Monday, March 19, 2012

Shade Path Garden Succession 2011

The Shade Path at Gilmore Gardens consists of the area between our backyard gate and the Circle Lawn. (See the map of Gilmore Gardens.) It is 32 feet in length (9.7 meters), with the border closest to the sidewalk being 7 ft wide (2.1 m) and the one by the house being 5 1/2 ft wide (1.7 m).  The grass path in the middle is more narrow at the gate and wider at the end, which elongates the look of this area by exaggerating the perspective.

It is the first area of our garden that I envisioned in 2007 when we bought our house, and the first to have its sod ripped out by hand for fall planting. Only a 2 1/2 foot curb strip (once turf, but now Sedum 'Acre') and a sidewalk are between this side yard and the busy road. I wanted a garden walk through this area that would draw you to the front of the property, there by distracting you from the traffic just a few feet away. This garden proves that even a narrow "side-yard" can become something spectacular with some vision.

The dry shade in this area has been challenging; no moist woodland plants here! Well, I do keep trying a few hoping they will survive, but without much luck so far. This garden has some maturing to do in the shrub department, which I guessing is also slowed because of the lack of light and moisture. We have mulched with organic matter every year in spring, to set off the flowers and hold the more moisture in the soil. And it usually gets a freshly dug edge every year in spring as well.

Here are some photos from the 2011 growing season to illustrate how the succession planting has succeeded so far. I have tried to include the names of the plant varieties that are pictured, as well as a list of tasks that I might be doing at that time of year to help my tightly placed plants to play nicely together.

It is good to use an especially mild day at the beginning of March to clean up any remaining garden debris from last year. I remove tattered Hellebores and Epimedium leaves,  hosta and foxglove stalks (which I have left as plant markers until now). Leaves can stay as they can be covered with a layer of mushroom compost at this time. Oh, and it is nice to get the edging done BEFORE mulching... but I always forget. :)
Crocus sieberi Firefly in the Circle Lawn, which is adjacent to the Shade Path. March 21st.
Crocus vernus Grand Maître and Galanthus 'Flore Pleno' around the Hellebores orientalis

In 2011, the color did not really start until April because most of March was deep in snow. I expect a different circumstance this year with our mild weather. Not much to do this month, maybe a little weeding, and enjoying the show!

Iris reticulata, Hellebores orientalis and a few crocuses remain. April 4th.
Just a few weeks later, the plants have all jumped into growth. This is one of the keys to succession planting: cover the ground as early as possible with foliage and flowers. One of my favorite authors, Christopher Lloyd, introduced me to this idea.

By the first of May the Shade Path is looking luxuriant in its growth. Digitalis foliage covers the ground quickly, as do the pretty blue self-sower, Myosotis, also know as Forget-me-nots. A bit more weeding this month, but nothing major until the end of the month.

After the big forget-me-not bloom, they always begin to get powdery mildew (as they do all over our town); it is time to break out the wheel barrow and cut them to the ground. They will put out new, unspoilt foliage in just a month. The daffodils I allow to die back naturally for six weeks after their climax - then I chop down the whole lot. They have gained enough nourishment for next year.
Narcissus 'Thalia' graces the path with her fragrance. May 10th.
Anemone blanda 'Blue Shades' blooms at the front, pink flowers of an un-named Epimedium float in the middle. Japanese forest grass just coming up in vibrant tufts.
Dainty Narcissus 'Thalia' after some rain. Seen in front of Anemone blanda 'Blue Shades'.
Polemonium 'Touch of Class' works so well here with its white variegation.
May 19th, and the pungently scented Geranium macrorrhizum 'Bevan's Variety' is blooming over the Shade Path. It is a bit of a riot with Myosotis, Dicentra 'Alba' (white bleeding hearts), and the hostas and ferns all fighting for their places.
Euphorbia amygdaloides var. robbiae, commonly known as the wood spurge 'Mrs. Robb's Bonnet', adds a touch of light at this time to the street-side border that is full of blue hostas and perennial foxglove foliage (Digitalis grandiflora). May 10th.
Out little native flowering dogwood tree, Cornus florida, had its first bloom in 2011. May 19th.
May 19th. View to the Circle Lawn and Cherry Corner.
May 25th. Pink columbine Aquilegia 'Nora Barlow' begins blooming amongst the evergreen Christmas ferns (Polystichum acrostichoides) and hosta.
May 25th. More columbine, pinks and purples, blooming at the front of the Shade Path. Soon the foxgloves will take over.
May 30th. Columbine and foxgloves (Aquilegia and Digitalis purpurea) together at the end of May.
Riot of columbine (Aquilegia) colors, pinks and purples, together in the morning light in the Shade Path garden.

Glorious June in the Shade Path garden. Lots to enjoy this month. At the end, when things start to brown, I start cutting down foxglove (Digitalis) stalks above their first set of leaves so that we might enjoy some rebloom. I usually choose to leave alone a few of the plants in the corners to encourage self-seeding.
June 4th. Tall pink Digitalis purpurea stands above the crowd, while the supporting act of Digitalis grandiflora, the yellow perennial foxglove, quietly fills out the stage.
My beautiful blue Clematis on the fence (of lost name! Help, anyone?). June 3rd.
View from the backyard fence.
Digitalis purpurea vivid in the evening sunlight on the Shade Path.
By June 14th, the yellow Digitalis grandiflora, which makes such nice fat clumps in the dry shade garden, is stealing the act.

By the beginning of July, the rest of the Clematis are beginning to bloom in the Shade Path. I am did more herbaceous pruning of the foxgloves and picked up my annuals from the local nursery. Planting annuals in the spots that were occupied by spring flowers - like forget-me-nots, bleeding hearts, and many others that have died away since May - is the best plan for moving the show on and not letting gaps develop in the garden.

Also, I cut down the columbine to the ground now that they have had some time to make their seeds; their foliage will come back fresh for the remainder of the season.
Clematis 'Pearl 'd Azur' clamoring up our old maple tree with some help - just tucking its stems into the bark now and then.You can see the foxgloves (Digitalis) going to seed behind the tree.
Clematis 'Lil Nell' on the gate in the Shade Path. July 1st.
Hosta and annuals all blooming. June 14th.
Hosta flowers are so ethereal for such a robust plant. Here it is after a drizzle. June 14th.
Our new oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) was blooming already last year, though I would expect it to be later in the future. This is something that new gardeners will learn: perennial plants from the nurseries are often blooming weeks ahead of when they will bloom in your garden.

In August, the end of the summer months in our zone 5, we have more pruning to keep the garden fresh. The Hosta stalks will be cut down when they are finished, usually before they are allowed to make seed pods.  The "blue" Hostas are not blue anymore, as they have lost their blue wax from the beginning of the growing season.  There are more mid-greens in the garden now, so a little spicing up might be in order. Two begonia baskets that were on clearance worked very well for us last year.

Watering was necessary when I noticed that the impatiens were drooping, keeping a special eye on the hanging baskets which dry out more quickly than plants in the ground.

Similar to Begonia 'Big Red'.
Note: the columbine leaves are looking nice again. The rest of the foliage bore the heat and drought well.  August 10th.
Impatiens and begonias are filled out in the areas that were filled by forget-me-nots in May. August 10th.
August is a quieter month for the Shade Path, as is the case in most shade gardens. But there is still luxuriant foliage to enjoy in varying shades and textures. Here, the white streaked Hosta lighten the scene, as well as the delicate leaves of the Clematis vine that is in the process of making its seedheads. August 10th.

By the beginning of fall, the Shade Path has begun to renew itself and is in shape to be stunning for the rest of the growing season. We did have some hail that necessitating my clipping loads of hosta foliage out in order to get rid of the damage. But other than that, it was a truly easy garden this month. I just yank out yellowing foliage when strolling around from time to time - not everyday! The sheer number of plants here help them to cover each others faults.
September 7th, I came out to find the butter yellow perennial foxgloves, Digitalis grandiflora, putting on a big show for their second bloom of the season.
Perennial foxgloves, Digitalis grandiflora, love to seed throughout our dry shade garden. And the bees appreciate this immensely.
Fluffy foliage of native flat-topped aster, Doellingeria unbellata, getting ready for its show.
View to the Circle Lawn and Cherry Corner.

With the start of October, the garden is still going strong. The native flat-topped asters are just beginning their show, adding a puffy cloud to the rich colors of autumn. Maybe a bit more dead-leafing (removing yellowed leaves), but otherwise it is fun just to enjoy at this time of year and watch the garden fall further into golden tones.
Shade Path from the sidewalk. Oct 4th.
You can see the begonias are starting to tire out for the season, their foliage yellowing more each evening. Oct 4th.
Pretty autumn tones of native flat-topped aster, Doellingeria unbellata, and northern sea oats, Chasmanthium latifolium.
Yellow perennial foxgloves, Digitalis grandiflora, with a touch of frost on the morning of October 30th. This was our first frost for end of season.

More golden colors this month. The hanging baskets were brought in before the frost (above).
Golden leaves and light. November 2nd.
Incredibly, some Digitalis grandiflora were still blooming away. November 2nd. 
The first snow of the season was Novemeber 11th... and there stand the foxgloves; oh my.
November 13th and we resumed our slow slide into winter. 
Pretty autumnal browns caught by the sun set. Nov 13th.

A bit more snow that month. The garden was finally at rest.

At this stage, it is especially enjoyable to have put in some evergreens that give the garden structure all year round, and most importantly give somewhere to hang Christmas lights! (Well, maybe not THE most important, but a very nice perk.) It is actually a pretty magical experience to walk down the lite path on a cold winter evening, even though we are just feet from the cars going by.
December 1st and the lights are up around the shrubs on the outside of the borders.
The view down the entire side of the house from the sidewalk. Dec 18th.
December 18th sees a dusting of snow on the Shade Path garden.

I hope that you have enjoying reading along with the Shade Path tour!

I am always adding small plants to its nooks and crannies (violets in spring, more seeds of columbine, forget-me-nots, etc). It is far from what it could be, but is oh so enjoyable as it is. My newest thoughts are about where to site new shade trees to begin them growing on to replace the older trees... and perhaps adding a medium sized yellow magnolia? We shall see.

For a more concise post with just one photo from each month, see the Shade Path Garden ~ April through December.


  1. Your shade path garden is simply splendid! You've achieved a royal symphony of color through the seasons. Thanks for sharing all the maintenance details too. I can only hope my garden will be half as beautiful someday! Those hanging baskets of begonias are a great touch for August (my most barren month).

    1. Search through nurseries when most of the customers are gone is a great way to find plants that you can get cheaply; many which you can overwinter for another year.
      Thanks for reading along!

  2. I am so glad to have read this post. (I will probably bookmark it for future reference!) I am just starting to plan my gardens, in a new, very shady home, and I got quite a few ideas from this post.

    Thanks for sharing!

    1. So glad I could help, Emily! I say start with your overall goals (flow, uses, focal points) and then add in all the pretties :) I love starting new gardens, though it can be a bit scary at times. Good luck!

  3. You really do pack so much into such a small space and your planting scheme throughout all the seasons is a lovely mix of colour, texture and shape.

    I really should plant my front garden up alot more - at least if I have the soil covered then I won't have to do as much watering. I never thought of cutting back the forget me nots - I normally ripe mine out as they self seed all over the place - maybe I should cut them back and enjoy the nice little domes of foliage at the front of the border.

    1. Rosie,
      I have been thinking a lot about squeezing in some more shrubs and trees... though as we are not sure how much longer we will be at this garden, it needs a bit of forethought instead of impulse plant buying :) So glad you enjoyed looking around.

  4. Julie it is everything I would hope for..the foxglove are stunning...i need to be reminded to clean up after some plants bloom to keep them fresh but alas run out of time usually...just stunning!

  5. Oh those foxgloves... I underplanted my serviceberry allee with foxglove, but after looking at your photos, I think I shall have to add twice as many this year, wonderful.

  6. You really are the Queen of succesional planting, it all looks so wonderful right through the year!! Just love all your foxgloves, must try that at the back of my shady borders and your photo of hostas, Euphorbia Robbiae and foxglove foliage is a delight!!

    1. Pauline,
      Thanks for your complements :) Foliage does carry the garden, especially in the shade. There are so many other plants that I would love to try someday in the shade, though many are damp-lovers, so they will have to wait.

  7. Great article. You very nearly did the garden justice, which isn't easy!

  8. As I have come to expect from you your shade garden is lovely. I was surprised that your digitalis did so well given what you said about moisture but they do look wonderful

    1. Digitalis grandiflora especially seems to deal well with the dry shade. D. purpurea has died off a bit, so that this year the show will be less intense... but here is a chance to try something else. :)

  9. Hello Julie! Incredible use of Digitalis in the June 4th image, what a glorious plant. Tucking the Clematis into the broken bark is a masterstroke!
    All the best! Bertie

  10. I loved seeing the garden change. It looks beautiful even in August! And your fall is glorious. And now I have some new ideas for my shady areas!

    1. Holley,
      Pleased that this info will translate to Texas! Your gardens are already so beautiful, but glad to encourage you some more.

  11. What a nice walk through the seasons. I really like the fact that you leave plants to self seed. Your foxgloves are very impressive. I am hoping mine will bloom this year and then self seed for the next generation.

  12. Your shade path garden is absolutely a success. You did a great job, Julie ! Congrats !
    PS : I refer to you in a post about crocus on my blog today.

    1. Isabelle, Thank you for the mention and compliments! I hope to feature C. 'Spring Beauty' this week also.

  13. Another brilliant post. I have so enjoyed this series of posts. Succession planting is so important and the smaller the garden the more important this is. We can all learn from this! Christina

    1. Christina,
      I am come to terms a bit with my small garden, and succession planting is certainly a way to embrace and be challenged by it. I am so glad that you have enjoyed them!

  14. I am impressed that garden in the shade of trees.
    With us, a similar area is too dry for hostas.
    I really wanted to try, but the soil is really too dry.
    I will try the digital, I added the good ground to put the hydrangeas, and last year, they started well.
    The fingerprints could occupy the land in June, just BEFORE the hygrangeas.
    Thank you for the good idea.

  15. Your Shade Path part of the garden is most certainly my favourite part, it looks truly beautiful. There's some really lovely planting combinations and it has given me lots of ideas and inspiration for my own shady garden (for one I will most certainly be planting foxgloves in mass), I hope that I can get even close to the year round colour and interest that you have. Simply gorgeous!


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