GARDENING: How I have made peace with my shade garden

Old house, Sun garden

I embarked on my gardening journey over ten years ago in our old house. For a chicago lot, it was a very large yard (and a very small house). The yard was a disaster when we inherited it. Two, "kujo-like" dogs had created large dirt holes and ripped up all the grass. There was a pond that was left to be a dirty mosquito breeding pit. Rich and I tilled it all, moved dirt, dug up nonsense and planted flower gardens on all sides. We even resurrected the pond. All the gardens were full sun, and the dirt was like cotton. It was soft and fine. So, long story short, I was spoiled.

Sun gardens have a lot going for them-especially for the novice gardener. Sun gardens can be full of flowers all season long. There is much more of a selection at any garden center. Disease and insects have a tougher time surviving on account of the heat. So my sun garden was my easy introduction into gardening. I am still mourning that garden I left at the old house to this very day.

At our new house, I inherited a very large, side shade garden. The previous owners made a half hearted attempt to turn it
into something. They had put paver paths in a very formal, graphic design. They planted a lot of hostas and ground cover, but that was about it. They used landscaping liner on all the beds which prevented the ground cover to take (see previous post about how landscape liner is the devil incarnate). So as I went to planning, I struggled with the short bloom times and the ability to get some of the more unique shade plants at your local "box store". I discovered (as I still struggle with slugs, drainage and blooms) that a shade garden is a very delicate balance of light, moisture, bloom times, shades of green and texture. But there is no truer way to show off your garden prowess than a beautiful, successful shade garden.

I had to discover the subtle beauty a shade garden can offer over the past couple of years, like the different fronds and shapes of certain ferns, the various greens different hostas can provide, the different shapes of leaves certain perennials can add even when the short lived blooms are gone. I have discovered indigenous, woodland plants that thrive in moister, shadier gardens. These kinds of plants have a unique look to them and naturalize nicely with the garden.

I had to learn about root rot, slugs and bad soil. I also had to learn how to be creative when solving garden problems. For instance, I use small bathroom mirrors tied around the tree trunk in the middle of the garden as a design element but also as a way to kick around ambient sunlight to the shade garden. I hung a hanging basket off the tree with annuals to add more color and texture where it needed it. I have hand painted chairs in the garden to also add color to the shade garden. Even in two years, the shade garden has really come along and is a wonderful oasis in the afternoons. Which leads me to the final things I have discovered about shade gardens, and that are the sounds. When a breeze rustles all the foliage as I sit under the tree, it is a wonderful sound. I discovered each plant has it's own, unique sound. It has become a very peaceful corner of my garden.

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