Shade garden now in the sun?

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By Jeneen Wiche

The environments of many of our landscapes have changed because of storm damage to trees.  A once shady refuge beneath a tree may now be baking in the sun.  For a garden with an eastern exposure this may not be a deal breaker but if the garden faces west then the afternoon sun will surely stress shade tolerant plants by the time summer rolls around.

Common sense dictates that some shade tolerant plants be moved if the environment has changed to full sun.  Plants like azaleas, rhododendrons, hostas, ferns, hellebores, bigleaf hydrangeas and the woodland ephemerals should be moved to a more desirable place in the landscape. 

There are other shade tolerant plants that prove rather tough, though.  We have Soloman’s seal in a sunny location, as well as epimedium, royal fern, Annabelle hydrangea, bottle brush buckeyes; and the hosta varieties that have thick, glaucous (powdery white) foliage seem to hold up a bit better in the sun.  Yes, some shade is ideal, and plants may be weary by summer’s end but in a good year these tolerate the sun rather well.  But most of the popular shade tolerant plants should be moved.

So what will do well in your new sunny western exposure?  Lot’s of things, really.  The usual suspects like taxus, holly, boxwood and viburnum will do well but seize this new opportunity to think a bit unusual, instead.  Consider trying a hedge of blueberries.  The shrubs have fabulous ornamental value with clean green foliage, great fall color and interesting red stems; not to mention the summer fruit.  Sumac would provide a rather naturalized flare, fothergilla are neat and tidy, lilacs are showy in spring and crape myrtles in the summer (look for the National Arboretum varieties for both of these), nandina have a bamboo-like quality (or try bamboo, for that matter, especially if the planting area is bordered by a drive way and building to ensure containment).

The new sunny spot may be best filled as a mixed border with a little bit of everything that is sun-loving.    Vines for sun include hops, Virginia creeper, Boston ivy, the cross vine, or Dutchman’s pipe.  Herbaceous perennials like Russian sage, peonies, iris, allium, ornamental grasses, coneflower, balloon flower, daylilies, Asiatic lilies, catmint, phlox, Veronica, salvia, baptisa, echinops, golden rod, sedum, hardy cacti, roses, herbs and many more, will all be happy in the sun. 

As you consider your new sun garden think of a design that pulls the plants away from the house so you can enjoy them from inside and out…this way, too, you can comfortably add some trees to the mix.   Mugo, or Swiss stone pines are small long needled shrubs; the Serbian spruce is stately at maturity but it stays amazingly slender; Zelkovas are a perfect vase-shape; and flowering crabapples, small magnolia species, deciduous hollies, and kousa dogwoods would all fit nicely into a mixed border.  Everyone loves Japanese maples but there are other small maples to consider like the trident maple, the paperbark maple and the amur maple.

And, if you really want to think unusual you may consider a vegetable garden for the first time in your new sunny spot, never mind if it is the front yard or back!  You can intersperse ornamentals, walking paths and sitting areas with your vegetables for year round interest while actually benefiting from the bounty of the garden.  As they say, turn lemons into lemonade, and turn a downed tree into a gardening opportunity.