Shady Characters

A stand of evergreens, a grouping of deciduous trees or even the sunless side of your home can seem a daunting area to landscape. Let’s face it – the most brilliant flowers, shrubs and trees often require some direct sunlight.

But a lack of direct light doesn’t necessitate a lack of design. There are many shrubs which thrive even in the shadiest of circumstances.

One of the most successful is the Bottlebrush Buckeye (Aesculus parviflora). It’s slow growing, multi-stemmed form produces 10-12″ conical, white blossoms (looking quite like bottle brushes) in early summer. While blooming, they are a paradise for hummingbirds, thrushes and butterflies who flock to their nectar. These large shrubs (8-10′ tall, up to 15-20′ wide) are unusually happy in deep shade and work well with existing trees.

If space is a concern, the fragrant Sweetshrub (Calycanthus floridus) may be a suitable alternative. These dense, rounded shrubs (6-9′ high, 8-10′ wide) generate maroon to almost red flowers with a fruits fragrance in May, continuing to bloom sporadically throughout the summer. The fragrance is most pronounced in warmer weather, particularly during evening hours, alluring you into the garden for an evening stroll.

We also heartily recommend the Dropping Leucothoe (Leucothoe) ‘Scarletta’ as a distinctly artistic addition to your shade garden. This shrub’s white, bell shaped, spring blossoms are secondary to its magnificent foliage (bright red as new leaves form, deep burgundy with hints of purple in winter). Its arching branches (2′ high and 4′ wide) create a splendid evergreen fountain-like effect.

The large trees generating all that shade will have absorbed most of the moisture and nutrients in the ground. For a shade shrub to become established, the existing soil must be enriched with compost and you must provide adequate moisture (irrigation) in July and August.

And remember, even a challenging shade site is no problem with the right plants.

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