown and raggedy look­ing. Pull the flower stem right out.

This is just a tiny list of all the amaz­ing plants that will de­light you with their char­ac­ter and sub­tle bril­liance in the shade gar­den.

Shade gar­dens act like balm for the har­ried heart. The muted hues of coloured leaves and the sub­tle shades of green cool the eye and let it see the bril­liance of the sun­lit parts of the gar­den more clearly.

Don’t de­spair over that un-sun­lit space – build a shade gar­den and get ready to mar­vel. It may be­come your favourite place in the gar­den.

Young hosta with wood vi­o­lets.

Pasque flower.


Ja­pa­nee painted fern.

Wood vi­o­let.


Ajuga in flower.

Ja­cob's lad­der, lung­wort and hosta.

Lung­wort flower.

Prim­u­lar, the store bought kind.

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