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September 2016

Made for Shade

by Samantha Richardson

Whether a garden is established all at once or whimsically formed over the years, there is an underlying concept which ties all the plants together. Distinction of the most basic level – sun or shade? – can be concept enough. This year at Greater Newark Conservancy we chose to renovate our shaded woodland, with an emphasis on plants native to Eastern North America woodlands.

The shade garden has become one of the more challenging gardens to maintain, due to the overpopulation of white-tailed deer in this region that enjoy our native plants just as much as we do (although for a different reason!). The only surefire way to keep deer away? – Fence them out! For a small garden such as ours this is feasible, however for a larger garden, keep a close eye on newly installed plants – deer in different regions favor different plants!

A shade garden receives its shade from somewhere; in our case that shelter is provided by four woodland trees: one Cercis Canadensis (eastern redbud), two Acer saccharum (sugar maple), and one Sassafrass albidum (sassafrass). Underneath these trees were only a few clusters of Itea virginica (sweetspire) on the edge, with Podophyllum peltatum (mayapple) spreading throughout the remaining area. Our goals for this woodland area were to increase the shade-tolerant species represented and fill in the empty understory.

Underneath the canopy of trees, our understory now features three Hamamelis virginiana (American witch-hazel) trees to brighten the fall landscape with lemon-yellow, spidery flowers.

We also installed twelve shrubs of three species, including several cultivars. Reaching about six feet tall is a cultivar of Hydrangea quercifolia (oakleaf hydrangea), ‘Amethyst’, which is a personal favorite with great leaf texture aside from large, white-to-deep red summer flowers and eye-catching burgundy fall foliage. A smaller cultivar, ‘Pee Wee’, which will max out at four feet, complements the larger hydrangeas.

Viburnum acerifolium (mapleleaf viburnum) also sports red fall foliage. One great aspect of this species is its suckering habit. In a woodland site with much empty room to fill, this shrub will nicely colonize and provide an even more spectacular fruit display as it spreads.

The last shrub species represented is the immensely fragrant Fothergilla gardenia (dwarf fothergilla). With the straight species growing to only three feet, cultivar ‘Suzanne’ is considered compact at a mere two and a half feet. Knowing there is a “dwarf fothergilla” can only lead you to believe there is also a “large fothergilla”, which is the common name given for Fothergilla major. We included a cultivar which likely stems from a cross of these two species, ‘Mount Airy’, which can eventually reach a much taller six-foot height.

Beneath the shrub layer we further enhanced the woodland landscape with several herbaceous perennials. While straight species are just fine on their own, cultivars can be a celebrated addition to a garden. Dicentra eximia ‘Aurora’ is a white-flowered version of the dainty bleeding heart that appears every spring. Better still, this cultivar will rebloom, working to show it can bring flair during the summer and fall. Another exciting cultivar is Actaea racemose ‘Atropurpurea’, a purple-foliaged black cohosh whose late summer flowers seem to just float in the air over the dark foliage.

The final plants installed are other personal favorites, those of the Heuchera genus. There are several species native to Eastern North America, and many more throughout the entire continent, which freely hybridize to create foliage of any color imaginable. These semi-evergreen plants brighten the landscape and often provide some color during the snow-free days of winter. We included the cultivars ‘Autumn Bride’, ‘Blondie’, ‘Fire Chief’, and ‘Rave On’, which will provide spring and fall bloom periods.

As with all newly planted areas, this site will require adequate water for proper establishment and controlled weeding as the shrubs fill in. Many plants that tolerate shade will grow at a rate directly related to how much sun they receive. As our garden receives minimal sunlight it will take a few years for the plants to grow into their space, although they will at least have established root systems by next year thanks to a late summer planting!

Greater Newark Conservancy: www.citybloom.org
** All photos by Samantha Richardson unless otherwise noted.

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