September 2002
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Garden design using shade plants and shade trees   

Gardening Newsletter - September 2002, Issue 1

Welcome to the first issue of the My Shade Garden newsletter! I hope you enjoy it as much as the My Deer Garden newsletter. If you are receiving this newsletter and donít want it, simply reply to this issue and write "NO SHADE" in the title.

The My Shade Garden web site is popular already, averaging 70 visitors per day. Between my design work, I have been working on an update to the shade plants online plant encyclopedia. The newsletter will let you know as soon as itís done.

This issue has two articles. The first, Carving a Garden Out of a Forest, discusses, well, how to carve a garden out of a forest. The second discusses the shade plant Caladium. It is a beautiful, exotic and fascinating plant. Caladiums are grown primarily for their beautiful leaves.

Rebecca Green

Carving a Garden Out of a ForestCarving a Garden Out of a Forest

Michelangelo wrote that the sculpture already exists in the stone. The sculptor merely reveals it by chipping away the stone around it. Creating a woodland garden is much the same. Most of the garden already exists in the forest. You just need to remove the periphery material that is cluttering the view.

The predominant features of most woodland gardens are tree trunks. Frequently the leaves of the trees are up too high to be easily seen. However, the tree trunks are typically at eye level and soaring higher, making a strong vertical and unifying statement. Slanted, leaning and fallen dead trees create a major distraction and should be removed.

An excessive number of young saplings growing between the larger trees can also create a distraction. Removing young saplings is frequently the hardest part of creating a woodland garden for nature lovers. However, there is good biological reason to do so. The saplings are competing with the more mature trees for water, nutrients and, sunlight. Most of them will never reach maturity, but will make it more difficult for mature trees and ground covers to thrive. By removing the weedy saplings growing between the mature trees, you garden will begin to look a lot more unified.

There are definitely some saplings you donít want to remove though. Leave groves or stands of identical trees growing together. Likewise keep and nurture flowering trees, such as dogwood, and evergreens. These trees have the potential of becoming lovely accents in your garden.

You should assess all of your understory plants and groundcovers. Some may need a little light pruning to reveal their beauty. Dead and broken branches should again be removed. Anything that is truly a weed or creates a weedy appearance should be removed as well.

Pruning is an important part of creating a woodland garden. There are numerous reasons to prune. Low hanging limbs should be removed to prevent injury. Dead limbs that arenít dangerously high up should also be removed. If the area is too dark, making it difficult for ground covers to grow and shade loving flowers to bloom, then you should remove some healthy tree limbs (as well as tall skinny saplings) to let in more light. A good rule of thumb is that the tree canopy should cover only about two-thirds of the sky. Be careful though not to get carried away with the chain saw. You should never remove more than one-third of a tree when pruning otherwise the tree may die.

Leaves are an important part of the woodland ecosystem. Through their slow decay process they release nutrients to the soil and are a natural mulch for the plant roots. However, they can become matted and moldy, making it difficult to grow flowers and groundcovers.

To deal with your leaf situation rent or purchase either a chipper or a machine specially designed to grind-up leaves. Grind the leaves to make a fine mulch that you can use to cover paths and insulate plants. The ground-up leaves will decay and release nutrients, but a little bit quicker than the whole leaves. They wonít get matted and moldy, but will insulate the plant roots just the same. They will also help stop soil erosion from heavy rains.

Finally you will need to remove garbage. This might be human litter or small stones and pebbles that detract from the area. If your area is extremely rocky you may have enough stones to build an attractive wall or barrier.

Once you have carved you garden area from the forest it will be easier for you to see what plants you want to add. Rhododendron, azalea, mount laura and, witch hazel are all fine forest shrubs. You might find ferns growing beneath the leaves and decide to supplement them with additional ferns. Donít forget bulbs like snowdrops for early spring color and Colchicum for fall flowers. However, these additions are just the icing on the cake. You will find that the bones and structure of your garden existed in your forest all along.

CaladiumPlant a Vacation: A Taste of the Tropics Creates a Shady Paradise

If you long for the tropics, but canít get away then plant a vacation. Caladium's are a great way to bring the tropics to your garden!

Caladium are beautiful, exotic and, fascinating plants and are grown primarily for their beautiful leaves. Large and heart shaped, they are frequently splashed with red, pink or white. There is even a Caladium with white leaves and green veins called Caladium hortulanum.

Natives of South America and members of the Arum family (Araceae), they are grown as annuals in most of the United States. If the temperature of their environment dips below 65 degrees F they will die. However, if their tuberous roots are dug-up in the fall and stored in a cool dry place over winter, they may be replanted in the spring.

The name Caladium is a Latin version of the plant's Amazon River name, kaladi.

Caladium contain calcium oxalate crystals that cause severe burning of the mouth. These microscopic crystals can irritate the skin and eyes too upon contact. While capable of inflicting great pain, Caladium are not lethal. Nevertheless, they wont be eaten by animals like your hostas are!

Caladium's flowers are not that impressive. They consist of a fleshy spike with a showy bract, similar to Jack-in-the-pulpit and other hardier arums. After flowering they get white berries.

These pest free plants may be planted in containers or in the ground. The brightly colored leaves are very effective in shady gardens. I especially like the white ones, which seem to glow in the shade.

That's all for now. If you have any comments or questions on the newsletter, please email us at


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