December 2002
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Garden design using shade plants and shade trees   

Gardening Newsletter - December 2002, Issue 4

This issue covers shade plants that love moisture - while few of us would consider a shady area with an inch of standing water as ideal growing conditions, that’s exactly what some plants love. The second article is an update to one I published earlier in the My Deer Garden Gardening Newsletter.  Just as houses have rooms, so should gardens. By creating rooms in your garden you can create a sense of intimacy and purpose."

Happy holidays to you all !

Rebecca Green

Quote of the Month

“If you would be happy all your life – plant a garden.”

Plants for Wet Shade

For many of us the thought of perfect growing conditions conjures up visions of a sunny field with rich, moist, loamy soil. Yet these conditions are deadly for many wonderful garden plants. While few of us would consider a shady area with an inch of standing water as ideal growing conditions, that’s exactly what some plants love. Here is a brief introduction to some shade lovers that thrive with wet feet.

AruncusAruncus commonly called goat’s beard

The male form of these showy wild flowers have long plumes of creamy white flowers, hence their common name of goat’s beard. Females develop ornamental seed heads. Native to the northern hemisphere, they are hardy between zones 3 and 7.


AstilbeAstilbe commonly called false-spirea

Having dry, sandy soil, all my numerous attempts of growing False spiraea have been futile. The foliage of this plant is just as much reason to grow it as the flowers. Resembling a fern, the foliage is attractive until the plant succumbs to the cold in late fall. Tiny flowers produced in great clusters are delicate and airy. False-spirea is a heavy feeder and would benefit from supplemental fertilizing. It is hardy to zone 4. Astilbe is sometimes eaten by deer, but generally is reasonably resistant.


Cimicifuga racemosaCimicifuga racemosa commonly called black snakeroot or bugbane

Tall white spires, reaching as tall as eight feet are the trademark of black snakeroot. This plant makes a bold vertical statement. The peak blooming time is in late June and July, but flowers continue to be born through August. The handsome foliage is attractive until frost. Black snakeroot is hardy to zone 3.


FilipendulaFilipendula commonly called Queen-of-the-prairie

The flowers of queen-of-the-prairie resemble those of a giant Astilbe. At a height of four to six feet these perennials are indeed giants. The blooming period is from late June through July. Queen-of-the-prairie is hardy to zone 3.


Lobelia cardinalisLobelia cardinalis commonly called cardinal flower

Native to eastern North America, cardinal flower is tall and stately, crowned with bright red flowers in mid- to late summer. Cardinal flower’s flower spikes actually consist of small flowers covering the top six to eight inches of the stem. Hummingbirds love them. This plant does not perform well in mild climates and is hardy to zone 2.


MertensiaMertensia commonly called Virginia bluebells

This lover of deep shade blooms in April and May. Virginia bluebells have drooping, bell-shaped flowers. Each flower is about an inch long and hangs precariously from the end of a branching stem. The plant completely dies back and disappears in July, so be careful not to use it where its absence would create a noticeable void in late summer. Virginia bluebells are hardy to zone 3


Monarda didymaMonarda didyma commonly called beebalm

Beebalm is one of my favorite flowers. Its spicy aroma announces its presence, enticing humans and repelling deer and other animals. Like me, hummingbirds, bees, and birds love it too. It is hardy to zone 4. Depending on the variety, beebalm can be between two and three feet tall. The flowers come in shades of pink, white, red, and purple. Beebalm blooms in late June through July. When happy it can spread with abandon. Beebalm is susceptible to powdery mildew, which can be prevented by sprinkling sulfur powder on the plant in early June and periodically throughout the summer.


PrimulaPrimula commonly called primrose

There are several hundred species of primrose. Of these Primula vulgaris, or English primrose, is perhaps the easiest to grow and definitely the most readily available. This European native is hardy to zone 5 in the United States. Flowering in April, the flowers of English primrose are yellow, but there are cultivars with flowers in every color except pure red and blue. The flowers are about an inch in diameter and about three inches tall. English primrose spreads by sending up new plants from surface roots.

Designing with Garden Rooms

Just as houses have rooms, so should gardens. By creating rooms in your garden you can create a sense of intimacy and purpose. It also is a way of turning what could be an overwhelming project into a series of manageable parts.

The rooms in your house have walls, floors, and ceilings. So too should the rooms in your garden. These structural elements are the bones to a garden. They can be created with plants, such as hedges and trees, or hardscaping, such as trellises and fences. Don’t forget to incorporate the walls of the house into the garden, they can provide a wonderful sense of enclosure.

Designing with Garden RoomsThe garden should be an extension of the house. They should flow into each other. There shouldn’t be a sharp distinction between the two. One way of achieving this unity is to use the same type of materials (such as bricks and paint) in the garden as are used in the construction of the house. Also the style of the house should be reflected in the garden. A casual, contemporary house should have a casual garden. A formal garden would look out of place. If your house has strong architectural elements in its design, such as arches or pillars, repeat the use of these elements in your garden.

Each garden room should have its own sense of purpose, yet still reflect your personality. Once the bones of the garden are in place fill each room with objects you love. For example, in a contemplation garden place a comfortable bench or seat surrounded by your favorite fragrant flowers. Also be very selective of the garden ornaments you use. As they can be the focal point of the garden, they should be objects you enjoy.

While each room should have its own purpose and theme, all the rooms should flow together seamlessly. This can be accomplished by repeating certain elements in each room. You may choose the path or ground cover plants in each room to be the same, creating a unifying floor. Or, you could connect the rooms through the sense of smell by placing some of the same fragrant plants in each room.

Perhaps the most important and difficult thing to do when designing garden rooms is to exercise restraint. There are so many wonderful plants and exciting new construction materials, it is easy to want them all. However, it isn’t easy to incorporate a broad palette of materials, colors and, plants into a unified whole. It is far wiser to select your favorite items and consistently use them throughout your garden and home.

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