Thinking About Shade…

My very shady backyard in early spring

Because I have been thinking so much about trees, I have also been thinking about shade. So many of us garden under trees here in New England, so we are very familiar with shade gardening. In fact, I remember distinctly a couple of decades back now (although it seems like almost yesterday) when my Mom bought a house, she asked for me to help with the landscaping.

Well, she was blessed with full sun. And I had been gardening in shade for almost a decade by that point. I had to completely reverse my thinking to pick out trees, shrubs and perennials for her. In addition, she was at the beach and had very sandy soil–not my heavy clay. It was really a total switch for me. Luckily we found some good garden centers where we could choose some plants.

But it always shocks me when I start thinking about shade–and how I might describe shade, for example–for a lecture I am giving. You come across the descriptions of “part-shade” as 4 hours of sun. That’s totally shocking to me because there are areas which get 4 hours of sun in my yard and I call that “full sun!”

For the record, “full sun,” is described as at least 6 hours of continuous sun. There are very few places in my yard that I have that–in fact, I think the only place that I do have 6 hours of sun is around my mailbox where I grow my roses.

Crotons–which normally love the sun–sit here in an east exposure

But shade has its own advantages. The houseplants–even those that normally sit in my south windows all winter–prefer a partially shaded site once they’re outside and getting the benefit of true sunlight. And those that like less light prefer it under the shade of my dogwood, which actually throws quite a bit of shade, but still permits some early morning sunlight to get to the plants (before they roast on these midsummer days!)

Houseplants under the dogwood where a shaft of morning sun is just starting to break through to them

True shade houseplants actually sit on my front stoop where the shade from the house protects them. Shade from a building is of course total shade–all light is blocked. Some ambient light filters to them from the front, but nothing gets to them from the rear–and they are completely happy and growing like that.

Houseplants–and ferns–in the protected shade of the front porch

So all shade is not created equal–it helps to remember that whether you are gardening in containers or in the ground!

Lately I Have Been Thinking About Trees

Bucolic image–with a few dead trees

This lovely image, above, is from the office park where I see my retina specialist. But really, it could be just about anywhere in Connecticut. We are a heavily forested state.

I am sure that that comes as a shock to many of you reading this. For those of you who know your geography, you know that Connecticut is a relatively small state–the third smallest in fact–and that it is located along the east coast roughly equidistant between New York and Boston.

So to hear that it is heavily forested must come as a shock. How is this possible?

Of course this wasn’t always the case.

When Dutch and other European settlers arrived, the land was already being farmed by our indigenous peoples. The European settlers further cleared the existing forests and piled up the rocks that they found in our soil to form the stone walls that still exist today. Hiking trails in our woods occasionally follow the stone walls of the old farmsteads. Our local roads will also wind along these beautifully constructed walls that have stood for hundreds of years.

But as we abandoned agriculture for manufacturing, the forests began to regrow. It is estimated that Connecticut has 80% more trees now than it did when it was settled in the 1600s.

Dying spruce

So just about everywhere you look, you will see trees, and mature trees as well. But lately, within the mature trees, I am seeing a disturbing number of dead trees–not dying trees, but dead ones. What has happened? Several things, unfortunately.

Dead trees at the edge of a small woodland

We have had several summers of drought–and this summer is turning into another of those. We have had several winters of unusual weather, with periods of warmth followed by abrupt cold and no insulating snow on the ground. Woody plants and larger plants like trees struggle with these sorts of changes. They might be able to endure a year or two of this, but they cannot endure it forever. The stress takes a toll on them and they die.

It’s always upsetting to lose a tree. Unfortunately, I think it’s going to be something to get used to.

And While We’re Talking Spoiler….

While I was recovering from retina surgery, the Spoiler decided that it would be a good idea to have some of the shrubs trimmed.

Keep in mind that I originally gave him this name because he went after a Japanese maple with an electric hedge trimmer–and then tried to prune all the buds off a rhododendron.

This time he asked our garden helper to prune. The above were a couple of hydrangea. But they fared better than this hydrangea, below.

Almost obliterated hydrangea

And this is a nearly obliterated spirea–a funky variety with bluish foliage from Proven Winners.

Yes, most everything will recover, at least if we get some rain anytime soon. I am still not supposed to be dragging hoses, nor should I have to. These are established plantings that shouldn’t need my extra help–except for pruning incidents. Sigh.

The Spoiler Strikes Yet Again

Dead spot in lawn

Don’t be fooled. I happened to take this photo during the 10 minutes when this spot is in the sun. It’s located under a grove of maples. You can see how patchy the grass is as well.

So why am I even going on about this?

Container for sun

Well, of course we’re back to this again. As we were driving out last night, the Spoiler suggested that I move the container to that dead patch of lawn. I told him that I could plant the container with shade plants next year, but that these plants would never grow under the maples. And this is how he gets the name The Spoiler.

Glorious White Arborescens Type Hydrangea

All of these beautiful hydrangea, pictured above, are self-seeded. Talk about a gift!

Here in the frozen north, it is sometimes difficult to grow hydrangeas at all. The arborescens–or smooth–hydrangea, is reliability hardy for us because it blooms on new wood. We don’t have to worry about last year’s buds being killed by something as silly as snow in May (yes, that happens–that’s why I call this the frozen north. Luckily it’s rare. Late frosts in May which kill the buds unfortunately are not rare).

For all I know, lots of people have yards full of these things–or they pull them out like weeds, and they can’t believe that I let them grow and worse yet am posting about them!


This is the only white arborescens hydrangea that I have planted. You can see to the right of it, one of those “feral” hydrangea has come up, with smaller, and very faintly blush flowers. The fern in between is self-sown as well. I did actually plant the liriope in front, lest you get the idea that my whole garden is volunteers.

And you know, lately, a garden of volunteers might be convenient. I could edit out what wasn’t wanted and keep what I liked. Or maybe that’s called weeding.

Happy July 4th!

Hydrangea bouquet

Happy July 4th to all who celebrate.

These hydrangeas were picked from that hedge that I keep showing photos of. They are Invincibelle Spirit (the pink), Endless Summer, (the blue), and a self-sown sport of the pink which has both pure white and blush pink flowers.

I will post more about those–because I have several of them from two different arborescens type hybrids– on Friday.

Just one other sort of funny comment before we all go off to enjoy the long weekend: this year the first day of astronomical summer–June 21–fell exactly 2 weeks before July 4. Why is that worth mentioning? If you are like me, someone in your life always remarks on July 4th, “Summer’s over.”

And sure enough, summer does seem to fly by here in the frozen north, compared to winter.

But there is still a full 2 months until Labor Day–the “unofficial ” end of summer–this year. And then a few weeks more until the autumn equinox.

And thankfully even after the equinox, it’s usually a couple of months before we have our first “real” snow. So this year, I don’t think that I will let those summer deniers bother me. For all I know, they are just counting the days until ski season begins.

A Love Letter to the June Garden

Annabelle type hydrangeas

Here in the frozen north, June is the best month in the garden. Just about all our perennials and shrubs are in bloom at once, and there’s generally just about enough rain to keep them looking good without having to worry about watering from some other sources.

Hydrangea hedge

In my garden, June is when the hydrangeas really start to shine and they generally continue until later summer.

Hydrangea mini-mauvette
Hydrangea Nikko blue

The above hydrangea is my absolute favorite. It’s an old-fashioned type that blooms on old wood, meaning in years with late frost and snow, I don’t see blooms at all. This year, the plant has quite a few blooms and I am just thrilled.

Herb garden

This area is coming along nicely although the rabbits are eating all the dianthus this year. You might think all the clover and violets we grow would be enough for them. I guess not. They like variety in their diet.

Herb garden

Luckily the bunnies haven’t found this area yet. Maybe the sign about the schnauzer security system is intimidating to them.

Annual container

And of course, the most spectacular of all, is this container of annuals that I planted, not to sit here in this spot but to be further along down the lawn. It was to go in a place where my annual containers regularly get backed over by delivery drivers, newspaper drivers and clients of the Spoiler. That’s why the taller hibiscus in the middle–I thought it might be visible from vehicles as they reverse out the driveway.

I quickly discovered that I can barely see it from my smaller SUV–so I refused to put it where it was just going to be just another casualty to some buffoon who doesn’t know how to use a backup camera–or is in too much of a hurry to do so and will flatten this container like all my previous containers have been flattened. I don’t think I have ever had one make it through the month of July.

And this one is too pretty to wind up like the rest (at least I think so). Of course, I thought that about last year’s container too and it was so flattened that there was nothing left to pick up. You see that I am learning my lesson: if what you are doing isn’t working, change what you are doing!

I called this post “Love Letter to the June Garden,” but I should also be thanking my sister who spent almost 3 weeks here while I was recovering, making sure that there would be a garden for me to return to whenever I am able. It was lovely to spend time with her–but she did so much more than just visit and cheer me through this!