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The One-Size-Fits-All Shade Garden

The One-Size-Fits-All Shade Garden

Recently Loma Vista Nursery, a wholesale grower in Kansas, asked me to try some of their gorgeous plant materials so I could publicly extoll their virtues. Let me tell you, I am so here for that. 

They asked me to pick some plants from their current stock (which was difficult because it was like ordering from a 12 page menu of all my favorite foods, as if there was artichoke dip on every page!) and I was able to quickly design a sun garden and a shade garden that I’d plant in my yard and share all the details with anyone who would listen. 

I designed this shade garden in 2 colorways, one in pink and silver and one in white and blue. With this basic design, you can scale up to fill a larger space using more of each plant (7, 9 or 12) or keep it small by using just 3 to 5 of each plant. 

The important thing is to keep plant groupings together so as they grow in, they are puddles of color, instead of the ticker tape parade look. 

Rule #1: Add winter interest

I’m not sure how much I like the old rules, but I’ll keep this one and add my twist. I am so tired of hedges and rows. Here I’ve added Yews (Taxus tauntonii) and ‘Sprinter’ Boxwoods (in 2 sizes) as commas in the design, something to pause in between pockets of color. In the winter, the staggered evergreen color will be enough to lead the eye through, all the way to spring. 

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Rule #2: Height

Since this is a shade garden, there is already a source of shade. In my case it’s a rambling hot mess of invasive trees and shrubs at my property line. In your case, I hope it’s a nice Serviceberry or Redbud. Moving down a level from whatever is providing shade, I suggest these 2 Hydrangeas for your approval; ‘Mini Mauvette’ and ‘Wee White’. 

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‘Mini Mauvette’ Hydrangea is a 36” cousin of the Annabelle hydrangeas you already know, but with seriously intergalactic purple/pink flowers. It has marvelous habit and color, but most importantly for those that have struggled with those big, colorful Hydrangea macrophylla in the past, (you know the ones that never really produce a ton of blooms or the flowers aren’t the color that you expected) ‘Mini Mauvette’ needs no voodoo to perform. It will be covered in flowers, no need for winter protection (it’s hardy to zone 3) or esoteric pruning practices. Just plant it, cut it back by one third in late winter and watch it all happen, reliably, every summer after. 

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’Wee White’ Hydrangea is a 30” beauty, a miniaturized, well-behaved little sister to Annabelle. Where Annabelle gets big and floppy, ‘Wee White’ stays small and sturdy, with non-stop flowers throughout summer. With its dwarf size, you can add ‘Wee Whites’ to your landscaping nearly anywhere. ‘Wee White‘ is a problem solver, to say the least. 

Rule #3: Color

Color is always a sticking point in the shade garden, I however, prefer the muted tones and turned-up textures of a shade garden. It’s less riotous and let me tell you, I have quite enough riot in my life already. On the pink side for color, we have Astilbe ‘Silver Pink’ and Carex ‘Blue Zinger’. On the white side, Geranium ‘Rozanne’ and Heuchera ‘Carnival Black Olive’.

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On the pink side: The astilbe flower spikes will be left up, post flowering, as interest until they start to degrade (usually that’s spring, though). The ‘Blue Zinger’ Carex is evergreen and will be cut down in late winter. 

On the White side: Geranium ‘Rozanne’ is the superstar every garden deserves. She will not let you down. ‘Carnival Black Olive’ Heuchera looks great all year, you can’t lose with this plant. And like a true supporting player, it just makes everything else around it look better. 

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