total shade - annuals needed for front porch pots

stimpy926January 4, 2005

Ok, this question probably wins the prize for most frequently asked :-/, but let me phrase this -

My front porch is totally in shade, under an overhang, facing northeast. It gets about an hour or 2 of early morning sun, only in spring, for a few weeks. In my pots I've tried Impatiens, caladiums, violas, and coleus, and they do not grow *well* there. They apparently do need some sun to thrive. What annuals could grow there? I love to grow from seed too, so what might work? Thanks!

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Paula......For the shadiest parts of my yard, I've had very good luck with caladiums (started from tubers in late spring) and wax begonias (nursery-purchase). In fact, the two combine beautifully because they both are available in various shades of pink and white.

One of the more interesting caladiums that I grew last year for the first time is Gingerland: dark-green-bordered white leaves covered with flecks of rose and green. Aaron is another nice one---a pretty, quiet white-green combo that is soothing on its own, or serves as a great backdrop to other things. Park's Seed has both, and I've also seen them pretty readily available at the big box stores as early as March.

One thing to keep in mind about caladiums is that they don't like cool soil or temps, so start them indoors with bottom heat, if you want to, but don't set them out until all danger of frost is past.

For a really good display of caladiums, double or triple the number of tubers that you would normally put in the pot---it makes for a very lush container. Just keep them watered well.

You can dry the tubers at the end of the summer, store them over the winter and restart them the next year, getting more bang for your buck in the process.

I also grew abutilon (flowering maple) from seed last year, for shade, and all four of the ones that I potted up did very well. They can get a little leggy, but if you pinch them back early on, and a couple of other times during the course of the summer, they fill out quickly. It even flowers in shade, although the flowers tend to face down so they might do best in pots sited on pedestals or other risers.

You might also think about ferns and ivies, which aren't annuals, but do well in shade. They can be interesting on their own, or used to set off other things.

I sometimes tuck a bit variegated lamium (dead nettle) into pots as a cascading finishing touch---it roots quickly and thrives in shade.

Good luck!

    Bookmark   January 5, 2005 at 6:51PM
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Hi Paula.......I'm sorry, I just saw that caladiums were on your list of already-tried plants! Too bad that they didn't work for you. I wonder if some varieties do better in deep shade than others? I was pleasantly surprised by how well the Gingerland and another one---Kathleen, I think?---fared in spots that receive no direct sun in my yard....

Another possible approach might be to pot up several containers in spring and early summer, and then rotate them on and off the porch as they hit their stride. That way, you can give the 'off-stage' pots some sun somewhere else in your yard until they're at their peak. And then move them 'center-stage' while they're blooming. It would take a bit more work, but the results (and variety) might be worth it.

Good luck!

    Bookmark   January 6, 2005 at 8:41AM
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No problem Kathi - Interestingly, I always thought Caladiums needed total shade, until I saw Longwood's display last summer, they had them planted outside in partial sun.
I think begonias may be the way to go... I have a spider plant in the house with many babies.. maybe one of those in the middle of the pot. I'll keep in mind the flowering maple too, along with ivy, ferns, and I do have lamium that I've used before. It's so 'dark' there,, nice for humans when it's hot though!:-)
Anyone else with any ideas please post!

    Bookmark   January 6, 2005 at 8:50AM
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jenny_in_se_pa(USDA7 Sunset 32)

Hey paula - you could try some coleus and possibly some tuberous begonias (possibly wax begonias as well as they seem to grow in any conditions). Some other flowering shade-tolerants are violets, violas, and pansies (until the heat hits), torenia, and you can even give sweet alyssum a shot in the shade as I've grown it in partial sun and it seemed lusher.

    Bookmark   January 7, 2005 at 2:46PM
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Hey jenny,, how ah ya! lol , but as I stated even coleus, at least the kind I tried before didn't do that well..lanky, not many leaves, which were small...don't know what kind, brand x I guess, from Wall Mart. The violas were worse. I'm going to try some begonias... are there some coleus varieties that do better in total shade?

    Bookmark   January 7, 2005 at 4:20PM
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jenny_in_se_pa(USDA7 Sunset 32)

Hey Paula! Hanging in there and hoping this winter gets over with quick, fast, and in a hurry! LOL

Sorry - I did notice after I posted about your viola and coleus problems.

I forget which type I had (have to hunt around to see if I still have the tags) but they looked like this:

I had them back away from the rail and on the balcony floor so they couldn't have gotten much sun at all. I think because they were very ripply, they didn't get leggy and eventually filled out nicely. I did turn the pot around to keep the more upright so they wouldn't try to lean (but if you plant in a window box, you can't really turn them around unless the actual box is on a hanger and can be flipped around).

You might give plants from the mint family a shot. They seem to do okay in shade. How about snapdragons? Those are kinda cool and I've seen them grow on porches back from the sun. Since they are cool-weather plants, they might appreciate the cooler spot. Also consider some perennials like dwarf astilbes. Some others you could try are browallia and nicotiana. I've grown browallia and had to use dusty miller in front of it to give it more shade. lol My sister grew nicotiana in pots at one time, although they can get tall and fall over, so that might not be a good one.

I think too, that the weather can really impact on some of these and last year, we had a cool summer and above-average rainfall, so many cloudy days which probably didn't help with the plants that you tried in an already-shadey spot. What might be neat is to put some dwarf ferns in the containers too to have some greenery - particularly if the flowers don't fill in that quickly.

    Bookmark   January 8, 2005 at 8:27PM
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diggerdee zone 6 CT

Paula, do you have to have annuals? How about potting up some perennials? Perhaps bleeding hearts, hostas, dwarf azaleas, etc... Lots of perennials can live in shade, and look great in pots, too.

Something to think about!


    Bookmark   January 10, 2005 at 2:05PM
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Thanks, I am beginning to switch gears, am thinking I could get some painted ferns, a hosta, and a begonia, maybe try a blue lobelia as well! Also, I never tried 'Shady Lady' impatiens from Parks.. I was going to give that a try.

    Bookmark   January 10, 2005 at 4:03PM
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karen_b(6a s.c. PA)

Paula, I have the same problem, except my exposure is west through a forest of oak trees. I tried most of the same annuals you have and have decided to stop fighting a lossing battle. I bought 3 beautiful frilly boston ferns and hung them on my front porch and as long as I didn't let them dry out and I sprayed them with the hose when I watered them they were beautiful. They have even lasted quite well in my basement (which faces the same westerly direction in front of sliding glass doors, though since the leaves are off the trees they get more direct evening sun than they get during the summer.)

I tried the coleus in Jenny's picture they did ok as long as I kept them at the corner that received more sun than the porch. Otherwise they barely grew.

I am also experimenting with other ferns, we will see if they make it through this winter outside in pots.

You could also do as I've done, we have a table on the front porch and I've placed a basket with fake flowers on it. And I also have a colorful wreath on the door.


    Bookmark   January 19, 2005 at 1:43PM
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my back windowboxes are in the same situation. I tried begonias but they did not do well at all. Impatiens had a few blooms but were very leggy. Now instead what I've done is plant a mix of "indoor" plants at the beginning of summer, plants I find for approx. $2.50 per 2" in the indoor plant section at Lowe's, HD, Walmart etc. (Such as the showy variegated ivies, hoya, ficus, euphorbia, etc.)

Most of these plants don't have showy blooms all summer. Instead I've tried to create eye-catching associations of variegation, tall/cascading, large and small leaves etc. I really think it has been beautiful,and really draws the eye to it because it is unusual to see these types of plants in outdoor window boxes.

At the end of summer these plants are very happy! I've pulled them out of the boxes and brought them indoors to become houseplants.

    Bookmark   January 23, 2005 at 1:40AM
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Gosh - my front porch faces due north and is completely covered by an overhang but I've never had a problem growing shade loving annuals there in summer. I grow impatiens and fuchsias there and they do fine, in fact the impatiens sometimes do too well. I've even grown ordinary zonal geraniums there with just an occasional excursion out into the sun to keep them from getting too leggy and so they grow evenly. In winter and early spring I have cyclamen or primulas for color. I also have containers of ferns and shade loving perennials out there all year and my houseplants take their summer vacation in the same location.

    Bookmark   January 23, 2005 at 9:10AM
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gardengal48, I'm wondering if your plants don't get a lot of indirect light. I have some north-facing areas not in very heavy shade and my impatiens are a centerpiece annual there. But the windowboxes I have face north and are under the canopy of a huge oak tree and understory trees. Impatiens don't do well there and forget fuschias and geraniums, they would never bloom there to speak of. It's dark there! So I sympathize with paula_in_Pa. The light level is similar to indoors with only indirect window light. That's why I went with indoor plants and colorful foliage. It has worked really well for me!

    Bookmark   January 23, 2005 at 11:20PM
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Paula, I also have the same problem. I have tried every shade plant you can think of in the 38 years since we built our house. Forget the wax begonias, if impatients & coleus won't grow, they won't either. I finally have also resorted to Boston ferns for my hanging baskets & they are lovely against the backdrop of our white brick. Lovemyshovel has the right idea. I take all my houseplants outside for the summer & they do great. Give some of them a try; ferns, pothos, many lowlight & varigated plants would be pretty. Spathaphyllum will flower for sure & you can even try african violets out there for color. Good luck, just keep trying til you find what works. :)

    Bookmark   January 25, 2005 at 10:28PM
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annie oakleaf5 and lovemyshovel , you've both nailed it I believe, I'll just give up on annuals at that particular location. It's just too far back against the house wall, and too dark. I like that getting house plants idea, goodness, I remember now the new Walmart near us has many of them...especially little ones. DUH! :-D Thanks for the input everyone!

    Bookmark   January 27, 2005 at 12:08PM
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pixoid(z7 NY)

Browalias are another annual that blooms very well in the shade.

    Bookmark   February 5, 2005 at 6:06PM
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Plants require some sun to grow, and flowering plants usually will not flower in very deep shade. It sounds like your shade is just a bit too deep for these plants.

A way I have found around this is to grow a line of white (white is good in dark places) impatiens in the back yard. Every 30 days or so, I move a new plant to the planter in full shade. They last about a month before they give up and look tired. 4-5 impatiens is all you need.

    Bookmark   February 11, 2005 at 3:18PM
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dianne1957(NC 7b)

I was wandering the same thing...why plant annuals?. At my previous house in SW/PA my back porch was in all shade. I would drag all my houseplants out every year in Mid May through Mid Sept to enjoy the outside. They all grew so well over the summer that it made me feel bad to take them back inside in the fall. I also tried impatiens, coleus, etc. But they would get too leggy. So my plan switched to planting them in smaller decorative pots for added color amongst the house plants. I trimmed them often so they would bloom but not stretch out too much. There is allot you can do with your porch. I had a small fountain with marbles and glass in it for extra color. I purchased a rug and comfortable chairs with colorful pillows for a seating arrangement. Try decorative plant hangers to give a little height to the plant area.
At this time of year Lowes, Home Depot etc. start to get allot of houseplants in their stores. You could treat them as any annual that you use for a season. Good Luck.....Dianne

    Bookmark   February 12, 2005 at 7:25PM
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Hi Paula,
Wayside Gardens have some really nice ferns, colorful, beautiful ferns (Japanese ferns, I believe) that won't grow in zone 10 but might work well for you.

    Bookmark   February 25, 2005 at 1:56PM
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nicerealtor1(z7 HSV AL)

They are not exactly annuals, but I've found some pretty plastic plants at Wal*Mart and other places. Just stick them into the ground wherever you need some added foliage or color.

I stuck them in my window boxes around the snapdragons that are overwintering there, and they really light up the window boxes.

When spring comes and the snapdragons get colorful again, then the plastic flowers will go into storage till I need them next.


    Bookmark   March 2, 2005 at 10:30PM
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madmouser(7 TN)

This place has a lot of different types of ferns (almost 100!). You can create some nice displays with the different colors of foliage, plant sizes and types of leaves/fronds.

Here is a link that might be useful: Big Dipper Fern Farm

    Bookmark   March 3, 2005 at 4:02PM
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cat2(z6 CT)

What about trying something like a toad lily? I've got a VERY shady area & I've been toying with various things. That's on my wish list. So far, cyclamen, ivy, hostas seem to do well, and moss, of course. A few spring bulbs- but early in the spring it gets some sun before the leaves of the huge tree come out. Also, one of the low creeping evergreens with red berries - can't remember the name. Daylily greens - but no flowers. Last year I added several things from the plant swap to try- painted ferns and lamium come to mind, although I know there were many more.

    Bookmark   March 25, 2005 at 12:19PM
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pdnyc(z7 Long Island)

Paula, I'm surprised to see that only one person has suggested fuschias, and then only in passing. They come in astonishing varieties, one more beautiful than the next, and in the nursery where I work they thrive in hanging baskets in a lath house almost totally sun-deprived by a huge, overgrown wisteria vine. Defintely a contender!
---Paula (my name, too)

    Bookmark   March 27, 2005 at 10:26AM
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eddiebird(z6 KCMO)

If you put your caladiums out too early when it's too cold (40 degreeish) the bulbs will soak up water and rot. Could this possibly be the problem with your caladiums? I have caladiums growing in a heavily shaded corner of a six foot fence, I have some against some lattice on a deck which has a roof.....neither gets too much sun, if at all. Maybe you're using a bad potting soil which doesn't retain moisture? Anyway, if it's lack of water for your other plants or putting the caladiums out too early in the spring, that would explain the problems you have. One thing that works really well for me is to pot up about a dozen or more pots of purple oxalis to use as a "border" around my enormous houseplants I put out in the summer. If you want some purple oxalis, let me know. I'm going to start potting the bulbs up this weekend and I know I'll have a lot left over. Within six weeks you'll have some full grown plants that will flower ALL summer. Little fuschia blossoms against dark purple shamrocks. Really pretty. I don't think they need much light. They're one of my miracle plants.


    Bookmark   April 7, 2005 at 6:02PM
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Maria, I'd like to try 2 or 3 of the oxalis if you do have leftovers... let me know what you would need for postage.
The caladiums I tried, that I started indoors first last year, just didn't grow much. Just a few leaves, spindly, and falling over, growing in regular potting soil bag mix. Others I put in the ground directly, in full shade, didn't do much better. Maybe the soil there isn't drained enough.

    Bookmark   April 8, 2005 at 9:33AM
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eddiebird(z6 KCMO)

Paula-I will be very happy to send you a dozen or so purple shamrocks if you let me know your address. In the fall, you will probably have a 100 and next year YOU can give some away. :-) They're fabulous plants and I hope they do well on your very shady porch. I'm surprised the caladiums stay so darn puny for you. I get mine at a nursery. The bulb size is pretty substantial, they're heavy when you hold them in your hand and you can already see the pink growth buds. If you buy yours in a sealed plastic bag at a hardware or discount store (caladiums can be expensive), the bulbs are usually tiny (meaning you'll get tiny plants) and dried out. I'm not saying that's always true when you buy from a discounter but a caladium bulb in good shape is going to do its best to grow. I'd try again if this was your original source for buying caladiums. Also-caladiums respond to heat. I've tried starting them early but they really don't start growing until it is hot outside.

My email address is
I'll try to get the bulbs to you on Monday. Don't worry about the postage. It can't amount to much. :-)


    Bookmark   April 8, 2005 at 11:49AM
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vicki_ca(Sunset 14, US9)

I have the same problem as you, Paula. My front porch faces north and is shaded by the roof overhang and trees. Coleus, caladium, wax begonias, tuberous begonias, fuchsias, coleus, JacobÂs ladder and various other flowering shade lovers have done poorly for me. They grow and flower, but the growth is long and lanky and the flowers are sparse, even though I use great soil, fertilizer and a proper watering routine. Coleus also have dull colors and less patterning when grown in dense shade, as compared with the same type of coleus that receive morning sun. I am currently experimenting with angel wing begonias. So far they are looking good, but they have only been there for about 5 weeks, which is not long enough to decide whether to get more of them. My ferns are doing great there. Some are in hanging pots and others are planted in the ground and all are performing beautifully.

Since I am bound and determined to have flowers, I rotate pots of flowering plants between filtered sun and my very shady front door. This works for tuberous begonias, upright fuchsias, and New Guinea impatiens. These pots spend 2-3 weeks in dappled sun, and then I swap them with potted plants that have spent a few weeks in the dense shade. It's a bit of bother, but at least it allows me to have something bright and cheerful near my front door.

    Bookmark   April 10, 2005 at 2:00PM
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bbbbosox(z7 GA)


I posted this on another thread which I then found out was Gardening in Canada! Ooops by me. I may receive a response, but would like to cover the bases by posting my questions here as well.

I live in GA (Zone 7). I recently planted in a pot with some purple shamrock plants ... just yesterday. While reading this thread, there was mention of being able to cultivate bulbs from the plants sometime in the future. That would be great if I have any luck, but I was wondering, if I purchased some bulbs, whether or not it is too late in the planting season to do so. I'm never sure when the "drop dead" for planting is for almost anything. LOL! Do you think it is too late to plant purple shamrock bulbs here in GA (northwestern area - close to TN and AL)?

Thanks in advance.

    Bookmark   May 16, 2005 at 1:04PM
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I have potted up some big lime green hostas for my shady front porch, paired with the coolest optic grass, which is a fine-leafed ornamental grass with white balls on the tips. I also have some soloman's seal and a variety of rosemary that hangs down. They look lovely. I would take a picture, but seem to have a dead battery.

    Bookmark   May 17, 2005 at 9:27PM
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I was actually looking for something about annual lobelias when I came across this thread. I couldn't help but add my 2 cents...
I totally agree with Paula about the fuschias...they're one of the most beautiful flowers in my large garden....and hanging from the edge of my shaded porch.
I usually add various impatiens, tuberous begonias, and here's something I haven't seen mentioned....Kenilworth Ivy! It's gorgeous! Even here in the Interior of Alaska, I've had many patches of it spring up in the ground underneath a planter with it in it. It actually does the best in shade.
A lot of people consider Creeping Charlie an invasive weed, but it's everywhere in my garden, choking out the much-detested chickweed! Yes! It mounds and FLOWERS! It creeps all over the place, filling in all the spots between my neglected paver stone walkway, and all I do to start a new section of growth is rip out a handful, dig a hole or a trench, lay it in, water, and in a matter of days,it's taking off like crazy! It's gorgeous for filling in hanging baskets or window boxes, and it absolutely thrives in the deepest,shadiest corners, underneath the Lily-of-the-Valley, which thrives underneath the Ostrich and Lady ferns.
One more thought...I usually keep my Amaryllis on the back porch for the summer...they stay much healthier and get so much bigger than in the sun. They also add a fabulous, exotic look to the area when fanning out from behind something with flowers.
So now....can anyone describe the differences in growth habits between the various lobelias for me?

    Bookmark   June 3, 2005 at 2:50PM
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I kind of cheat when it comes to the front porch -- mine's also total shade, but I have a couple of large shade beds to work with, too, so things can move freely back and forth, getting what they need out in the beds, and coming back to the porch in between.

It helped me try a bunch of combinations I don't know that I would have otherwise thought of... One of the prettiest was a deep purple heuchera with lamium 'white nancy'-- and dicentra for bloom.

    Bookmark   June 5, 2005 at 9:48PM
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flowersandthings(MidAtlantic 6/7)

Begnoias are the classic in a such a situation and look just lovely. Impatiens would probably do well.... Also many people put pots of ferns (what variety) in such a site. Pots of hostas (though not annual) may also look nice. :)

    Bookmark   June 10, 2005 at 3:16PM
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:) I'd go with low-light houseplants- there are a fair number of 'understory' plants that will do fairly well out on your porch. actually, a ficus tree might do well there, my dad has two he raised from cuttings, and they LOVE our patio (which gets zero sun)

my mom has the same problem- she has window boxes that nothing will grow in. and I mean nothing- impatiens languish, and they're supposed to be THE shade flower...

I gave up, and planted them with Corydalis (mine is 'lutea) and lamium...and they took off like they had never met a more perfect place to live.

the foliage of the corydalis is similar to that of maidenhair fern, but with a burgundy cast to it when it's young...I adore it :) and while the spikes of yellow flowers are somewhere between insignificant and lame... they reseed like crazy, and they're spreading nicely.

    Bookmark   June 15, 2005 at 12:54PM
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Hi Paula,
I have several gardens, all in varying degrees of shade. Some total shade, and some that get just a little sun. I've been told on a couple of occassions, that if you lightly water impatients every day, and fertilize every other week with miracle grow that they will be fantastic even in total shade. This year I've decided to follow that advice in my total shade areas, and so far so good. The impatients are doing better than ever. I don't know if it will continue, but I really like what I'm seeing!

I agree that using perennials like ferns, hosta, astilbe and others is a great idea. Rather than fake plastic flowers, I've used silk flowers interspersed with real plants and no one has ever noticed.

Good Luck, hope this helps!

    Bookmark   June 15, 2005 at 10:16PM
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Forgive me if this is repetative information or if you no longer need suggestions. I just got to your question because I did a search for shade loving annuals. I am trying to expand my repetoire of things for a covered patio that is also east facing - no sun, very little indirect light. I have always used pots of ferns, ivy, and hosta, all of which love it there. Recently discovered that the yellowish sweet potato vine also loves it there, but not the blackie. Go figure! Anyway, the vine trails beautifully, lasts all summer, takes cool weather and hot, and really lights up the dark! I haven't yet taken the time to read all the responses to your question, but there are a lot and I look forward to finding some new ideas. Have you discovered anything that really works well? Oh and by the way, one response suggested that you rotate plants. I have done that with great success as well. I always plant a pot of impatiens, which do well for a while there but eventually stop blooming. I leave them until they begin to trail off, then take them to ther perimeter of the patio for a light fix until they get a bunch of new buds, then back to the dark. I does work very well, and gives a little splash of color without too much effort! Have a little water feature tucked in back there too, and it makes a great place to escape to when the temps climb! Love that shade!

    Bookmark   May 8, 2006 at 10:19AM
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