Posted tagged ‘shade’

When North Becomes South

December 1, 2012

Time for a little break from my California posts – just for this week. As some of my readers know, in May 2011 I was forced to take down a 90-foot beech tree that had been the centerpiece of my front yard for as long as I’ve lived in my house.

My front yard when the beech tree ruled.

Its loss turned my north-facing front yard to the equivalent of southern exposure, and this summer I watched in horror as my lovingly-chosen shade-tolerant plants struggled to cope with direct sun for much of the day.

Hosta 'Halcyon,' sun scorch

Example 1: The ‘Halcyon’ hostas have fried in the heat. I expect to have to move them next year, and invest in more deer spray (at present their location protects them from the ravages of local Bambis).

I suspect the reason the front yard took such a direct hit has a lot to do with the fact that the house sits at the top of a steep slope. And now, any shade provided by my gorgeous, mature crabapple tree on the northeast side of the front yard is also history – the crabapple was removed shortly before last Thanksgiving because of disease problems (fireblight and other issues) and the proximity of its sagging large branches to my dining room window.

What am I most worried about? First, my awesome stand of skimmia, which over the years had spread like crazy on the slope on the left side of the front steps. I had never seen skimmia this happy in any other place I’ve tried it. But this is definitely a shade plant and last summer after the beech came down leaves began yellowing on the skimmia. In desperation, I moved many of them to the back yard, and have replaced them with Indian hawthorn, which I hope the deer will ignore.

Skimmia japonica

Two transplanted skimmia. The one on the left came from the front hill and you can see how yellowed by the sun its leaves are. I plan to prune it hard eventually to see if I can encourage new growth, but my experience is that these plants resent being moved.

Acer palmatum 'Glowing Embers,' Hydrangea macrophylla 'Nigra,' daphne

Surprisingly, the Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’ has done remarkably well despite strong sun and blistering heat since the two trees were taken down. The ‘Nigra’ hydrangea is soldiering on; I try to give it extra water. I can’t transplant everything.

In the bed of the new ‘Riversii’ beech I’ve planted to replace the old beech, I’ve put Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight,’ Ajuga ‘Black Scallop,’ and variegated Hakone grass; late in the fall I added some Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster.’ (Feather reed grass – not shown in these photos.)  Fingers crossed. I think of it as an experiment, and will keep you posted.

Fagus sylvatica 'Riversii', Cephalotaxus harringtonia

Fagus sylvatica ‘Riversii’, Cephalotaxus harringtonia, and groundcovers just after planting last November.

Fagus sylvatica 'Riversii,' iPhone photos, sunny exposure

Taken in early August, this photo shows how the ajuga have struggled. So has the Hakone grass, although the iPhone’s “happy face” effect tends to disguise that fact.

Containers for the Shade

July 14, 2012

As I’ve confessed before, container planting isn’t my strong suit. Occasionally I get a burst of inspiration, but more often I consult my colleague Kripa here at Landscape Projects, who is a genius when it comes to putting together gorgeous pots. Here’s a sample, for a shady garden, which she created recently primarily using annuals we already had on hand.

shade planter, shade planting combinations, white gardens, Landscape Projects Inc.

I could look at this all day. I wish it were in my garden.

I love the simplicity and elegance of this design, created for a client who prefers only white flowers (with a touch of blue permitted – see the next photo).  The backdrop is a Boston fern from a ten-inch hanging basket (not hardy in the garden but gorgeous for summer), accented by Caladium ‘Ghost’ in front. White Scaevola and chartreuse Ipomaea ‘Sweet Marguerite’ (sweet potato vine) round out the composition. All the plants are shade-tolerant.  In a matching container not far from this one, white begonias joined the party, but I didn’t get a good shot of that one – it was in a sunnier area and the light wasn’t good. But trust me, it was just as beautiful.

In another part of the garden, Kripa played a variation on the white and green theme, adding just a touch of blue Lobelia.

shade containers, shade plant combinations, Landscape Projects

After only about two weeks, this is filling out nicely.

In addition to the Lobelia, she used Caladium ‘Candidum,’ Swedish ivy, white impatiens, some golden creeping Jenny, and Ipomaea ‘Blackie.’ Oh yes, and another Boston fern (smaller this time). The client was thrilled – instant elegance and beauty, and all she has to do is water!

Of course, you can bring color into your shady area containers or back yard with annuals like coleus. Last summer I had a container on my deck where I took that approach, which I wrote about here. Of course, these were in the sun, but they would have worked in the shade as well with maybe just a few adjustments to the coleus I used.

This year, my own containers have been mixed – I now have so much sun in the front yard that I need to re-think my front step containers. But I did manage to create one back-yard container about a month ago that is working well so far. It began with a trip to Home Depot, where I was looking for light bulbs but instead had the great good fortune to find some unusual looking caladiums. I added a self-seeded ‘Lady in Red’ fern (Athyrium felix-femina ‘Lady in Red’) from one part of the garden, stole some variegated Carex (sedge grass) from another part of the yard, and voila:

shade containers, shade plant combinations, Landscape Projects Inc.

The shade planter at the foot of my deck. The white flower hanging down over it is from a Ligustrum shrub.

What’s that lovely caladium named, I’m sure many of you want to know? So do I. The plant tag just said, “Shade plant.” On my way to my car two other gardeners stopped me and wanted to know its name and where I’d gotten it, but I had bought the only two on the shelf. It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there when you’re decorating a shade garden. I may not have Kripa’s talent, but I think I made up for it in sheer luck.

Update: Jen’s comment below prompted me to do some Internet research. The full Latin name of a caladium is apparently Caladium x hortulanum, but with a little sleuthing I discovered my find is a variety called ‘Cranberry Star.’ My thanks to Jen, for spurring me to work a little harder. Now if I can only replicate my luck next year!

“Winter Sun” in the Garden

December 3, 2011

It’s late November as I write this. Opportunities for photographing gardens are almost nil (although I did happen on a fabulous fall garden a couple of weeks ago when a new client contacted me). With the soaking rains here last week, all the leaves are down (except for those blasted oak leaves, which will last until January) so finding something to shoot is a challenge.

Enter an invitation from one of my ongoing garden owner clients to come see his mahonia. Ho hum, I thought. How interesting can that be? Answer: plenty, when the mahonia in question is Mahonia x media ‘Winter Sun.’

Mahonia x media 'Winter Sun'

'Winter Sun' mahonia lighting up the landscape in late November in a client's garden.

The client had mentioned that he had “a few” of these mahonia around the upper part of his garden, whose hardscape areas were designed several years ago by Corinna Posner (her own garden backs up to this one). But I was totally unprepared for the impact the bright yellow blooms of  ‘Winter Sun’ had on the surrounding areas.
Mahonia x media 'Winter Sun'

Mahonia x media 'Winter Sun', winter garden

The blooms of two plants of 'Winter Sun' lead your eye up into the far parts of the garden - and don't you just love the contrast with the pumpkins?

Mahonia x media 'Winter Sun', fall

The blooms of Mahonia 'Winter Sun' provide a great foil for the fading rust and red colors of adjoining deciduous shrubs as well as its own dark green foliage

Up close, the blooms are even more striking, and faintly fragrant as well.

Mahonia x media 'Winter Sun'

The spiky blooms on 'Winter Sun' turn from chartreuse-green to a bright yellow.

After seeing this beauty in my client’s garden, I looked it up online. ‘Winter Sun’ mahonia is hardy only from zones 7 to 9, prefers a partially shady site sheltered from wind, and will grow to about 10 feet tall unless pruned to a lower height. It’s more fragrant than most mahonias – and should be deer-resistant although if I’m lucky enough to find one for my own garden I will be putting it to the test. For more details on this stunner, visit Great Plant Picks’ website here. And be prepared for a serious case of plant lust.

Clematis for the Shady Garden

May 21, 2011

One of the first sun-loving plants I learned to crave when I became a gardener was clematis. As many of my readers know by now, however, very little of my garden gets full sun (in fact, none of it does, although a portion of it gets western sun and that qualifies as far as I can tell). I have grown, loved and photographed many clematis – and will share more of them in a later post. I have a particularly soft spot in my heart, however, for three that have flowered well for me and my clients in shady sites: Clematis ‘Dawn,’ Clematis ‘Silver Moon,’ and Clematis ‘Blue Moon.’

Clematis Silver Moon, shade clematis

A duo of Clematis 'Silver Moon'

I started with ‘Silver Moon,’ a light-blue colored large-flowered clematis, planting it behind some shrubs next to a fence on the east side of my house. The color was breathtaking, although it probably would fade out in direct sun. It flowered regularly for me for some years, eventually succumbing (I think) to stem breakage once too often during my attempts at a one-person spring cleanup. I have used Silver Moon’s cousin, ‘Blue Moon’ (now apparently known as Clematis ‘Claire de Lune’) on a client’s arbor in serious shade. It took several years to establish but this year is blooming prolifically, benefiting from additional indirect light that now reaches the area because of the loss of a large hickory tree on the other side of the driveway. The early form of the bloom looks like this:

Clematis Blue Moon, Clematis Claire de Lune

Clematis 'Blue Moon'

Mine has never really taken off, but here’s ‘Blue Moon’ on the client’s arbor this year (some five years after planting): Clematis Blue Moon, Clematis Claire de LuneAfter night comes the dawn – Clematis ‘Dawn,’ to be precise. This is my favorite, probably because I love the way it looks as it opens, Clematis Dawn
and its almost perfect form as it presents itself fully.

Clematis Dawn

How can you not love this flower?

Singly or in groups, it never disappoints.

Clematis Dawn

A cluster of Clematis 'Dawn'

I must explain that this clematis – which will probably never bloom as prolifically as the Blue Moon clematis on my client’s arbor – represents to me a real triumph. It gets absolutely NO direct sun; I planted it behind a large old pieris in my front yard, against the brick wall of my north-facing house. Its colors are delicate and its shape gorgeous. I should plant it for clients more often. Speaking of planting, if this post has whetted your appetite for any of these clematis, I can recommend an East Coast mail-order nursery that has supplied me with my plants and does a phenomenal job of packing and shipping these delicate treasures, Completely Clematis ( in Massachusetts) . On the West Coast, Chalk Hill Clematis used to sell clematis online but apparently has become primarily a cut-flower supplier. If any of my readers can recommend other trusted online suppliers, I’d love to know about them.

Camellias for Fall and Winter

January 1, 2011

Let’s begin 2011 with a look at one of my favorite solutions to a frequent design problem. Creating shade gardens where you need evergreen shrubs can be a challenge. One quickly tires of the ubiquitous choices (yews, cherry laurels, nandina), useful though they may be. Add a desire for a flowering plant and one idea that comes to mind for me in our area is a fall or winter-flowering camellia.

Although it’s not one of the Ackerman hybrid camellias (more about them below), members of the Camellia sasanqua “family” have hardiness traits that make them appealing to try in residential gardens above the Mason Dixon-line. In fact, C. sasanqua ‘Kanjiro,’ was one of the first evergreen plants I put in my own garden after going through my landscape design program.

Camellia sasanqua 'Kanjiro', evergreen plants, evergreen screens

My Kanjiro sasanqua camellia in bloom in 2004.

Note the dark green color of the leaves, which on this variety of camellia (as opposed to the better-known Camellia japonica shrubs) are smaller, making them a bit easier to incorporate into the landscape. Here is a shot taken about two years after planting. Today, after approximately eight years in my garden, this “shrub” is now about eight feet high, and partially screens a view of my neighbor’s house, to my pleasant surprise.

Camellia sasanqua 'Kanjiro', evergreen plants, evergreen screens

Kanjiro has a somewhat upright, vase-shaped habit in the landscape.

While the individual blooms of sasanqua camellias and the ‘Ackerman hybrids,’ as they are often called, aren’t like the lush, full blooms of a Camellia japonica (see the images in my Filoli Center and Gamble Garden posts from last February), they can be numerous and eye-catching. In my garden, ‘Kanjiro’ begins blooming on or around Thanksgiving and can continue until the end of January if we don’t get a hard freeze.

Developed in large part by the work of Dr. William Ackerman, “winter-hardy” hybrid camellias can be grown in Zones 5b and warmer, especially if given some protection when choosing their site. Ackerman’s hybridization work has resulted in the creation of such varieties as Camellia ‘Winter’s Interlude’ and ‘Winter’s Snowman’ (among many others).

Camellia x 'Winter's Interlude', evergreen plants, evergreen screens

Winter's Interlude, a cross between the tea camellia (C. oleifera Plain Jane) and C. sinensis Rosea, can be used as a hedge since it tends to spread both horizontally as well as vertically. Guess the gorgeous pink flowers are just an extra added bonus!

Camellia x 'Winter's Snowman', evergreen plants, evergreen screens

A triple-cross with tea camellia, sasanqua and C. hiemalis parentage, Winter's Snowman has white, semi-double or anemone flowers from mid-November through December. Another good choice for hedging situations.

I’ve used a number of these fall/winter-blooming camellias in client gardens, either to provide winter interest or to help screen a utility meter. They may go in at a relatively small size but since they grow well in filtered sunlight, even in the shade of a building, in a couple of years they do the trick.

Camellia sasanqua, evergreen plants, evergreen screens

A Camellia sasanqua used to screen a gas meter on the front of a clients house (below the window on the left)

One word of advice for those of you interested in adding them to your garden: Dr. Ackerman recommends planting them in the spring to give their roots the best chance to settle in before the end of the growing season.

For more information on these camellias and the fascinating history of their creation, read Dr. Ackerman’s description of their origins and development here. In the meantime, keep your fingers crossed for me – I’ve just pushed the boundaries further by planting a Camellia japonica cultivar (‘April Blush’) in the front of my house, late in the season – with apologies to Dr. Ackerman and lots of prayers to Mother Nature!

Heavenly Hydrangeas (Part 2)

July 10, 2010

An unknown variety of lacecap hydrangea peeks through a fence in Washington DC

Last week I wrote about “mophead” hydrangeas that I grow in my garden. This week is let’s look at some “lacecap” varieties.  From a design standpoint, I love using this kind of hydrangea in woodland-style gardens for a more natural look; somehow the mopheads look out of place. Many clients I meet haven’t made the acquaintance of these  kinds of hydrangeas, and sometimes I gain a convert or two from people who didn’t think they liked hydrangeas at all.

Technically speaking, there are at least two kinds of lacecaps. Hydrangea macrophylla has two “sub-species,” the lacecaps (with “composite” styles of flowers) and the “mopheads” with globose-headed flowers. (A valuable guide to hydrangeas is the reference book Hydrangeas, A Gardener’s Guide, by Toni Lawson-Hall and Brian Rothera, to which I am indebted in trying to explain this distinction).

Hydrangea 'Lanarth White'

The blooms of Hydrangea 'Lanarth White' in my garden

I’ll begin with my favorite. Hydrangea ‘Lanarth White’ is a stunning lacecap in my garden. I grow two of them in front of three dark, tall cherry laurels next to my deck. Except for this year, when the snows hit them hard, they have a fairly upright habit, since their flowers are lighter and airier than the big mopheads’ blooms. This hydrangea is more sun-tolerant than most, and easy to find in the trade. Its’ tiny fertile ‘true’ flowers, grouped in the center of the corymb, are blue in my soil and provide a nice landing platform for insects looking for nectar.

The other non-serrata lacecap that I grow is ‘Lilacina.’ This one tends to get tall and leggy so periodically I take out some of the largest canes in an attempt to keep it in scale.

Hydrangea 'Lilacina'Interestingly enough, its blooms begin as pink, then change over to the blue you see above. Here’s one of the initial flowers.

Hydrangea 'Lilacina'

The initial color of 'Lilacina's' blooms in my garden is pinkish.

Apart from the Hydrangea macrophylla lacecaps, there are the Hydrangea serrata varieties, native to the woodlands of Japan and Korea.( These are also sometimes listed as H. macrophylla subsp. serrata.) They stay smaller and are reputed to be more cold-hardy, although this is a matter of some debate among experts. My personal favorite in this group is ‘Blue Billows,’ shown below.

Hydrangea serrata 'Blue Billows'

'Blue Billows' in my back yard, with ferns and a variegated boxwood in the background.

Hydrangea 'Blue Billows', Hosta 'Pineapple Upside Down Cake'

The blue color of its flowers is quite intense at the beginning. Shown with Hosta 'Pineapple Upside Down Cake' and autumn fern.

Finally, I have a few of the newer Japanese imports – one called ‘Purple Tiers’ and another called ‘Diadem.’ Their flowers are smaller and the infertile ones closer together. If you plant these in your garden, place them where their subtle, delicate beauty can be appreciated, for the flowers are fleeting.

Hydrangea 'Diadem'

The small, delicate flowers of Hydrangea serrata 'Diadem.'

Heavenly Hydrangeas (Part 1)

July 3, 2010

Hydrangeas from my garden, given as a present to two friends celebrating their wedding last week.

Most people would not use hydrangeas as foundation plants, but I am not most people. This is a tribute to one of my favorite shrubs, which grace my north-facing front yard in foundation beds (interspersed with cherry laurels for some evergreen staying power in the winter) as well as beds on the east and south sides of the lot. I have half a dozen or more kinds of hydrangeas on my property, and this year some of them seem to be eating the house, thanks probably to the good start they got during Snowmaggedon and a wet spring.

In a post several months ago, I picked this photo as one of my favorite shots of my garden (and it still is).

My front yard in early summer morning light

Behind the bench you can see two Annabelle hydrangeas, but I will confess that they are there primarily because a friend recommended them as remarkably drought-tolerant. She was right; despite the competing roots of my old crabapple tree, the Annabelles soldier on without supplemental water.

But I prefer the Hydrangea ‘All Summer Beauty’ shrubs next to the house, because of the differing shades of blue and pink they provide as grace notes to the otherwise muted shady palette of my north-facing front yard. Yes, they look like sticks in the winter, but I don’t care. Right now a huge one is in a holding bed in back of the house while my steps and stoop are being rebuilt and we will see if it survives. Here are some of the flowers as it started to show color in the spring.

Hydrangea 'All Summer Beauty'

'All Summer Beauty' as it starts to color.

And here it is in early summer, bowing under the weight of its enormous flowers.

Hydrangea 'All Summer Beauty'

One of the reasons I decided to write this post, however, is to talk a little bit about some of the hydrangeas I grow that you may not see every day. Let’s start with the mopheads. First is ‘Nigra’, whose black stems and pink blossoms make up for the fact that it isn’t particularly vigorous. I grow it primarily for the stems, next to an aging daphne in front of my bench under the crabapple tree.

Hydrangea 'Nigra'

Hydrangea 'Nigra' has black stems that set it apart from the other hydrangeas I grow.

I grow another hydrangea called ‘Forever Pink,’ primarily as an experiment because our soil is so acidic (I wanted to see if it would stay pink). Maybe it should be renamed ‘95% Pink’ for this area.

Hydrangea 'Forever Pink'

In our soil, 'Forever Pink' has a purplish cast to it but is still a knockout.

Then there is ‘Blue Danube,’ which I think is really my favorite. I bought it years ago, via mail-order, from Wilkerson Mill Gardens. Unfortunately, the last time I checked, they didn’t appear to be carrying it any more, so if I want more I will have to resort to cuttings. I have two specimens, growing in part-sun, part-shade in the back yard, and I can’t believe the colors and the shape of the individuals florets.

Hydrangea 'Blue Danube'

'Blue Danube' is my favorite mophead hydrangea.

In my next post, I’ll share my favorite lacecap hydrangeas with you. But before I close, I would like to invite those of you who love photos of hydrangeas to visit Britt Conley’s blog (The Photo Garden Bee), where she has a recent post with some absolutely gorgeous photos.

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