Ken Druse championed ferns, foliage and lacy curtains of green at a time when a lot of people thought the only good garden was a sunny garden.
He was a hosta guy when hostas were your fussy great-aunt’s plants, the ones you sidestepped at the garden center, if, indeed, the garden center bothered to display them at all.
So when the author of the influential 1992 book “The Natural Shade Garden” says shade gardens are the gardens of the future, it’s worth listening. In his latest book, “The New Shade Garden: Creating a Lush Oasis in the Age of Climate Change” (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2015), Druse argues that shade gardens will be the most comfortable, satisfying and sustainable option.
“I remember not too long ago there were forecasts for climate change that said we would begin to feel the effects of global warming by 2050, and gardeners, I think, have been feeling it for at least a decade,” Druse says.
Ten of the hottest years on record have occurred in the last 17 years. And, Druse adds, “spring comes earlier and earlier. Here in the Northeast (Druse lives in New Jersey), it doesn’t drizzle like it used to. Rain comes in these downpours that are damaging and don’t really deliver that much moisture. Because of climate change, we have to get out of the sun, and it can be 10 to 20 degrees cooler in the shade than it is in the sunny border.”
Shade plants often require less water than plants that grow in the sun, and they can be grown without the pesticides and fertilizers that sustain a traditional sun-drenched lawn, Druse says.
Druse’s book showcases a stunning array of shade plants and gardens, with charming essays on topics ranging from design to degrees of shade, as well as informative guides and asides and hundreds of beautiful color photos.
Among the highlights:
Sources of color: Druse is a foliage fan, but he understands the near-universal appeal of flowers. Striking images of celandine, or yellow wood poppy (Stylophorum diphyllum), with its long-blooming buttercup-like flowers; Anemone canadensis, with its pristine white blooms; and the dogwood tree in full pink flower show shade gardeners that if the low-sun palette is a little different, it’s still varied and vibrant.
Foliage inspirations: Druse doesn’t just sing the praises of his favorite part of the plant, he shows us how great it can look. The “filtered light” and “shady depths” of his graceful text come alive in woodland gardens, where variegated leaves give a pop of frosty light, and darker leaves offer layer upon layer of rich, refreshing green. Pine needles bristle, giant hostas rise with primordial grace over soft grasses and, as your eyes adjust to the dimness, leaves shaped like hearts, footballs and flowers fall in and out of focus, each complete unto itself and part of a larger tapestry. Fall in love with a certain look? There are lots of specifics, with up-close photos and plant names, both common and scientific.
Practical information: For those who want to make a systematic search for the most desirable plants, there are photo galleries of evergreen shrubs, vines and, of course, herbaceous perennials such as lady’s mantle (Alchemilla mollis) and bluestar (Amsonia elliptica). There’s also a listing of herbaceous perennials, with dozens of plants and their growing zones, bloom times and specific shade needs.
Suggestions for summer: The helpful section on later-season stars addresses a perennial problem for shade gardeners: Many of the best-loved flowering shade plants bloom in spring, leaving summer and fall relatively flowerless. Druse suggests late bloomers such as toad lily (Tricyrtis), with its jewel-toned, orchidlike blossoms that generally appear in late summer or fall. There’s also the gorgeous late summer Japanese anemone, with its poppy-like white or pink flowers.
2 great ideas shade gardens
Get a mirror: A mirror can add to the wonderful sense of depth in a small garden. Keep child (and bird) safety in mind, and consider waterproofing the mirror by mounting it on marine plywood and caulking the edges.
Paint a wall: A light-reflecting pastel backdrop can add drama to a shade garden. Try a shade in the pink range such as pale terra cotta.