CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Shade. I used to have a lot of it in one place and none in another part of my yard. Now, I've lost several of the large oaks that created big, shade-filled beds on one side of the yard. And the dogwoods that we've put in around the corner are creating shady beds that were once sunny. Gardens are definitely not static!
I found a list of the best shady foliage plants for the Mid-Atlantic region in Fine Gardening magazine recently. The award-winning 'Sum and Substance' hosta that grows to 3 feet tall and 6 feet wide was their top choice. It is a wonder, and I love how it looks in the bed near my front door. I'm a fan of several other hostas, including 'Abiqua Drinking Gourd,' 'Dragon Tails' and 'Big Daddy.' I keep these in a protected spot, away from the deer as much as possible.
Another shade plant favored by Fine Gardening is the 'Aureola' Japanese forest grass, Hakonechloa macra. It has narrow, arching leaves that loosely resemble bamboo, but it's noninvasive and slow-growing.
I love ferns, and the magazine mentions 'Ursula's Red' Japanese painted fern, Athyrium niponicum. The editors of the magazine like its wide, showy burgundy band at the center of the leaves in the spring. I'm interested in it because it spreads quickly from rhizomes, doubling its size in one growing season.
Other ferns that I've enjoyed in my yard include the cinnamon fern (Osmunda cinnamomea), which has spores that resemble cinnamon sticks; the small, dainty lady fern (Athyrium tilix-femina) with its frilly fronds; and the ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris), a great native plant. I have them in a spot near the front door, a place the deer haven't discovered -- yet!
One plant that I've enjoyed in a shady spot is the Heuchera Coral Bells. 'Autumn Bride' is one of the best cultivars of the species H. villosa, according to Fine Gardening. It has large, fuzzy gray-green leaves with midsummer white flowers. I love H. villosa'Caramel,' for its warm orange-yellow color and rapid growth rate. I also like 'Citronelle,' for its chartreuse foliage. The deer don't seem to like these.
Munchkin Nursery and Gardens (www.munchkinnursery.com) suggests a beautiful iris for shade. In their recent newsletter, Iris cristata is a species they recommend for its blue blossoms that are large in comparison to the overall size of the plant. This species of iris is generally found growing in decent soil on slopes of hillsides, ravines and ledges, so it works well in well-drained soil with adequate moisture. It blooms best when given light but not full sun.
I recently ran into Donna Walker, an amazing gardener and a very funny lady, at a meeting of the Belmont Garden Club. (By the way, these ladies have a great cookbook; call Robert Fowlkes at 304-346-2335 to get a copy. "Gourmet Gardeners' Cookbook" costs $15 plus postage. All proceeds help fund the garden at the Lee Street Triangle.)