Margaret Lauterbach

Maximize the colors and learn all about your garden’s shade

Margaret Lauterbach
Margaret Lauterbach

Do you love colorful flowers but have a shady garden area? Look carefully at your shade. Is it full shade all day long or does sunlight penetrate early in the morning or late in the afternoon? Is it dappled shade? Most horticulturists call dappled shade “part shade,” and that enlarges the palette of choices.

There are bulbs you can grow that bloom and fade away before trees get full leaves, turning part shade into deep shade. Some annuals and perennials thrive in part shade, so you do have choices. In early spring, yellow-blooming winter aconite and sky blue blossoms of Brunnera (Siberian bugloss) follow white snow drops, to be followed by ferny growth of sweet cicely and stately Hellebores, their blossoms heavily drooping. They precede true shade lovers such as Solomon’s Seal and yellow columbine in my shade garden.

For shade purposes, consider the foliage as if it were blossoms – light-colored foliage interrupts the darkness, multicolored foliage an unexpected delight. Jack Frost Brunnera’s whitish leaves brighten their site in the shade garden. Some of the best foliage plants for shade are the many members of the Heuchera genus. Foliage varies from yellow to light green, dark green, peach, copper, purple (different hues), and topped by red, pink or white “coral” bells on thin stalks. Heuchera grows very well here, and since it requires only moderate moisture, it’s a favorite of plant lovers all over the valley. These plants grow well in sun, too, although they do best in dappled shade.

Hellebores have interesting foliage in a shade garden, blooming in spring with long-lasting, drooping blossoms. These are not really “cut” flowers in the usual sense of the term, but they may be cut and floated in a shallow bowl for a striking centerpiece on the dining table. They’re very dependable perennials here.

Anju Lucas, head of perennials at Edwards Greenhouse, is also a gardener, and never saw coral bells she disliked. She also loves the bright pink pin-cushiony blossoms of Astrantia major “Pink Joyce” that brighten shade, and the bright pink flowers of the Japanese anemone, Fall-in-Love “Sweetly.” She would contrast these with black mondo grass and “Black Stocking” Thalictrum in an ornamental setting. The Thalictrum may grow to 5 feet in height, giving more interest for the back of the bed.

▪  Corn gluten meal (CGM) is used for animal feed, but it’s also a very good fertilizer, with NPK of 10-1-0, and it prevents germination of many non-taprooted plants and weeds. If you buy it as a weed preventive, it’s much more costly than if you buy it as animal feed. The only difference is that Iowa State University gets royalties if it’s sold as weed preventive because two of that institution’s faculty members found corn gluten meal prevented germination (or at least prevented establishment of support roots). CGM animal food, or CGM weed preventive, is the same product, however. Zamzows now has a quantity of corn gluten meal in their Meridian warehouse, so if you want some, ask simply for corn gluten meal and any of their stores can get it for you. What you do with it is your own business.

▪  The state of Florida has just passed a law barring cities from restricting homeowners’ efforts to grow vegetables on their own land, even in their front yards. As we see farmers’ fields turned into subdivisions, we begin to wonder where the food of tomorrow will come from. This is a move that will undoubtedly be copied by other states. Such regulations are “void and unenforceable,” the law states, referring to city ordinances. Subdivision restrictions placed by developers haven’t yet been similarly outlawed, but their time will come.

Send garden questions to or Gardening, The Statesman, P.O. Box 40, Boise, ID 83707.