In the Garden:
Middle South
February, 2012
Regional Report

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Some shade-making plants, such as this Japanese maple, offer fabulous autumn color.

Embracing Shade

After more than a year of grumbling about the lack of sunshine in my new garden, I've decided to put the issue behind me and embrace the shade. First, I'll make a list of things to appreciate in a landscape that's mostly hidden from then sun, and then I'll capitalize on those positive ideas to make the best possible garden.

Here, in my mind, are the Top Ten reasons to believe I have it made in the shade:

10. Deciduous trees and shrubs provide tremendous opportunity for fabulous autumn color, as well as an abundance of dried material that can be used to make compost and leaf mold.

9. Plants that thrive in low light have a lower metabolic rate. Since they grow slower, they can be pruned less frequently and, once established, will require less water and fewer feedings.

8. An overhead canopy spares the gardener from working in the sun. Hats and long-sleeved shirts can be abandoned for lighter gear, and longer work periods and more varied timetables are possible. Less physical stress and discomfort always mean a happier gardener.

7. Large trees moderate weather extremes, especially summer heat and winter winds. Inside the home, less energy is required for heating and air conditioning, while in the garden, less evaporation and desiccation are a boon for plants.

6. Many shade-loving perennials, such as hostas and ferns, have notable texture, offering a long season of interest. Even trees and shrubs, like hemlock, Japanese maple, mahonia, and fatsia, can be selected for fine or bold-textured foliage.

5. Most insects and weeds prefer sun, and lots of it. Snails, slugs, and scale are notable exceptions, but by and large, shade gardens require less pesticide and herbicide controls.

4. Blooms may be fewer and less showy, but they last longer. And because insects are more difficult to attract, some flowers are wonderfully fragrant. Think of native azaleas, witch hazels, sweetshrubs, and honeysuckles, just to name a few.

3. White and pastel blooms, which don't suit the intensity of summer sun in the Middle South, work well in shade. Along with pure white, tints of blue, pink, purple, and cream predominate, making discordant color schemes less likely.

2. A shady retreat is cool and tranquil, so it's perfect for relaxation, reflection, and rejuvenation.

And finally, my number one reason to embrace shade:

1. Shade-making plants enrich the experience of each season. In winter, bare branches open our view to the heavens, as well as distant spots on the horizon, and they etch a lacy pattern across the ground as the sun sweeps across the sky. During seasons of transition, they are the most notable indicator of change, with spring's chartreuse buds heralding a return of life and growth, and autumn's colorful foliage forecasting decline and completion. In summer, their cloak of green gives us privacy from our neighbors and provides valuable habitat for wildlife. Best of all, however, is the simple fact that they make the garden a place to linger and enjoy.

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