‘Volunteer Gardener’ Made in the Shade, Part 1

Woodland Phlox, Phlox divaricata | Credit: Pixabay

In this confusing time when so many of us are stuck inside, the optimist in me is thinking about the future and how my garden can benefit from this time of solitude and introspection. Will Rogers once said, “The farmer has to be an optimist or he wouldn’t still be a farmer.” I think the same applies to gardeners. We have to deal with all the same problems farmers do, albeit on a smaller scale. We have droughts and floods, pests, and plants that die in spite of our best efforts.

I have a lot of shade on my property. I’ll bet most gardeners in this beautiful, tree-plentiful state are blessed with shade. Yes, I said blessed. Shade gardens offer a cool respite from summer’s heat and humidity. They also retain much more water than their sunny counterparts, requiring less irrigation or hand watering. There is generally less weeding of shade gardens because the most aggressive weeds thrive in full sun. Mulching heavily with all the leaves nature provides will further inhibit weed growth. Shade gardens can also be a boon for wildlife and beneficial insects.

Native Plants Volunteer Gardener
Native flowers in my creekside garden.

Some people think shade gardens are boring because they lack color. That’s true if you fill your shade garden with ferns and hostas (although there are many colorful varieties of both). Yes, there are the beloved coleus that add color and drama, but they must be replanted every year. So, let’s branch out with gorgeous perennials that thrive in shade and will bloom and grow for years to come. And many of them are natives!

Understanding what type of shade you have is important for situating the right plant in the right light. There are four kinds of shade: light; partial; full; and deep. Light shade is found right at the edge of the tree canopy. Plants still receive a fair amount of light, but do not receive a full day’s worth. Partial shade receives less than half a day of sunlight. Full shade is analogous to dappled shade: There is some sunlight throughout the course of the day, but in total, there is less than one hour of sun. Deep shade is just what it sounds like – the tree canopy above this area is completely closed so that no filtered sunlight peaks through.

Conveniently, nature has designed plants to grow in each of these light categories – next month we will talk about many of them that you can find at your local nursery or online. In the meantime, start mapping out your shady areas for stress-free shade gardens.

Happy Gardening and Stay Well!

Laura Bigbee-Fott is a Davidson County Master Gardener. She owns Whites Creek Flower Farm and runs a floral event and wedding design business called Everything Blooms.

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From Laura: Whites Creek Flower Farm is a working farm, and even in the midst of the pandemic, flowers are still growing. The farm is not generally open to the public. On occasion, I have workshops and tours here on the farm, but there are none on the calendar right now due to the uncertainty of when social distancing will no longer be necessary.

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