Wednesday, July 21, 2010

5 Tips to Enhance a Mature Shade Garden

I recently did a garden consultation for a lovely local family.  We met on perhaps the hottest day of the year; even at 6:30 in the evening it had the potential to be a totally unpleasant experience.  But the client was lovely and her yard was under a canopy of mature shade trees such that despite the heat, the time passed quickly and we were soon "lost" in the ideas floating around the garden.  

The garden was lovely as you can see in the photos.  The plantings were quite mature, but the client was looking for some ideas to take it to the next level.  Being that the garden was pretty typical of an older property, I thought it might be useful to share some of the tips I gave to the client.

This photo below gives you a pretty good overview of the garden: a lovely big expanse of lawn with a mature perimeter planting.  My overall suggestions are to add another layer to the planting before the lawn that would include some flowers and to prune the shrubs that are looking a little leggy.  The client has plans to revamp the seating area and possibly add a deck, so we won't be discussing hardscaping this time around!

1) Know when a plant has run its course.
What do I mean by that?  Mature plants (if not properly maintained) get leggy as they get older and older.  You have two choices at this point: rehab the plant or pull it out and send it to the compost pile.  For example the Rhodies below are looking a little thin and leggy.  But if you carefully prune them back, they will come back fuller and better than ever.  Just don't remove more than 1/3 of the plant at a time.  That should leave enough to regenerate what you have removed.  And when rehabing, always prune your Rhodies back to the trunk - that way the new growth will come from the inside instead of adding more bulk to the top. (A side benefit - you'll get more light in your windows!)

2) Clump like plants together to create a mass planting.
In the garden bed above, there are about 5 different plants that are haphazardly arranged throughout the garden bed.  The result looks messy and it is hard to really even "see" what is planted there. However, if you plant all of the Ferns in a clump and all the Astible together etc, you will actually be able to see and enjoy each different type of plant.  I am not talking rows and columns, but curved natural clumps would look lovely here!
3) Increase your property size by borrowing plants from your neighbors yard.
Huh? you might be thinking!  Your garden doesn't stop at your property line. Your garden vista goes as far as your eye can see and that includes plantings in your neighbors yards.  So for example, in the photo below, you can see the evergreen trees over the top of the fence. A way to expand the view would be to add a couple of evergreen trees in this yard which would allow your eye to skip over the fence and focus on the view. (Side benefit: with taller evergreen trees, you might screen the neighbors house too!)

4) Don't be afraid to move the edge of your garden bed.
It sounds trite, but people tend to establish an edge and try to work within it, when really the best answer is to move the edge out into the lawn 3-5 feet to be able to add another layer to your garden so your view goes from grass to smaller plants to larger shrubs to trees instead of just grass to very large shrubs.  Your beds should be proportional to the height of your tallest shrubs.

5) Most plants don't mind being transplanted.
If something isn't doing well, try it in another place in the yard. It may just need slightly different conditions like more sun or more water. 

6) Bonus tip! Add a layer of bulbs in the fall and annuals in the spring.
It is so nice to have flowers shortly after the snow melts. I especially love mass plantings of daffodils in "woodland" gardens.  And once the fear of frost has past, plant some annuals for some quick and cheery flowers!

Do you have any tips and tricks?  We'd love to hear them!


1 comment:

  1. Hello Becky and Deb..

    The tips are really good and perfect for people who are looking for some renovation of the garden. These tips are also helpful to me in the future and i'm glad to know them all. Thanks for this inspirational and insightful share..!!!!

    Rich Cuts