White shade garden

The north side of our house doesn’t get any direct sunlight, ever. The bed is a narrow strip along the side of the house with the chimney stack built out over a part of it. The northeast corner, which is very sunny, is home to a thriving colony of oregano and mint. The northwest corner houses a large old Rose of Sharon that can extend its branches far enough around the corner to get sunned out. Everything else is SOL.

Three summers ago when we moved here my husband planted two gooseberry bushes from his grandmother in this bed. They’ve gotten large but could be doing better in a sunnier place. He is always intending to move them but so far hasn’t gotten around to it–partly because a better spot to move them to is hard to find.

Last summer I inserted some monarda starts around the chimney bump-out and some lily of the valley in the rest of the bed. The dearth of sunshine doesn’t bother weeds, and they were constantly overtaking things back there.

This summer the monarda and lily of the valley have both taken hold, though it will take several years for them to get thoroughly spread out. I have planted three white-blooming astilbe, seven blue and white leafed hostas in three different varieties, and some sweet woodruff starts there too. I am delighted to see everything happy and thriving so far, and with no deer damage to date (knock on wood). It is going to be a truly lovely garden in a few more years.


My favorite plants–decorative

This is our fourth summer at Low House, so I’ve had a while to observe how things fare here. We are Zone 5, clay soil, with a mixture of sun, shade, wet, and dry beds. Our biggest problem is the deer, which eat anything tasty that isn’t behind an electric fence. We have one sunny dry bed, protected in a southwest corner, that they don’t often wander into.

Plants that have been a complete failure because of deer include everything from the lily family: day lilies, tulips, fritillaria; heuchera; sedum Autumn Joy; most daisies; most buttercups; and hollyhocks except in the protected bed.

Plants that have been a failure because they just didn’t like it here include many varieties of foxglove; delphiniums; and lupins.

A lot of plants are happy here though. Here’s a discussion of what they are and which varieties I like best.

Daffodils: are deer proof, early blooming, fairly long blooming for bulbs, cheap, and highly varied. I have them all around the house and they flourish everywhere.

Muscari: also deer proof etc. I have several varieties and am pleased with them all, though the pink cultivar doesn’t have much pink color. I might as well have planted white.

Iris: are happy and easygoing in all of the dry beds. I have cheap garden center ones as well as expensive fancies from Schreiners. I have miniature, bearded, and Siberian. The Siberian iris is the most problematic, only because they didn’t bloom last year.

Alliums: all kinds are happy and spread like wildfire. We have chives, garlic chives, little firecracker decorative ones, and two giant alliums that are going to bloom for the first time this year.

Crocus: no problems with these. Short bloom time though.

Chionodoxa: no problems with these either, though they aren’t multiplying.

Lavender: I bought the Munstead varietal because it is supposed to weather winters well, and it does. It’s attractive and semi-fragrant. This year I didn’t prune it at all, hoping maybe the plants will get bigger. It has been seeding itself around the bed, too, which is great.

Mint: all mints are just fine here. Spearmint, peppermint, thyme, oregano, and hummingbird mint are all doing great.

Sage: we have green sage for cooking and an ornamental purple sage, all are very happy.

Pulmonaria: happy in the shady wet bed. Divided them last summer. One died from the drought, others are fine.

Asters: creeping asters and purple dome aster both happy in the shady wet bed.

Black snakeroot: is alive and getting larger but has yet to bloom for me. It is at the back of the shady wet bed.

Butterfly bush: doing great in the shady wet bed.

Shasty daisy, Becky: doing pretty well in the shady wet bed, reluctant to take hold in a sunny dry bed. Did better in my sunny but moist bed at the other house.

Chrysanthemums: all kinds very happy here. Football and cushion types both flourish in all beds.

Astilbe: very happy in the shady wet bed. Plants are nearly large enough to divide.

Columbine: happy in moist sunny places. I have several varieties and am happy with them all. Winky Pink and Blue are exceptionally pretty.

Geraniums: are living in the dry sunny bed just fine; they were new last year so I’m interested to see how they grow.

Ornamental thistle: very happy in the sunny dry bed

Sedum: various kinds, happy in all the sunny beds, moist and dry

Coneflowers: happy in any of the sunny beds. I have a lot of plain purples ones and White Swans, and these are the ones that have heavily seeded themselves. I have a lot of the expensive exotic colors that have come out in the last few years, and while the plants are doing fine, they are mostly not seeding which is unfortunate. When those plants die, that will be the end of them here. One of the green varieties is practically white, not any different looking than White Swan except that the centers are green instead of black.

Monarda: several varieties all happy in the sunny beds, and a few shoots overwintered in a shady bed and have spread. I’m interested to see if they bloom or not.

Coreopsis: happy in sunny beds

Gaillardia: happy in sunny beds

Foxglove: the only variety that likes it here is the Digitalis mertonensis I brought from the other house. They bloomed every summer for five summers and I was even able to divide some of them, but maybe because they’re old or maybe because of last summer’s drought, only two are still alive. I am sold on this variety, though, and just ordered five more plants to replace them. Nothing is more stunning than foxglove in bloom.

Agastache: happy in sunny beds

Nigella: loves the sheltered bed, re-seeds itself all over. What a weird and wonderful flower.

Snapdragons: technically an annual here in zone 5, but in the sheltered bed they have survived two winters and grown roots so deep I can’t pull them up.

Pinks: also technically an annual here, but the little cheapies from the grocery store come back year after year in the sunny back border. I love them.

Zinnias: no problem growing these in the sheltered bed.

Hollyhock: got eaten down badly everywhere but the sheltered bed, where they have taken hold and are re-seeding themselves. I have a big Old Farmyard plant from the other house that is in its sixth summer with me; others have all grown from its seed or from various packets of seed I bought. I hope I get a jungle of hollyhocks back there, they’re wonderful.

Peonies: arrrghhhhhh. The tall, not bush, peonies from Diana’s mother are in their fourth summer with me now, and while they won’t die, they won’t spread or bloom either. They just don’t like it here. A peony root I planted in the sheltered bed last summer is sending up shoots but will probably not be mature enough to bloom this year.

Bloom progression: early spring

The first things to bloom are crocus and chionodoxa. Just as the crocus fades (but while the chionodoxa is still out) the daffodils, grape hyacinth, magnolia, and forsythia start to bloom.

And that’s as far as we’ve gotten so far this year.

In future gardens, do drifts of white-pale blue-dark blue grape hyacinth, and drifts of white-pale pink-pale blue ones.

If I had my back border to plant again, I’d do a line of chrysanthemums along the front and a line of summer perennials along the back. I’d intersperse bulbs among them all. Then I’d always have something blooming in every bit of the border.


I’ve been spending some of my non-blogging time trying to keep up with the inundation of produce we’re getting out of our garden. The chard is ready for a third cutting (!!!), and we’re pulling zucchini, cucumbers, cayenne peppers, jalapenos, red okra, eggplant and Juliet tomatoes out of the garden every other day.


The zinnias are producing buckets of blooms, also. I’m so pleased, as the deer ate them down badly at the beginning of the season. They’re doing fine now, though. I planted a white variety, Queen Lime, and Queen Red Lime. The Queen Red Lime is interesting because only about half of its blooms are the pink-and-green kind shown here. The other half are red and orange. I’ve been putting those in a different bouquet.

The love-in-a-mist was lovely while it lasted, but didn’t bloom for long. It is now a mass of feathery foliage and weird, huge seed pods. I sort of like it, and am saving seeds to put in the patio bed next year.

The snapdragons haven’t been very impressive. Very few blooms there, and not tall like I had hoped. Oh well.

I have one more white foxglove in back to transplant out front.

Everything began to bloom two weeks ago. Give those gardens a couple more years to fill out, and they’ll be pretty fab.

Bought some succulent groundcovers last week; ones that bloom white and lavender for the patio bed, ones that bloom hot pink for the back border. One of the succulents from last year is blooming bright pink in the patio bed, so it will get transplanted and broken into pieces for the back border. I laid brick paths from the deck to the lawn there, yesterday, and they need something low growing on each side.

The monarda Claire Grace is blooming lavender. Argh. I will transplant a little into the patio bed but most into the north side of the house, which is occupied by some gooseberries and a lot of weeds right now. The pink monarda on the south end of the border turned out to be two varieties, one light and one dark pink. I will dig up one of the two to replace the Claire Grace.

Cut the first round of chard this week, pulled the last round of radishes, and cut more rhubarb and lettuce. The chilis and Better Boys have fruit, already.

Shannon moved the hollyhocks to the south corner. Hope the deer leave them alone. Deer have eaten the zinnia buds, but snapdragons and nigella are blooming.

Sparks just planted up most of the rest of the garden.

There are three “Fairy Tale” eggplants in the corner, then a line of eight Bonnie Green Bell peppers, four jalapenos, and two cayennes.

Then there is a new block of tomatoes with four German Pinks, two ground cherries, then in the next row four volunteer heirlooms (Brandywines we assume).