Spring in the Shade
I'm Mary McCauley, and I work with Susan. I write about theater for the Sun and contribute to our Read Street blog, but in my spare time, I play with dirt.
After moving into my new condominium in July of 2000, I quickly appropriated an unloved 10 foot by 11 foot patch of mud. As my poor, aching back was to discover, the plot was filled with stones and tree roots. But, it also was surrounded on two sides be a wall, on the third by a staircase, and was conveniently accessible to a faucet.
My little garden faces southeast, but is directly under a maple tree. The light on two sides is blocked by four-story apartment buildings. Though the plot gets full sun from roughly Nov. 15 to April 15, only the last month of that period does me any good. I take the most of the rare opportunity provided by Mother Nature, and fill my plot with bulbs.
Right about now, my garden is at the height of its cuteness. The bulbs that are up are all miniatures less than a foot tall, nothing has died yet, and the plot is a symphony of my favorite color combination: blue, purple, white and yellow.
I ADORE iris -- it's probably my favorite flower -- but because of my sun Issues, the only type I can grow are the late winter iris reticulatas. ("Harmony" is pictured.) Still, it has a big flower for such a small stem, and it lasts at least as long as the Dutch irises that bloom in May.
The second photo is an overall view of my stolen plot; I'm probably an even worse photographer than I am a gardener. In the summer, the pipes on the back wall are softened by a climbing rose, The rose blooms once a year in May before it gets shaded out and then is through until the next year, but anything is better than bare metal.
The jolt of fuchsia is provided by Camellia April's Kiss. This shrub clearly an over-achiever, since despite its name, it has been in bloom since the second week of March. Camellias are GREAT bushes. Not only are they true evergreens, with thick, glossy leaves that persist through winter, not only do they bloom quite happily in bright shade, but the flowers of some varieties resemble roses.
If you like this plant, look for the "April" series and the "Winter" series developed by William Ackerman. These varieties are hardy to 5-15 degrees below zero. Remember when we had that freezing spell in January? My camellia's leaves curled up, but they uncurled right back as soon as the temperatures warmed up slightly, and the cold didn't seem to bother the buds. Behnke's Nurseries usually have a good selection.
And, then there's the crocus. I can never get enough blue in my garden. In the summer, surrounded by pinks and red, I long for blue, yearn for blue and it's promise of cool. Crocus Tommasinianus Ruby Giant (set off so nicely by the pure white Jeanne d'Arc) is not only squirrel-resistant, it is the deepest purple of the early crocuses I have found.
I'll check in from time to time to write about the joys and travails of shade gardening. Please send me your tips and war stories -- I need all the help I can get.
Hi. Susan here. Mary is the first to share pictures of her garden, but I want to hear - and see - from all of you about how your gardens are doing. I know it is early in the season and there might not be much going on beyond hellebores and daffs. But as your garden progresses, send you pictures and your garden story to email@example.com.