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Anne K Moore
Photographs Anne K Moore

Dry shade sounds like a problem but most shade plants will survive and even thrive in dry shade if they are watered regularly. Wet shade can be more difficult to deal with. Here are a few shrub choices for those damp, even wet shady areas.

Virginia Sweetspire (Itea virginica) is a native shrub that thrives in damp shade. For most of the spring and late summer, it is a quiet, even non-descript plant fading into a shrub border. In summer, its arching branches fill with fat racemes of white, very fragrant flowers. After the flowers go by, it is quiet again, only to erupt into strong intense red fall foliage. ‘Henry’s Garnet’ and ‘Little Henry’ are selections with larger flowers and good fall color.

You can find Lorapetalum in just about any size from tall to tiny and many shapes in between. The newer red and deep burgundy leaved selections are especially handsome in the garden. Flowers in early spring are a bonus. They have a small window of growing opportunity, USDA Zones 7-9, but are a colorful addition to that shade garden where they can be grown and prosper.

Although we think of Rose of Sharon, Hibiscus syriacus, as a sun plant I have had the old-fashioned single blossoming type successfully flower in shade in both northern and southern gardens. A new northern hibiscus called Bluebird and another called Lil’ Kim both blossom in mostly shade here in my garden. You do sacrifice some flowers, but some are better than none if you don’t have a sunny spot. Try one in shade in USDA Zones 5-9. If it doesn’t agree with your placement, dig it up and move it.

Not all St. John’s wort can be grown in moist shade but one does well under these conditions and in most areas of the country, USDA Zones 5-9. Hypericum calycinum, Aaron’s beard, is also sometimes called Rose of Sharon, which just goes to show why botanical names are more important than sometimes confusing common names.

Believe it or not, there is a true rose that will bloom in shade. Veilchenblau is an old rose with few thorns and a desire to bloom no matter where it is planted. It needs to be sited near a pathway since the flowers are purple fading to blue and will be lost in distant shade. This rose is sometimes called the Blue Rose. I have had it in two shade gardens and it has bloomed very well, better at the edge of a wooded area where I had it last but still blooms running up a tree in heavy shade. As with many old roses, it only blooms once and then is finished. Still fun to grow in USDA Zones 5-9.

Bottlebrush buckeye (Aesculus parviflora) sends up tall spikes of white flowers in late spring or early summer. Leave it to grow to small tree size with the side shoots cut out or trim it low into a hedge plant where you can see the flowers more easily. Even though it is native to Alabama, it can still also grow in more northern gardens, USDA Zones 4-9. Very pretty in bloom and the resulting buckeyes can be dried and saved for good luck or planted for more bottlebrush buckeye trees.

A shady garden is a real boon to the gardener. Who doesn’t enjoy a little puttering in a shade garden when the air heats up? Picking the right plants for the site makes your job a whole lot easier.

Posted March 15, 2013

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