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by Michael Kerkes, CPH, Co-Owner of Crazy Hill Garden & Botanical, published as the column “Ramblings of a Crazy Gardener” in the North Bay Review

Your shade garden can be both a fantastic sanctuary and a great place to beat the heat. There are so many ways to create privacy and comfort, from plants to furniture. The most important thing about any sanctuary is that it be your happy place. It can be as simple as a hammock with a table for a cold drink or as carefully constructed as a full-on Zen garden. Whatever your choice, you can make a shady getaway that you enjoy spending time in.

Here are a few suggestions. Pick a spot with a tree or canopy that protects both you and your shade-loving plants from the sun. Watch how the sun travels across the summer sky and pay attention to the hot spots throughout the day. Morning sun provides gentle light and warmth whereas midday to afternoon sun is the most intense. Try to pick a location that has the least amount of afternoon sun.

Now that you have chosen your site, determine what kind of soil and water conditions you’ll be working with. Lush plants require generous water and good soil. If your chosen spot has poor soil or insufficient water, consider garden containers. “Pots” are much easier to maintain, yet they can still be very rewarding and give a lot of bang for your buck!

Here are a few fantastic plant choices for your oasis. For a tropical vibe there is nothing like the banana Ensete ventricosum ‘Maurelii’ – its gigantic, bronze-red leaves and striking red trunk will create jaw-dropping drama.

Clumping bamboo can provide shelter as well as screening from noise and sun. There are many types of clumping bamboo that are fantastic to work with and do not require barriers, such as Fargesia rufa ‘Dragon Head Bamboo’. This is a cold-hardy bamboo with a height of approximately 10’ of graceful, arching, peeling canes.

Fargesia robusta ‘Wenchuan’ is a larger, clumping bamboo reaching up to 15’ tall, with an open growth habit; it’s an amazing plant if you have the space. Neither of these bamboos will run so don’t worry about complaints from the neighbors!

Another wonderful tropical choice is Brugmansia ‘Angel’s Trumpet’, with downward facing blooms that are extremely fragrant in the late afternoon/early evening. And don’t forget the flowering maples, Abutilons, for an eye-popping tropical look. Hardy fuchsia and Hosta are “work horse” plants that will come back year after year in any shade garden.

Here are my top 3 favorites for a serene, shaded sanctuary:

  1. Fuchsia ‘Genii’: this erect, medium-sized shrub has handsome, small, golden leaves, and small to medium flowers that feature narrow, elegantly up-curved cerise sepals, a slender cerise tube, and reddish-purple petals.

  2. Fuchsia ‘Tom West’: a vigorous upright shrub with striking variegated foliage which reddens with sun exposure, and beautiful, elegant blooms in deep, dusky reddish-purple tones, from early summer to fall.

  3. Hosta ‘Drinking Gourd’: the deeply cupped and twisted leaves are nearly a foot around, blue-green in color and heavily corrugated. The near-white flowers are held just above the foliage and this Hosta is reputed to have good slug resistance.

Now that you have it made in the shade, enjoy and have fun!

  • crazyhillgardens

by Michael Kerkes, CPH, Co-Owner of Crazy Hill Garden & Botanical, published as the column “Ramblings of a Crazy Gardener” in the North Bay Review

Welcome to June, the month when the days grow the longest. The sun warms the soil and the garden goes into overdrive. The long days are a great time to plant beautiful and interesting succulents. This group of drought tolerant plants brings rewards with the hot summer days.

These amazing plants are fantastic both in containers and in the ground. Their low water requirements and small root systems make them very easy to work with. Succulents come in so many shapes, colors, and textures it boggles the mind. The geometric kaleidoscope of Sempervivums (Hens and Chicks) create a great display. The rounded, lush leaves of Sedums can provide an unreal contrast to the pointed leaves of Agaves. This opens up opportunity for a whole lot of fun.

Here are a few of my favorite succulents to play with:

Sempervivum marmoreum is a beautiful mahogany color; Sempervivum arachnoideum has a magical spider web-like texture; and don’t pass up Sempervivum heuffelii ‘Gold Bug’, which is a glowing yellow-gold color. I could go on and on with this group.

Sedums! An even larger group of succulents with an impressive range of colors and textures in their foliage and flowers. Whole books have been written on these plants and their seemingly endless wonders. I will try to narrow it down a bit.

Sedum spathulifolium ‘Cape Blanco’ has a delightful and curiously grey, chalky foliage that pairs well with lime greens and reds while Sedum spurium dazzles with its red foliage. And just when you thought it couldn’t get any more colorful Sedum spurium ‘Tricolor’ is a show-stopper with white and green foliage and tinges of pink on the margin.

If it’s blooms you want there is nothing quite like the Ice Plants (Delosperma). These mat-forming, evergreen succulents have whimsical, daisy-like blooms in a shocking array of colors. Delosperma x ‘Delmara Fuchsia’ has electric fuchsia colored flowers that ride above the small, fleshy, pebble-like leaflets.

Make sure your soil is sharply draining. These plants, while drought tolerant, can handle a fair amount of water but they do not like to sit in it. Give them every ounce of sunlight you can and they should do fine. You can get creative and tuck succulents into rock walls, hollow spaces in tree stumps, or turn broken pots on their side and have your sedums “spill out” of the containers.

Most importantly... Have fun!

  • crazyhillgardens

by Michael Kerkes, CPH, Co-Owner of Crazy Hill Garden & Botanical, published as the column “Ramblings of a Crazy Gardener” in the North Bay Review

Fragrant foliage can add so much to your garden. Visitors, young and old, love the delightful surprise awaiting them in your scent-sational oasis. The experience of walking down a path lined with aromatic plants brings joy to the senses.

Here are a few of my favorites to play with in your garden.

Eucalyptus nicholii or Peppermint Willow, is a showstopper that’s both drought tolerant and deer resistant. This tree has a an elegant graceful form, sporting a reddish trunk and branches adorned with fragrant grey-green, willow-shaped leaves. The foliage has a wonderful minty-eucalyptus fragrance. Add to all of this the fact that this tree is also evergreen and you have a winner for your sunny spot.

Prostanthera cuneata ‘Badja Peak’ or Australian Bush Mint is an outstanding shrub with lush, dense, dark-green foliage smelling like a heavenly mix of thyme and mint. It will grow to about 5 feet tall, is evergreen, and is quite drought tolerant once established. This intensely fragrant shrub also has beautiful, delicate, orchid-like flowers that draw in hummingbirds and bees! You cannot go wrong with this amazing plant.

Lavenders. These rugged shrubs sport both fragrant foliage and flowers. They are both drought tolerant and deer resistant. There are so many kinds to choose from but here are three of my favorites.

Lavendula x intermedia ‘Phenomenal’. This plant combines the cold hardiness of English lavenders with the heat tolerance of Portuguese varieties. Wonderful long stems support beautiful flowers that are perfect for making wands or scented sachets. Lavendula angustifolia ‘Munstead Strain’ is a terrific, compact English lavender with amazing fragrance and one which also makes a tasty culinary herb. Perfect for the kitchen garden. My 3rd favorite is Lavendula stoechas ‘Helmsdale’. This is a truly amazing plant with a robust growth habit. The long-blooming, rich reddish-purple flowers have burgundy-purple rabbit ears on top.

Another awesome perennial with fragrant foliage is Artemisia absinthium, which is of course one of the key ingredients in Absinthe. This plant is tough as nails, drought tolerant, deer resistant, and it smells of sweet licorice. It has striking grey foliage topped with intensely yellow flowers. Santonlina chamaecyparissus or lavender cotton, has playful, grey, fern-like, leaves topped with cheery little yellow pom-pom-like flowers and it is also evergreen.

Now for some herbaceous perennials with hypnotically fragrant foliage. Mints, mints, mints. They come in so many fragrances now, such as lavender, grapefruit, pineapple, and even chocolate. They like “wet feet” and love to spread, but don’t be afraid, they do very well in containers too!

Monarda, or Bee-Balm, has a unique and subtle fragrance. The awesome, globe-shaped flower is an absolute pollinator magnet. The blooms come in tones of purple to red.

Agastache or hyssop, is another great choice for scented foliage. It smells like extra-sweet licorice and comes in an array of bloom colors. This plant is also a hummingbird and butterfly magnet.

I’m going to tie this up with two of my favorite tender, scented plants. Fragrant geraniums. This group of pelargoniums is mind bending with their dainty blooms yet shocking fragrances. There are so many choices of scents; rose, ginger, black pepper, apple … the list goes on.

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