By Adrian Higgins, (c) 2017, The Washington Post
Shade gathers from year to year in the garden like the wrinkles on your face, growing more pronounced with time.
Artfully planted and groomed, it is the most sheltered and cocooning place to be. The hallmark of the shade garden, horticulturist Jenny Rose Carey says, is its "intimacy," which I take as its sense of privacy, of being placed in a serene environment away from the chaos of modern life.
Carey, who is director of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society's public garden and nursery, Meadowbrook Farm, has written a book addressing the practical aspects of making and keeping a shade garden. It has an appropriately upbeat title, "Glorious Shade." "I hear so much negative stuff from people about shade, and I'm not a negative gardener. I'm positive."
After reading her book and visiting her garden (and developing my own shade garden over more than two decades), I wrote a synthesis of Carey's explorations and my own experiences.
Finding Your Shade
Shade occurs when sunlight is blocked -- simple enough, except that shade is a moving target.
The sun moves across the sky daily, and seasonally it shifts its duration, height and strength. (Pedants will point out it's the Earth moving.)
In hot climates, many plants do better with a little shade, relieved of the heat and stress of the sun's rays, but in areas of deep, unremitting shade, the range of plants that will be happy narrows dramatically, so it's important to gauge the nature of your shade.
Carey deconstructs the catchall label of "partial shade" into something more useful:
Edge shade is found at the boundary of woodland and provides the best of both worlds. Plants such as redbuds, dogwoods and azaleas thrive in such places.
Dappled shade is produced by trees with fine foliage or elevated canopies. Old tulip poplars and oaks are good examples of this. This is a heavenly place for all concerned -- lots of light without the searing sunbeams.
Bright shade is found in dark areas that get a lot of reflected light from bodies of water, light-coloured walls and windows.
Afternoon shade is found where the shading element is on the western side of things, morning shade when it's to the east. Although, any area in uninterrupted afternoon sunlight is generally considered to be a sun garden.
The point is that you need to observe light and shade patterns in a given area at different times of day to gauge its shadiness.
Elements of Design
A shade garden needs all the design elements of the larger garden. It may need more so that it "reads" as a purposeful landscape. Consider how you might create all the important design features that make a garden beautiful and satisfying: portals, areas of transition from one space to another, focal points, framed views and, importantly, places to linger.
The last category is well served in Carey's garden, which is full of spaces of repose, many of them infused with whimsy. This, in turn, is connected to Carey's cultural DNA -- she moved to the United States from her native England 30 years ago. English gardeners are not just notoriously passionate about horticulture but also eccentric with it.
This has produced such features as a children's fairy garden whose central water feature is a spouting copper teapot and the stumpery. A popular Victorian idea, this is a display of tree stumps and roots presented as a form of grotesque sculpture. You either like it or you don't. One famous example is at Prince Charles's garden at Highgrove. Carey says the exposed roots are useful to educate visitors about the hidden architecture of trees.
Every good peregrination through a new garden deserves a memorable ending, and Carey presents the ne plus ultra of payoffs, a splendiferous garden shed she calls Rose Cottage. There is something inexplicably English about the role of the shed in the garden; like the shade garden itself, it is a blend of utility, artistic expression and cosy retreat.
Carey's is even more, functioning as the bridge of her ship from which she steers the maintenance and upkeep of her garden. On one wall, clay pots are stacked neatly. On another, garden tools are hung reverentially. Around a broad desk behind a bank of windows, she keeps plant records and catalogues. Above the windows, collected seeds are stored in decorative jars. She can tell you that she has 368 native trees and shrubs, and what blooms when. With her gardener Hanna von Schlegell, she has cultivated a garden that is in flower every day of the year, though not all in shade. Carey has an extensive collection of winter-flowering witch hazels. "I like collections. A lot of British gardeners like collections," she said. "I go a bit crazy on the snowdrops as well."
And yes, snowdrops like to grow and spread in the shade, timing things so they appear at the shade garden's brightest time when the leaves are off the trees. Now, in the blazing heat, the snowdrops have retreated into the soil, and it's the gardener who plants herself in the embracing darkness.
Read the full story on The Washington Post.
Featured Image: Michelle Gustafson, The Washington Post