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Northeast Gardening: Smooth Sailing in the Shade Garden

Brought to you by Lowe's Creative Ideas

How the Lowe's $100 challenge inspired Northeast region garden contributor Irene Virag to launch a boat garden in the shade.

 The Lowe's $100 challenge updated this derelict dinghy.
The boat was in no condition to hit the water.

The abandoned dinghy sat at the edge of an untamed portion of the yard we call the "back 40." A hole in the bow made the boat anything but seaworthy, and I, a novice gardener at the time, had a brainstorm: Fill the thing with soil and plant something. White impatiens seemed a no-brainer. And so it was for 18 seasons. Two flats transformed the dinghy into a white froth that brightened our yard's shadiest spot.

A flatbed cart let me size up how coleus, begonias and impatiens would look together.

But two springs ago my husband had emergency heart surgery, and I never got around to planting the boat. The next spring we were in the Grand Canyon celebrating a new lease on life. This year I had no excuses. I simply forgot. Besides, weeds and an unruly euonymous had taken over the boat, and it became a convenient place to plop hoses and empty flowerpots.

But along came the Lowe's $100 challenge, whereby regional garden experts got $100 gift cards to finance projects that might inspire other gardeners.

My thoughts turned to the little boat in the back 40.

It was easy to fill my shopping cart at Lowe's in Farmingdale, New York. I used a flatbed cart so I could mix and match my selections and get an idea of how they'd look together in the garden.

Dragon Wing begonias fill out fast.

Here's what I picked and why:

Pink Dragon Wing Begonias. Billed as the "Amazing Blazing Begonia," they have hot flowers that ignite the shade garden. One thing's for sure: There's no need to slay this dragon. I already had two I'd saved from last year's frost; I cut them back in the fall and brought them inside. So I just needed one more to balance my boat. Besides, dragon wing begonias fill in fast, reaching well over 1 ft tall and wide.

I divided out a 3-quart pot of Kong coleu.

Kong Coleus. Even though I'm no Fay Wray, I couldn't resist the King Kong of coleus, with its supersize beautifully textured and patterned foliage. I chose a variety featuring rosy streaks that get more pronounced as the plant grows to a height of 18 in. I divided one of the three containers, weaving the separated Kongs into the backdrop along with an upright chartreuse coleus whose name didn't make the plant tag. As with any coleus, I'll pinch off the flowers to keep the plants full and bushy.

Dividing gave me enough impatiens to plant in front of the boat.

Pink Double Impatiens. They look like miniature roses, love shade and glow till frost. I divided the plants so I ended up with enough to put a few in the ground in front of the boat.

The old boat has been refitted with new plantings.

Ogon Sedum. This water-wise groundcover has golden foliage that adds wattage. It's hardy in my Zone 7 garden and echoes the colors of the coleus to tie the entire planting together.

My rowboat was back on course as a made-in-the-shade container. But I still had one pot left--a marked-down hanging basket of trailing pink-and-apricot butterfly impatiens that beckoned as I waited in the checkout line.

So I pulled an unused shepherd's hook plant hanger out of my shed and sunk the impatiens in the ground at the stern of the boat. I replanted my bargain in a lined wire basket (when you've been gardening a while you seem to have such things hanging around) and elevated the plant to star status.

When I finished watering I remembered the hose pot I'd bought earlier at Lowe's for the patio. It would be a pretty and practical container for the hose that once lay tangled in my derelict dingy.

Something was still missing. I ran out and bought another pot of double impatiens to hide the hose.

Finally I looked at my little boat and thought it'll be smooth sailing for the rest of the summer.