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Schoepfle Garden has it made in the shade

Register • Aug 10, 2014 at 4:50 PM

Taking the advice of Let’s Get Growing, Sunday, July 27, I decided to visit the area gardens.

The first one was Schoepfle Gardens in Birmingham. I had a beautiful walk down in the river valley, up by the pond, through the rose gardens, and into the shade. There were spectacular beds worthy of a visit by anyone interested in shade gardens.

Shade gardens require some special care. First the plants are competing with the trees for nutrients. Trees with shallow roots like willow and maple do not lend themselves to shade gardens. Nut trees do. Some of the lower branches of the trees should be pruned to allow for better air circulation and visibility.

Shade plants like moist, well-drained soil. Tillage is not recommended because of damage to the tree roots. Adding organic matter is highly recommended. Shredded or composted leaf mulch makes a good choice. Shade gardens also like moisture: watering may be necessary.

The shade garden at Schoepfle has mainly three varieties of plants that are showy now: astilbe, hostas, and ferns. In the spring the gardens feature another shade lover: rhododendrons. You might want to watch their website in May to find the right days to visit for this spectacular display.

Astilbes are an herbaceous perennial with showy flowers in July. The plants grow 2 to 3 feet tall with a spread of 1 to 2 feet in the shape of a mound or a clump. Some varieties bloom in early summer, some mid summer or later. Last week the pink flowered ones were still blooming with feathery plumes reaching up from the lovely green foliage. The white and deep red were past their prime with flowers drying on the stalk though I could still see how lovely they would have been. These dried seed heads are still useful in flower arrangements and the earlier opened blooms can be hung to dry for the same purpose.

Astilbe do need some care such as watering during dry spells and nitrogen fertilizer in the fall. Brown dead leaves should be removed during the summer, but the spent foliage at the end of the season should be left to provide winter interest. Cutting back the plant to the ground waits until spring. Astilbe are deer resistant, another advantage in some locations.

Hardy ferns also require a moist shady place. These ferns are tolerant of cold weather and can be grown out of doors all year. They do require plenty of moisture, up to an inch of water a week and should be fertilized in the spring after the new growth has begun. Since they are sensitive to over-fertilization, slow release fertilizer is recommended.

Many of the ferns at Schoepfle grow up to three feet tall and three feet wide. There are ferns with silver gray leaves like the Japanese Painted Fern, upright ferns like Lady Fern, the vase shaped Ostrich Fern, and the coarse textured Sensitive Fern. Some ferns such as Cinnamon Fern, Royal Fern, and Sensitive Fern are native to the United States. Others are not. All the ferns at Schoepfle are well marked so you could properly identify a variety you wished to add to your own garden.

My favorite display in the shade garden on this visit was the hostas. I have only recently begun to take an interest in the wide variety of colors and leaf sizes of these plants. Certainly there were plenty to see here.

Hostas were originally introduced to Europe from Japan, China, and Korea in the 1700s and then to the United States in the middle 1800s. The plants range in size from miniature, small, medium, large, and giant and come in a variety of colors of blue, green, gold, and yellow. Leaves may be solid color or variegated with one color in the center and another on the edge. Some plants change color with the seasons or in the amount of light. Some plants have thick stiff leaves called “rugose” while others are more limp and pliable. All varieties have spikes of lavender to white lily-like flowers which can be quite showy. There are over 2500 varieties of hosta on the market, many sold in nurseries in Ohio.

Like the other shade plants, hostas like moist well-drained soil. Unlike the others, hostas actually do like some sunlight in the morning or late afternoon. The recommended water is an inch of water per week. Hostas can be plagued by snails and slugs. Chemical pellets and baits are available or beer traps may be used. Deer and rabbits are also fond of hostas so precautions such as fencing, deer repellent, guard dogs, or motion detector sprinklers may be necessary.

Schoepfle has many varieties of hostas. A few are the giant green leafed Blue Umbrella, the yellow medium leaved Golden Prayer, a small green variety called Tardiflora, and a green yellow edged variety called Golden Tiara. The hostas are well marked to aid you in finding something you might like in your own garden.

Now is a good time to be thinking about your future gardens. If you are planning a shade garden, take a trip over to Birmingham. You will not be disappointed.

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