Thursday, February 22, 2007
Rage, rage against the shading of the light
The fact is that I've never been able to embrace shade. My gorge rises, my hands clench into fists, and my teeth grit involuntarily as I head for the glade in the back of the garden center, that dank area where they stash all the ferns and hosta. It's been going on ever since I started gardening seriously—about eight years ago—on a property overlooked by other tall houses in the back and surrounded by tightly-planted maples in the front. I think I can divide my struggles with shade into the following phases:
Stage one: Denial
At first, I didn't really understand the dynamics of light exposure and figured I could plant the pretty and fragrant plants I preferred anywhere. So I planted a veritable field of dianthus in a spot that gets about three hours of sun a day. I think I had some lavender in this spot, as well. Then there were delphinium, pansies, linaria, and maybe scabiosa. It's hard to remember because they're all long gone now.
Stage two: Anger
The failure of the lavender—a plant I associate with English novels and Yardley's eau de toilette—really hurt. So I started monitoring the amount of sunlight various sections of the garden got and found that only one spot got as much as six hours a day, while others got confusing spurts in early to mid-morning and late afternoon. The bitter realization set in that I would be limited in my plant selections. I started looking at the garden as a problem rather than a possibility.
Stage three: Bargaining
I learned to eschew the plants with the bright yellow full-sun symbol. But what about the ones with the half-black/half-yellow circles? I became very optimistic about the possibilities of "partial shade." I bought books like What Perennial Where? and 100 Favorite Plants for Shade. I got really excited about heuchera, rodgersia, and ligularia.
Stage four: Depression
Shade is one thing, but some of my shady spots have additional problems. In the back, the drainage is poor and the heuchera languished, then died. The rodgersia like the dampness but grow slooowly. The ligularia was mangled by slugs and I threw it out in disgust. In the front, the tree roots suck up all moisture, so drainage isn't a problem, but superhuman strength (or a jackhammer) is needed to get through them to plant any of the plants recommended for dry shade. I'm forced to tolerate pachysandra, which I attempt to brighten with some species tulips, erythronium, and other bulbs.
Stage five: Acceptance
I haven't reached this stage yet, and I don't think I ever will. But I have specific areas of rapprochement with the forces of darkness. I've been able to grow some lovely martagon lilies in a little section that I'm shaping into a urban woodland garden. Geranium (not pelargonium) seem to thrive in other areas, while a few clumps of daylilies are holding their own (though not exactly going crazy), and some rampant vines add an illusion of lushness. I depend on elephant ear and coleus for containers and on species lilies for height. There's an odd variety of gallium that gets quite tall as well.
I'll never love shade gardening. It would be nice to have a choice about growing hosta. But I've gotten accustomed to my nooks and crannies. Maybe this season I'll have the epiphany that will end my shade angst forever.