shady plants -- advice and suggestions

lisahlooApril 25, 2010

Hi all,

For those who saw my previous post about the pots, this is part II! I just had our porch redone and am about to re-landscape my front yard. I've gone from an almost entirely shady front section to quite a mix of sun and shade (the stairs go down the front of the yard from nearly full shade to nearly full sun).

The house faces north, and all the plants in the bed closest to the house need to tolerate mostly shady conditions. I had a great garden going with some ilex glabra shamrock for evergreens, hostas, ferns, jacobs ladder, and other smaller shade perennials. I'm interested in changing things up now that the porch is worth looking at and using :-). (I lost a lot of what I had there, and what I moved that is actually doing well may stay where it is, as I have quite a bit of yard still to plant in!)

One thing I got interested in after pouring through my Bluestone catalog is the Castle Wall and Castle Spire hollies. Anyone tried these in Zone 6 (my front yard is the colder/slower to wake up part of my yard)? I'd love to have that sort of pyramidal holly look for winter interest....

I'd also like some heavy fragrance, again, since we might actually use the porch now!! I have a small narrow section that is east facing that is between the side of the porch and the driveway. It is shaded both by the porch structure (so no morning sun) and some trees in my neighbors yard. Its hard to tell how much sun it actually gets - some dappled during the day, and probably some evening sun. I'd like to put in a fragrant vine... I've read that sweet autumn clematis can take that little sun. What are folks opinions? Is it invasive? Will it pull down the porch (LOL)? Any other suggestions? If not a fragrant vine, any other ideas that can take that little sun and which take little space -- there's only about 3 feet of ground there between the porch and the driveway, and I don't want anything wide b/c we'll need to be able to walk by there.

Anyone grow a rose called Darwin's Enigma? I read that it can take fairly little direct sun, too. I was thinking of that mostly for the western exposure, which is below some oaks, but gets good dappled sun (and isn't so close to a walkway, so the thorns are less of an issue!)

My other shade fragrance ideas were the fragrant hostas....

I'm having such trouble narrowing down my options for the sunnier sections, but I guess that's the fun part :-). Definitely aiming for fragrance and staggered blooms there. I was thinking Daphne, maybe a dwarf clethra (since it can take the shade too), and/or a dwarf viburnum (I have carlesii compacta in the backyard blooming and making things smell oh so sweet!).

One last question -- what is the very very blue hydrangea that is blooming in the last part of summer? Is it a Nikko? I noticed them a lot in early fall last year as I knew I'd suddenly be able to consider one in my front yard, but of course failed to actually ask anyone what it was when I saw it!



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What a fun project - I envy you the space you have! My garden's overstuffed and I can't see anywhere to add new plantings at this point.

If you have a good agricultural extension field office near you, that might be one place to ask about Sweet Autumn Clematis. Where I live, it's a terrible pest, but that might not be true where you are.

I'd be extremely careful planting any vine on or very close to the house, assuming your house is shingled or clapboarded. SAC in particular might cause problems, being so aggressive - it can get right under the shingles.

Not fragrant, but not so rampant as SAC is C. montana. It is just about to bloom here; it's a very vigorous clematis with none of the problems other clems seem to have. The foliage is really nice, which is important since it blooms so early.

    Bookmark   April 25, 2010 at 5:26PM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

It does sound like a great project. I love por*ches! You're right to try to add some fragrance. I'm not sure you are going to find a vine that will give you blooms and fragrance in only dappled sun all day. I am constantly trying to add fragrance and I've haven't had much luck in shady areas. I tried a small cutting of SAC and it took three years in my sunnier than yours location to get five feet high then the very next year, I looked over one day and noticed not one leaf on it. I found some kind of caterpillar on it that stripped it of every leaf and it never came back. So I can't attest to it's aggressiveness. [g]

While you are looking for a fragrant vine, you might consider pots of Four OClocks on your porch. They open at night and have a nice fragrance that is stronger on hot evenings. They might do fine in your shady conditions. I've had them bloom in shady spots. I also tried C*lematis m. 'Mayleen' from Bluestone last fall and it hasn't come back.

No, I haven't had experience with Castle Wall or Spire. I like the darker green so I have two 'Green Mountain' that I really enjoy. It is supposed to get to about 5ft tall and might be easily shaped into a pyramid. You would have to trim them occasionally anyway, so it's not like it would be more work. GM came through the winter great last year. I've only had them two years. Bought them small at Bluestone and I like them.

I would ask about the r*oses over on the rose forum and you will need to actually time the amount of sun to determine whether you have enough for a rose. Sometimes we can all kid ourselves that we have enough sun because we want a particular plant so much. :-) I am experimenting with two r*oses in an area that only gets about 4 hours of sun. I was cautioned on the r*ose forum that I may not get good bloom there. So I found two r*oses that are described as tolerating some shade and I'm keeping my fingers crossed. But I think 4 hours of sun is a minimum for a r*ose. But I'm no expert. Even if a r*ose blooms in less sun, it might not be the amount of bloom you are hoping for.

Fragrant hostas are a great idea. I had 'Guacamole' for 4 years and it didn't come back this spring, which really surprised me. I'm still looking for it through May because I seem to remember it was late to come up, although all my other hostas are up. It is very fragrant and has nice large blooms. I'm sure there are lots of others.

My Clethra lost most of it's top growth this winter. It is a great shrub so I hope I haven't lost it entirely. There is a post about that somewhere, others have had trouble with Clethras last winter.

Endless Summer might be the Hydrangea you are trying to figure out. I would go with that one because it blooms on old and new wood. I also know people who grow Nikko and swear by it's hardiness.

    Bookmark   April 26, 2010 at 5:48AM
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runktrun(z7a MA)

It sounds as though you have a good start to your project. I really like the plant selections you have made, but having learned the hard way I might have saved myself a lot of effort and money if I had not been in denial about how many hours of sunlight a particular bed really did get. It is easy at this time of year with little or no leaves on a neighbors tree canopy to fool your self into believing you have more hours of sun than you actually do. You might begin by noting the actual number of sunlight hours each of your planting areas gets and then of course the hard part is limiting your choices to those that meet those that meet that criteria.
Good luck and I love the the Castle Wall and Castle Spire Ilex choice, for me I. meserve has been very happy and stands up to winter better than any other Ilex.

    Bookmark   April 26, 2010 at 7:34AM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

Lisa, I'm sorry, I was offering you the 'Green Mountain' suggestion as an alternative to your Castle Wall & Spire, without noticing that you were asking about Ilex and I was suggesting Buxus. It is a nice alternative to an Ilex though. [g] I also have other Ilex meserveae that are great performers in my gar*den. I have 'Blue Princess' and 'Blue Prince' which are content in an East facing location. I just bought 'Honey Maid' last year and it made it through the winter great so I'm keeping my fingers crossed it will do as well as the others.

    Bookmark   April 26, 2010 at 7:47AM
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I got caught up by your interest in scented plants, so I'll suggest a bunch and leave you to figure whether you can find a place that meets their sun/shade needs. I would recommend Daphne x transatlantica 'Summer Ice' (which I got from Avant Gardens.) It has flowers (white to very pale lavender, depending on flower age and temperature) all summer in little clusters dotted across the plant and the leaves are delicately edged in white. Mine is in a bed shaded until at least 2 o'clock. I have an 'Endless Summer' hydrangea that is in a bed that gets sun until about noon that blooms well from late June to freeze. In my experience the scent from Viburnum carlesii drifts quite far, as do lilacs, so you could plant those farther away and still be able to enjoy the scent if they are upwind of the porch. You could put a small wind indicator (index card fastened to a drinking straw with a pin as the pivot & fastened to a shovel handle stuck into the ground) in various areas of the yard, and then watch what direction seems to be upwind of the porch during the times you are most likely to be on the porch. I love the scent of Rhododendron viscosum (swamp azalea) which will grow in average moisture as well as wet areas. It can get larger, so if you have room further away, it will bloom in half shade, but not 100% shade (I tried both). Nicotiana also has lovely scent that drifts, but only in the late afternoon and evening. It's a self-seeding annual in my garden, and it is happy in full sun to about 4 hours of sun.

Here is a link to a thread on the GW clematis forum that is about fragrant clematis:
and here is a page on species clematis, which many seem to grow in shade. Unfortunately, she doesn't seem to talk about scent, but maybe you can find another source on one of these plants that gives scent information.

Many of the old-fashioned roses have lovely scent and may have more shade tolerance that you might think. I have a Rosa mundi (apothocary rose), a spring bloomer with striped blossoms, in about half day shade near the Daphne, though it gets more mid-day sun and less afternoon.

Right now I have a bunch of narcissus/daffodils that are blooming and many of those are scented enough so that the whole yard is scented. So that's another plant that with the right varieties you can plant further away in a sunnier area and still enjoy the flowers and scent from across the yard.

    Bookmark   April 26, 2010 at 9:33AM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

Babs, does your Daphne have any trouble with hardiness in your zone? Or winter wind damage?

We have carlesii blooming right now and it is one of my favorite fragrances.

Good suggestion that you could plant farther away in sun and possibly still get the fragrance where you want it. I hadn't thought of that.

Can you name some of the daffs you have that are fragrant? I have bought a few that were described as fragrant, but I haven't noticed any scent.

    Bookmark   April 27, 2010 at 7:42AM
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sue36(Z5 Maine)

In my north facing garden I have Japanese Maple, Blue Billow Hydrangea, lots and lots of hosta and several geranium in the shadiest spots. I don't think most hydrangea would be happy in that much shade. I have some on the north side, but they are in the sunnier spots (at least 3 morning hours a few afternoon hours).

Just be aware that holly are much loved by deer, if that is an issue for you.

    Bookmark   April 27, 2010 at 11:21AM
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PM2 - My Daphne has survived for 3 or 4 winters. We usually have good snow cover, and in winter the area gets little direct sun. I'm not sure about wind - it's got a building immediately to the north and a row of hemlocks 25' to the south for shelter, but sometimes the wind really whips up the valley. It's not a spot I spend much time in during the winter, so I'm not sure if the building and trees provide shelter or a wind tunnel effect. There were a few dead branches this spring, so we'll see how it does this season.

    Bookmark   April 28, 2010 at 6:12AM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

Babs, three or four winters is pretty good. I have a hard time placing evergreens. My part sun and shady locations that have room for more, back up to my west lotline and we seem to get wind from that direction and they face east, so they get morning sun. Not really a good combo for evergreens. I will have to check out the cultural information on it to see if there's a place I can find for one. I didn't realize they have a long bloom season.

    Bookmark   April 28, 2010 at 7:06AM
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