By Maureen Gilmer
Scripps Howard News Service
Shade got you down?
Are you struggling to create a garden under beautiful old shade trees? Perhaps buildings block the sunlight from reaching your small patch of ground. What to grow in the shade is a common gardening question.
The solution is finding plants that are naturally adapted to conditions beneath forest trees. Known as the understory, such perennials tolerate low light, leaf litter and acidic conditions. Select from this group and your problem takes care of itself.
Shade plants need to stand out because there is so little light to bring out their colors. After sunset, the first colors to fade are green, blue and red. The last are cream, white and yellow. Select plants with foliage from this bright color range and they’ll stand out in low light.
The best sources are plants with variegated foliage. When a plant is variegated, its leaves are accented in silver, cream or yellow, the very colors we are looking for. Variegation may occur on a leaf’s edges or at its center, in spots and stripes.
Integrate these plants into darker-green shade foliage and they will stand out in high contrast. Designers create the illusion of sun dappling by subtly adding variegated plants to grant light, depth and dimension to the composition.
There are many outstanding candidates to begin your adventure into variegation. The most well known are hostas, a popular shade foliage plant with a gazillion different varieties. This group is a treasure trove of variegated highlights for colder climates featuring a full range of pale accent hues.
Where winters are warmer, dwarf periwinkle is an outstanding variegated groundcover. Its long arching stems and large leaves feature bright yellow or cream variegation accented by periwinkle-blue blossoms. It’s among the easiest plants to grow in low light and moist conditions. It is particularly useful on sloping ground or in pockets of rocky outcroppings.
The same may be said for dwarf English ivy. This small-leaf hybrid has been a popular breeding subject for many years because the little leaves are so delightful when variegated. They can be a soft gray color with creamy edges. The most coveted are the gold-highlighted varieties, such as Gold Heart, because they are so cheerful. Like their larger relatives, these small plants will cling to vertical surfaces, turning a dark wall or fence into a much brighter background.
Variegated timber bamboo is a striking choice because its leaves are green while the big canes are striped in bright green and yellow. The pattern changes altogether with each segment of the cane. Dwarf whitestripe bamboo is a great problem-solving groundcover for smaller gardens.
To solve your problem shade areas, variegated foliage offers the best accent that extends the entire season. Begin with these easy-to-grow starters to discover how much a little cream and gold can brighten your garden’s darkest dells.