Shady Goings-on

From the office window, the front garden, in the shade of the damn crab apple tree.

I can’t bring much light to the topic for the Garden Blogger Design Workshop on Shade in the Garden. I do have a good amount of shade–most of which is provided in a dappled manner, pretty much all day long, from a crab apple tree in my front garden. My back yard is 90% sun, so this is my only significant shade.

First off, I like the shade it provides, but I hate the tree. Actually, I like it every two years for about three weeks. That’s when it’s covered in absolutely beautiful, pink blossoms. The next 23 months it seems as though in decline, and only serves to shade the garden. I’m told, in the ’80s, it was hit by a neighbor that had a bit too much to drink. That didn’t kill it (or him). Oh, and the suckers that come up from the tree are annoying. For the most part, I let ’em do what they want to. They are greenery after all.

The strip on the left is under planted with grape hyacinths. This row contains hosta, phlox, iris, rudbeckia, chameleon plant, columbine, Russian sage, spring bulbs, allium, perennial geranium, and more, capped off on the far end by a columnar apple tree.

I never really paid too much attention to putting shade-requiring plants in the front yard. There’s plenty of sun worshipers there that seem to be thriving. Or, if they’re not thriving to their max potential, they’re smaller than full-size, and that’s okay too. This is the less formal, jam-packed, chaotic, cacophony of plants I bought cause I liked (and had no other place to put them), or was given (and had no other place to put them). Now the garden is mature enough that even the perennials provide shade on each other.

Street-side path: daffodils, lavender, lamb’s ear, huechera, lungwort, and a huge-mungous hosta.

When we moved in this plot was grass, the crab apple and a few bushes (thorny hedges, burning bush, holly, rhododendron and an azalea). Now it’s chock-a-block full of dozens and dozens of perennials planted in berms created from the soil cleared out for the paths.

No more mowing, fertilizing, aerating, watering and patching. Now it’s just watering occasionally (though it has a soaker hose snaked throughout the whole area, so that’s not hard), weeding occasionally (mostly pulling Chinese lanterns), throwing down some compost once a year in the spring, and mulching right before the hordes show up for Garden Walk. I spend my time now each spring–not planting–but separating and dividing the plants.

Middle path: columbine, horseradish, lily, ferns, hosta, bellflower, bachelor buttons, huechera, grasses, iris, Chinese lanterns, forget-me-nots, and some groundcovers from a neighbor.

The shade garden is divided in four strips of garden with brick walkways in between. The bricks were in the garage when we moved in. The past owners collected them from Long Island, the land of their people. They are stamped with Long Island county names (the bricks, not the former owners), which is kinda’ cool.

Columbine like the shade here. once the columbine dies away, only the apple suckers and lungwort remain. I just planted a clematis to climb the tree..

Often times, I can find (accompanied) toddlers wandering the paths. The meandering paths seem to be irresistible for little kids. I once found an art class out there sketching the yard. A few times a year, I can look out my office window and see people photographing the garden and/or house.

My favorite plant to stump other gardeners – this is my horseradish. Kind of an old-timey plant that seems to like the shade.

I just trimmed back the tree, as I do every few years, so it’ll get more sun this summer. I’ll have to see if the plants are happy with that. They really don’t care much what I do, as long as I feed them and let them now I care.

The last path, nearest the house: shady characters – lonely peony that ended up there with the dirt from something else, ferns, hosta, burning bush, some sort of arborvitae, rhododendron, azalea, gooseneck loosestrife and lots more.

along the driveway. There are three of these immense hosta that get closer to each other every year.

Toward the neighbor’s house. There’s that soaker hose.

Gotta’ move the rhododendron. It’s too crowded where it is.

From the porch: the dappled shade is there until about an hour and a half before the sun goes down.

9 comments on “Shady Goings-on

  1. I really like how it looks. You’ve done a lot to make a shady area very interesting. Crab apples are really pretty in bloom, ours always ended up with rust or something like that. It must be strange to find people sitting in your yard sketching, but I can see why they would.


  2. Thanks for the tour, Jim. I loved the story of your crab apple tree, and the bricks too. Only a true garden geek could cram that many plants into a rather limited space, but you’ve made the space *look* beautiful, as well. No wonder you get unexpected visitors!


  3. Catherine,Thank you for the nice words. If I had my way, I’d have a different tree there, but still a tree. It anchors the area and looks good with our tall house.Nan,One benefit of having so much crammed into the space is that there’s always plenty in bloom from Spring through Fall.


  4. You know if you happen to be dividing and thining out those plants one day, and you just don’t have a place to put them, and you happen to put those divisions in a pastic bag, and toss them into the trunk of your car, and you find yourself driving over to Menne’s and you make a right turn into Kohl/Wegman’s parking lot, and you find yourself on the service road, next to Kohls, and you happen to find yourself traveling that road all the way back into that brand new develpment, find youself in front of the gray house with the widow box at the very toe of that said development, you could just leave that plastic bag right there…….never mind.:)


  5. I love the brick paths, they give the garden such character. Part shade seems to be the ideal light situation for growing the greatest variety of plants. The interesting mix makes up for the diminished performance of the sun lovers. I think you must be growing the wrong Crabapple. There are some great, disease-resistant cultivars out there that provide a stunning show every year. I admit, my Crabapple does try to sucker, but not as much as some, and a Hori knife works great to whack them off below the soil surface.Isn’t it funny how that cute little Hosta you brought home and tenderly planted into the garden has morphed into a behemoth? I think it’s time to get some ‘Blue Mouse Ears’ and its sports.


  6. You have done such a beautiful job of planting and landscaping in your front yard!! What a wonderful way to welcome guests and entice visitors! 😉


  7. Isn't it great to get the garden to nearly take care of itself? This is my own goal one day…hopefully. Looks great, and if I were walking by I'd take pictures too!


  8. Claudia,Ha! You never know. Could happen. Past dividing season now though. Wish I'd divided more of my hosta. They're greedy space-hogs in a small garden like mine.


  9. Gorgeous! I have the same issue. Front is full shade, then dappled shade, then full shade again and the back is blazing full sun from rise to set. Love your front yard garden. It's so lovely, and lush. I have the easy stuff: hosta's, coral bells, astilbe, dwarf alberta spruce, japanese variagated willow, … but I'd like something else – something with some color. I see you have iris, perhaps I should try that?


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