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July 2021: Throwing Shade

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!


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