By Marty Ross
Shade can be tricky. Growing grass in a shady area, under trees, for example, is a struggle. Instead plant a shade-tolerant groundcover such as periwinkle, pictured. Periwinkle’s blue, white, or purple flowers sparkle amid the fresh new growth in spring. The rest of the season it’s a carpet of green. Rake lightly in fall to remove tree leaves from the evergreen foliage.
To plant, simply set several periwinkle (Vinca minor) plants in the ground around trees, firm the soil around them, water well, and the plants should fill in quickly. You will not miss the mowing! Because you’re only setting a few small plants in the ground, you’re really not disturbing tree roots.
Hostas, pictured, bring a garden’s dark corners to life. Plant these leafy perennials around the edges of a woodland garden, or set them among peonies, lilies, and ferns in light shade. You’ll find nearly 2,000 cultivars — some so small they fit in a teacup, others as big as a washtub. Variegated hostas, with a creamy-white margin around each leaf, glow in shade gardens. They’re also beautiful in pots.
Siberian bugloss (Brunnera macrophylla) also spreads to fill in shady spots without becoming a garden thug. Bugloss, pictured, appreciates a little extra watering its first season. Once established, this tough perennial resists drought. The delicate-looking blue flowers appear just as the leaves emerge in spring. The plants and flowers shrug off spring frosts. Bugloss is a great companion plant for hostas, Solomon’s seal, and Epimedium.
Shrubs give a shade garden substance. Doublefile viburnum (Viburnum plicatum tomentosum), with its snow-white clusters of spring flowers, pictured, is a favorite in Zones 4 and 5. Where winters are more severe try arrowwood viburnum (V. dentatum) or American cranberrybush viburnum (V. trilobum) — both native shrubs with attractive flowers in early summer followed by berries and striking fall foliage.
Hellebores, pictured, have some of the longest-lasting blooms in shade gardens, and they make beautiful cut flowers. Hellebores bloom in early spring, emerging from buds that hug the ground while the snow melts and the air begins to warm. Their flowers, which nod gracefully when they open and stand more upright as they mature, are usually purple or smoky pink, sometimes a dusty white infused with a hint of purple. Many hellebore flowers are as freckled as a strawberry. The leaves add great texture to shade gardens.
Shady spots give you a chance to play with textures, and appreciate the great variety of leaf shapes and the cooling comforts of green. Splashes of variegated hosta or Solomon’s seal foliage add quite a sparkle in the dappled light under trees. Delicate blooms, such as those of bleeding heart, pictured, are dazzling in spring. When the flowers fade, a good shade garden still puts on a solid show.