By Jodi Torpey
Every landscape is as alive as the plants that grow there. Even the sunniest Mountain region garden changes over time as trees and shrubs mature, casting longer shadows on the garden below.
Some gardeners simply let the leafy canopy’s dappled shade cover the landscape, but others choose to plant a soothing forestlike understory. Fortunately, many shade-loving plants prefer cool spots to send down their roots while sending up their colors.
Astilbes are one of the easiest and showiest perennials you can plant under trees or in front of shrubs. A mass of these feathery, light-color plumes brightens any shady area. A simple way to add layers of interest is select pastel pink, lavender, and creamy-white astilbes in a range of heights.
It’s easy to add color to a shady space, even if you don’t plant a single flower. Variegated foliage plants, such as hostas, add life and depth because their two-tone leaves keep the space from becoming a sea of green.
Mix leaf sizes and shapes to get the biggest return on your shade garden investment. If you like, fill in the garden space with other foliage plants or tall ornamental grasses in similar or contrasting colors.
Another way to use foliage instead of flowers is to add bicolor caladiums. Plant these easy-to-grow annuals as bulbs or transplants after the soil warms to 65 degrees. You could interplant caladiums among ferns, ivy, hostas, or bright coleus plants that echo the pink tones of the caladium leaves. For a stunning display, create a long, wide border using one variety of caladium in front of slightly taller shrubs.
While planting your shade garden, remember containers too. Combine tall ferns, colorful coleus, sweet potato vine, and ivy. For an edible version, plant red kale, trailing thyme, frilly lettuces, and mint.
Whether you choose patio pots or window boxes, use shade-loving container plantings to add another dimension to your ever-changing landscape.