Shady Gardens to Hot Spots: Working With Challenging Garden Styles
At some point in every gardener’s life, we find ourselves faced with a difficult garden space. It might be a spot that’s shady, hot, soggy, narrow, or sloped. All of these scenarios present a challenge, but it’s precisely these challenging spaces that teach us the most. They are opportunities to broaden our gardening skills, and the outcomes can be surprisingly satisfying.
Thoughts on Shady Gardens
Shady and low-light garden areas are often underutilized or completely ignored. It’s a shame because shade-lovers are perfectly lovely and often some of the easiest plants to grow.
A common misconception with shade gardening is that the plant choices are severely limited. I wholeheartedly disagree. Whether you have dappled sunlight or all-day shade, there’s a plant that’ll dig that spot. Dappled light is the perfect scenario for a woodland- or tropical-style garden. Plus, the dog days of summer are cooler in a shade garden.
Look for shade-loving plants that have variegated leaves (white or cream along the leaf edges) such as lungwort, nettle, and coleus. They will brighten dark areas by reflecting any light that comes their way.
When it comes to shade plants, it’s often the leaves that steal the show. But did you know that you can have your leaves and flowers, too? Bleeding heart, impatiens, and cyclamen all blossom where the sun doesn’t shine.
A simple way to let light into a tree-shaded area is to prune the lower branches up, effectively raising the tree canopy. Depending on the tree species, this trick can mean the difference between full shade and light or dappled shade.
Thoughts on Hot Spots
Hot, full-sun areas can be one of the most challenging gardens, in my opinion. In this case, you should look for plants that thrive in the sun, or at least don’t fry easily. On a positive note, heat-tolerant plant species (xeriscape plants) are not only environmentally friendly – they also save water and money and make for an easy-to-care-for landscape.
Even more good news is there’s a dazzling array of flowers that worship the sun, such as Mexican sage, lavender, sunflowers, penstemon, lamb’s ears, succulents, blanket flower, African daisy, cosmos, dusty miller, lantana, phlox, portulaca, and zinnia.
Other ideas for your sun-soaked garden:
Hot and sunny gardens are just begging to be planted with vegetables. Give ‘em what they want. Plant tomatoes, pumpkins, zucchini, squash, corn, beans, eggplant, strawberries, and raspberries to your heart’s content.
Herbs are so versatile that the answer to many garden problems is simple: herbs. Most of them love the sun and nearly as many tolerate some shade. Think of them as the Labradors of the plant world. Plant thyme, rosemary, sage, basil, oregano, marjoram, chives, parsley, cilantro, and dill in your sunny garden.
Rock gardens can be an excellent choice for sun-drenched places, especially yards with a gradual slope. Or consider a formal rose garden. Many rose varieties are perfectly happy taking a sun-beating, while others won’t be able to take it. Ask for guidance from your local nursery or rosarian on which varieties would be happy in your garden zone.
Utilize a sun cloth, netted canopy, or even paper umbrellas for a little man-made shade to give plants relief from the draining afternoon sun.
Install a drip system that delivers the water directly to the root zone instead of overhead. A drip system on a timer will water your plants at regular intervals, reduce evaporation, and reduce heat stress.
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