"One of the most delightful things about a garden is the anticipation it brings."

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Working with what I've got.

For a long time I tried to fool myself into thinking that I could have a big cottage garden in our backyard, full of roses and other plants that needed lots of sun.  I spent a lot of time and money trying to create one.  Most of the plants grew okay, but tended to lean towards the sun and never really looked how I pictured.  Over the past few years I decided to work with what we've got instead of trying to create something that probably isn't possible.  Most of our yard is surrounded by very large evergreen trees.  Many are in our next door neighbors yard so there isn't much we can do about them.  The two very large ones in our yard were limbed up and thinned a bit about three years ago which has greatly helped the amount of sun we get.  
I thought I would share some of what I've been working on recently and how I've begun to accept the fact that we have a pretty shady and dry backyard.  The pond area and against one side of our home gets a lot sun, so I can still grow some sunny perennials there.

This area receives mostly all shade with a bit of afternoon sun to the right of the corner shown.  I'm able to have Echinacea, Rudbeckia and Agastache growing there.  Here I've moved over Hostas, Astillbes and a Fuchsia magellanica that I found under a crowded hosta.  I dug up the fuchsia a few weeks ago and "babied" it and now it's got a lot of new growth on it.  Almost all of these were divisions from another part of the yard except for the Astillbe.  I also moved over a Clematis 'Miss Bateman' which can handle shade.  I think as it fills in more it's going to look really nice.

This Oakleaf Hydrangea 'Pee Wee' happily grows in this shady corner.

Further down along the fence is a group of Hollyhocks which started as one seedling many years ago and continues to self sow.  This plant gets a fair amount of shade, but I'm taking a cue from it reseeding and growing that it doesn't mind where it is.  It's just starting to bloom.

Looking down the pond and pathway is mostly all shade.  I took a chance planting the apple tree about three years ago.  To my surprise it's growing well and producing lots of apples.  It does get a lot of sun because the Pine tree doesn't cast much shade on it.

I never thought we'd have apples growing in our shady backyard.  It gets just enough sun, and has been pretty to look at year round.

Oakleaf hydrangea 'Snow Queen' grows under the Ponderosa Pine in very dry soil and part shade.  I love how the leaves and flowers change color as the summer ends.

This is standing facing back towards the pond.  You can see with all the dry weather a lot of the Irish moss has dried up.  Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis), Sweet Woodruff (Galium odoratum) and Blue Star Creeper (Laurentia fluviatilis) are all doing great though.

Here Ocean Spray, also known as Cream Bush (holodiscus discolor), lives under a cedar tree.  It can take dry soil and likes part shade.  It's also a native plant here which probably explains why it doesn't mind being under evergreens.

The base of the Cedar tree has Hellebores, Hostas, Wood Sorrel (oxalis oregana), Sword Fern (another native here) and a Hydrangea.

This is a bloom on the Hydrangea under the Cedar.  It was here when we moved in and hasn't grown much, but it continues to bloom every year.

I've enjoyed reading several posts lately on what grows well in shade.  If anyone has some suggestions for dry shade to add I'd love to hear them, especially anything that might bloom during the summer.  I've mentioned before that I plan to add more and more natives to this area, especially along the path.  I think too much energy was put into trying to make plants grow somewhere that wasn't the right place. I'm just going to keep working with what I've got and enjoy it rather than wish it was different.
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  1. Perfect post for me. I am also trying to come to the face the fact I have shade. I like shade but also like sun lovers. I've now accepted it. I purchased nothing but shade plants at a sale yesterday and am trying to plant now. That was a big deal for me! You've done well with all of yours and I know I'll be referring back to this post for help as I transition a bit more. Here in dry shade I find aucubas are my go to shrub. Oakleafs do fine too. Sweet autumn does fine, lamium, hellebores of course. It is hard to find that right balance but we can only work it. Back to the garden for me:) Just needed a break to research some of my buys. Have fun and thanks for the shade post. Seems not many have this 'problem'.

  2. Ah! A shade garden! Though it may be difficult in some climate zones, I discovered that the prettiest garden I've had was one that was in the shade! I put in a combination of ferns, hydrangeas, impatiens, hostas and coleus (for pretty leafy color). The result was very nice! I'll see if I can dig up a picture and post it later. The yard was in a temporary place I lived in...and the yard got only about an hour or two of sun (amazing!). Anyway, your shade garden looks like it's doing well! Beautiful pictures!

  3. I love your gardening blog. I'm new to gardening and appreciate all that I can learn from you garden experts.

    As someone who enjoys photography too, I love your photos.

  4. Hi! One of my faves from our shady patio back in CA was the Japanese Painted Fern. Glorious and very undemanding. Nice changing colors along each leaf.

    I had a potted Ligularia that did really well in the shade, the deepest shade we had. It never flowered but had very thick fuzzy leaves with a wavy "lettuce" edge. I loved that plant, named it "Caligula" so I could remember Ligularia.

    Also I did well with the Flowering maples (Abutilon) in the dappled sun. You could totally have those. They come in a rainbow of colors and when they are done blooming, just cut 'em back to knee-high and here comes another fresh round of growth and blooms.

    I'm sure the snow and cold temps here where I live now would kill all that stuff. But, I got to enjoy it then!

    Another great post... I feel like I took a nice garden tour, very inspiring.

    And, I really love your philosophy. My design teacher once taught me: If you can't fix it, feature it! That has helped me a lot with both design and life. Cheers! Bonnie

  5. Oh Catherine, you have created a beautiful garden! I have to think about the dry shade garden ideas. I have three kids play wii behind me right now, a little distracting..

  6. What a great post. It is always a hard lesson to learn to work with what you have - but when you realize it - the garden "works" so much better and yours is looking delightful.

  7. Well whatever your location problems you have a lovely garden and the pond area is great.

  8. What a treat to see the different areas of your back yard garden. Every area is beautiful. Thanks for taking me on the tour - the blooms and different greens are all so pretty.

  9. Catherine - great post. I can relate. I guess we all have problem areas. I love the variations of hydrangeas you have especially the last one. You have such a beautiful yard and gardens.

  10. I think as gardeners that it one of the biggest problems, we tend to look at other gardens and want ours to be like theirs. But we have to learn to work with the garden we have, and make it the best it can. I think you are doing a fine job missy!

  11. Hi Catherine, You are a gardener extraordinaire!! I love the shady, flagstone walk, the corner with what I assume is a Doug fir and the huge native sword fern at the base of the trunk, and of course the hostas...all looking good enough to eat! And the leaf decorating the massive tree trunk. I love these extra touches. Very cool--literally! Cool and inviting.

    And your pond, ooh, la, la! The plantings are so lush and full. The hardy fuchsia adds just the right finishing touch to the water plants, hostas and ferns.

    You inherited the purple hydrangea so likely the name is a mystery, am I right? I ask because both my garden buddy Carol and I have been admiring a hydrangea similiar to yours, a purple to deep pink variety growing at a nearby house. And of course, admiring it IN MY OWN YARD would be all the better.

    I like your philosophy. I think it's one of the gardening milestones. Initially we read all about how we're supposed to wait a year after moving in, observing the sun and shadows, the drainage and blah, blah, blah--advice that is ignored (by me) when you're itching to get something growing. I think we who are serious gardeners go through similar phases and eventually end up with not only what makes us happy, but makes our plants happy too.

    I LOVE your garden! It inspires me.

  12. Wow, your apples are SO big..mine are just tiny cherry sized right now!
    Your climate makes things grow so much faster than here up north!
    Your shade garden is still beautiful!

  13. My gosh. That is so beautiful. I am learning to accept my shady areas as well. Yours is an inspiration!!

  14. I enjoyed your thoughtful post Catherine. I wonder why we always want the unattainable?:) I'm afraid that plants for dry shade do not come straight to mind as I have lots of damp shade. I have a feeling that some hardy geraniums can be thrive in dry shade but I am unable to recall which ones - will get back to you later :)

  15. Working with what you have has sure paid off. Your garden is gorgeous. I love the Sweet Woodruff.

  16. Catherine, your garden shows how much thought and hard work you've put into it. You've made it truly beautiful! I'm envious of your apple tree. We planted two on the lower edge of our yard several years ago and the deer ate them. Thankfully, they've left most everything else alone.
    I'd love to get hold of a Fuchsia magellanica. My mother grew the most beautiful fuchsias in Australia..in the ground, as well as in baskets. I've only grown them in baskets. I think we may be too cold here for the hardy ones.
    Your hydrangeas are gorgeous too. Really...your whole garden is a tribute to your hard work. Beautiful!

  17. Thank you for all the nice comments!

    Tina, Joan and Bonnie - Thanks for some great ideas!

    Grace - I don't know the name of it, if you lived closer I'd give you a cutting to root. If you ever find your way up here you can have some!

  18. When I first began my garden 18 years ago there was nothing...an empty acre field surrounded by an old tapestry hedge. We began planting from the house outwards,and my goodness did I miss shade for the first five or so years when the garden was first developing. I love my areas of shade ;-)

    I think you are doing just fine ;-) In one border I grow -in dry shade- a mix of hellebores , ceanothus "Gloire de Varsailles",geranium endressii and pulmonaria. Plus lots bushes of Lonicera purpusii for winter blooms and scent.

    A rose I always grow because it will flower and flourish on a north facing wall-as mine is doing at the moment-is Madam Alfred Carriere. She's lovely and really trouble free. You might care to look her up in a directory/ catalogue.

  19. Smart of you to make the switch. I think it's easy to tend to force plants to grow where they don't belong, we all get that disease at some point. Much better to go with what nature will allow, though, as you found. You certainly have made a lovely garden within the limits of the dry shade, so much color and texture to admire. I'm amazed at what you can grow under your cedar tree - under mine, nothing will survive as the roots are so dense and plentiful right up to the surface of the soil.

  20. Catherine your flowers continue to amaze me. I haven't seen or heard of that Cream bush before. It's very nice and pretty.

    I can't get over your apples. That's a beautiful picture.

  21. It is the joy of growing and sometimes I get discourage about living in a climate that can get so hot and dry quickly. I have a better looking garden that most in my town but it ends up being trees and shrubs that give me a great hidden garden look. I have one neighbor who let his daughter plant evergreen trees up against my large rhubarb row and apple tree. Both items can not be next to evergreens. It gets really frustrating and the rhubarb is now all gone. Anyway, I guess I just want to encourage you. You envision what you want and that makes you an artistic painter with plants. You can just keep painting with different plants until you get what you want. You have some beautiful flowers.

  22. I love your shady garden. I have a similar one. I relish the shade. It is always pleasant. I have to search for sunny areas for some plants but it is possible.

  23. Catherine! Thank you for posting such a wonderful array of photos of your yard. It's just Beautiful over there! I see a few things that we have in common, but you've inspired me with a number of things I don't have! And I've Always wanted to grow hollyhocks (we made hollyhock dolls when we were little). Question: What is that cute little "leaf" on your tree trunk?

  24. Everything looks so pretty. May I ask what kind of camera yu have? Your photographs are wonderful.


  25. Well now we all go through that process of wanting something we can't have. For me--it's too hot here to grow a lot of what you have. I do love the hollyhocks and mine did well this year.

    You are sure one of the gardeners I love to hear when you talk about how much you love gardening. You have the sweetest attitude about it. Everything looks beautiful.

  26. Julie - Thanks for some more great suggestions. I wouldn't have thought of some of those could handle dry shade.

    Shady - I wish I could find the name of the company/artist. This is a leaf that has some fairy faces peering out a window in it. The nursery I frequent has a lot of things made by this company, all are very cute. If I can find the name I will put a link to it. I'm sure they sell it other places as well.

    Laura - Thanks! I have a Canon PowerShot SX10 IS. I love it.

  27. Shady - I just found the company on line that makes these faces.

  28. in the past I have dreamed the same dream, and finally accepted that it is not going to happen for me either...your garden is lovely either way friend!!! thanks for the tour!

  29. Your garden is lovely, Catherine! I love the Hydrangeas you have, much prettier than the ones I see where I live. I know what you mean about trying to make a garden be what it isn't. I have noticed that a lot of things that say 'full sun' do much better in a dappled sun area or one that gets a break from the afternoon sun. I guess I'm not quite sure how many hours of sun is 'full sun'. My peas should be in full sun (which I've always learned with any vegetable)- but if I plant them in an area of dappled sun they produce much longer into the summer. I'll be giving things a lot of thought and a much different approach with my next garden. Deciding to work with what you have is smart- in fact, I think us doing as little as possible is a good idea (or at least me!) like in the permaculture books I've been reading lately :).

    Happy gardening to you! Your garden is just beautiful :)

  30. Ahhh! I wish I had some shade here, but nada, it's all open here which makes certain plants wilt soon and also forces me not to plant shade-loving plants :(
    Oh, can't wait to see those hollyhocks all covering those vertical stems! Wonderful shots, Catherine.

  31. It is best not to be at loggerheads with nature. I had also tried unsuccessfully to grow tulips and irises in my garden.Another flower for the shade is the peace lily-spathiphyllum.

  32. Gorgeous photos, as usual Catherine! And I know about the backyard shade thing... I also am flanked by large tree bearing neighboring yards, but just concentrate on the front. I would describe you as a "prolific" gardener, a term not usually used for this creative endeavor, but you certainly earn the moniker.

  33. Your shady backyard is beautiful Catherine, so don't lament the lack of sun. Just enjoy! I don't have one bit of advice for you though, as my yard is nothing but sun! I spend all my time watering, even though I mostly plant xeric plants. But the veggies, pots, and non-established plants all need extra water.

  34. Very beautiful! I'm thinking about getting a holodiscus, and this photo might have closed the deal.

    Try this link for more dry shade plants:

  35. You are so smart making the transition and realizing it's easier to work with your conditions. I still fight mine. There are a few things I feel I really "need" to grow that wouldn't be hardy at all without extra TLC. I need to adjust my attitude I guess!! Your garden really is wonderful and you have such a great variety of plants.

  36. I think dry shade is the most difficult situation to work with. Your back yard looks wonderful. I especially like the Ocean Spray.

  37. What a great looking garden you have. So smart to work with what you have instead of fighting it.


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