By Debbie Rodgers
Cool shade is always welcome on a city or suburban property, but growing a successful flower garden without full sun exposure can seem like an insurmountable challenge for many people. Don't despair - you can create an oasis of beauty in shady spots - and it's really not any more difficult than gardening in sunny areas.
First, determine the type of shade on your lot. Trees usually filter sunlight through their branches and leaves, providing dappled shade. But walls, fences, and buildings will cast a solid shadow. If you have an area of dense shade that doesn't receive at least a few hours of light as the sun passes overhead during the day, you'd probably be better off displaying statuary there than trying to grow plants.
You must also consider the soil in your shady area. Anything planted beneath a tree will compete with the tree roots for moisture and the tree will invariably win. Surprisingly, walls and fences also absorb moisture from the soil. To compound the problem, roofs, walls, and hard surfaces often shelter gardens from much-needed rain.
In addition, city gardens are often deprived of the natural accumulation of rich organic material provided in natural settings by the breakdown of plant and animal matter. Therefore, although all gardens are improved by an application of compost and good earth and most benefit from watering, city shade gardens particularly need this kind of help.
Use plants whose foliage brightens shady corners and include visual texture and definition with variegated foliage, or leaveswith a variety of light colours such as gold, lime green, and blue. Hostas, a perennial shade garden favourite, are available in all of these colours and in sizes ranging from six-inch edgers to three foot specimen plants. The rich, deep greens of ferns will provide a counterpoint to lighter-leaved foliage.
Introduce more light with yellow, white, or pink blooming flowers. Impatiens and begonias are always popular, and fill in quickly to provide fast colour. Lily-of-the valley and bleeding heart provide spring colour. Wood poppy officially blooms in late spring and in my garden it imparts a splash of golden yellow for close to two months each May and June.
Add accents of bronze, chocolate red, or deep purple for visual punch. Coleus has made a tremendous comeback in recent years because of the wonderful marbled, dotted, striped, and margined assortment now available. Choose a rich wine edged with lime green (Green Margin or Wizard Mix), an opulent magenta and chocolate stripe (Stained Glass), or countless other varieties.
Because foliage plants provide the backbone of both container planting and shade gardens, a shaded small lot, deck, or condo balcony can easily shine.
A good basic recipe for a container - whether on a table, on the ground, or hanging - is to use a trailing plant, usually foliage such as ivy, sweet potato vine, or Creeping Jenny some upright foliage, such as ferns, hostas, or blue fescue a flowering plant such as velvety pansies or begonias. Clay or terracotta pots are attractive and complement a wide range of foliage and flowering plants. These are the traditional potting containers because, in addition to draining well, they wick moisture through their sides. This provides a drier root environment, which means less opportunity for root diseases. However, it also means more frequent watering is needed. This will be offset by the fact that shaded pots don't dry out as fast as those baking in the sun and, unlike their shaded counterparts in the garden, there is no competition with trees or fences for the water they do receive.
Plastic flower pots are inexpensive, lightweight, and functional, and come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, and colours. If you don't like the look of plastic, apply a faux finish to fool the eye, or slip the plastic flower pots inside other containers. Because plastic flower pots hold water longer than clay ones, they'll need water a little less frequently.
There are many annuals and perennials as well as shrubs for larger areas that will thrive in shade or partial shade. Use the varieties mentioned or ask at your local nursery for other shadow-loving plants, add lots of compost and water, and you've got it made in the shade this spring.