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November 19, 2004

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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Friday, November 19, 2004

Gardening in the shade Gardening in the shade (November 19, 2004)

Many plants thrive without direct sunlight in this mild climate

by Barbara Wood

We love and protect our trees on the mid-Peninsula, but often that mature canopy poses a dilemma for the gardener -- what, if anything, to try to grow beneath it.

The Menlo Park backyard of Susan Gillman and John Kadvany posed just such a problem. Surrounded on three sides by mature oaks belonging to neighbors, prospects for much of a garden seemed dim -- both literally and figuratively. In addition to the low light, oaks must not be over-watered, and they drop leaves all year.

Julia Powers, owner of Julia Powers Landscape Services in Palo Alto, helped the family find a solution that fit their lifestyle and gave them lots of room for family activities and entertaining.

She designed a small lawn surrounded by perimeter beds planted with a wide range of flowing annuals, perennials and shrubs. The lawn is small enough to be handily cut with a push mower, and most of the beds are irrigated with soaker hoses on timers. In the rear is a small pad for the barbecue.

In the few parts of the garden that aren't under oaks (mostly near the house, where they can be seen from indoors) beds had extensive soil preparation and amendments and have more traditional irrigation. Under the oaks only the planting holes were amended and soaker hoses made from recycled rubber are snaked through the beds.

John Kadvany works at home in a small studio office in the back yard, and is able to spend some time doing maintenance in the garden. The oak leaves are allowed to fall on the beds to form a free layer of mulch, keeping down weeds and slowing the evaporation of water.

Kadvany keeps the few plants that need more water, such as hydrangeas, happy with supplemental hand watering.

The backyard also includes a patio made from sandstone flagstones, laid on base rock and sand (which allows water to filter through); with a wall made from a water-washed version of the same stones that looks as if it was dry laid without mortar, but actually is mortared inside. Gomez Landscaping, Redwood City, did the stone work, irrigation installation and planting.

The garden uses lots of curves as a design element with the steps coming out from the house in half rounds, the stone wall curved and other paths meandering on their way.

"We just love it," Gillman says. "It's just wonderful from all different angles and perspectives. It's especially nice from inside."

In the front of the house, which has more sun, Powers used many of the plants that were already there, moving a few. One of the major changes she made was to transform the asphalt double driveway into what the family calls "our little river," combining pebbled concrete and flagstones to make an undulating path to the front door as well as the garage.

Leading to the back yard is an arched gate incorporating an arched grill that was part of a plant holder from a warehouse home store.

Powers says many plants that most sources say need full sun will do just fine in the shade in our area because of the mild weather. Many of the plants she chose for this garden will reseed themselves or spread to fill in the beds. Included in the planting in the Gillman-Kadvany backyard are:

Liriope (lily turf), a grass-like ground cover that comes in variegated varieties with flowers that resemble those of muscari;

Loropetalum chinensis, an evergreen shrub that blooms in spring and comes in a purple-leafed variety called 'Rubrum';

Angelonia, a perennial often grown as an annual with snapdragon-type blooms from June until fall;

Phlomis fruticosa, (Jerusalem sage), a perennial with wooly gray leaves and unusual yellow flowers, usually seen in full sun but happy in the shade here;

Hydrangeas (lacecap and mophead types, plus oakleaf hydrangea), with flowers all summer; the oakleaf variety (H. quercifolia) has leaves shaped like oak leaves that turn bright crimson in the fall;

Hostas, with a wide array of leaf colors and shapes to add variety to a shade garden as long as slugs and snails can be controlled;

Coleus hybrids, brightly colored annuals available in six-packs or 4-inch pots and used to add bright color to shady areas, do better with strong indirect light;

Shasta daisies (Chrysanthemum maximum) perennials that will spread and self-seed, will be bigger in sun but grow and bloom in part shade; Feverfew (Chrysanthemum parthenium), a much smaller perennial daisy that comes in a variety (Aureum) with golden-green foliage that lights up the garden even when the plant is not flowering, and is great for cut flowers;

Linaria purpurea (toadflax), blue- or pink-flowered perennial with small snapdragon-type flowers, grows up to 3 feet-tall, is long-blooming and reseeds;

Salvia greggii (autumn sage), one of the few salvias that takes shade, 3-4 feet tall with yellow, red or purple flowers in spring and late summer;

Ribes sanguineum, flowering currant, a native shrub with white, red or pink flowers March to June followed by berries;

Fuchsia arborescens, a shrub form of the fuchsia that can reach 18-feet in height with long leaves and small summer flowers;

Digitalis purpurea (foxglove) -- plant now from six-pack or 4-inch pots and it will bloom May and June, 3 to 4 feet tall and will re-seed;

Cineraria stellata, grows 12 inches to 18 inches tall, blooms profusely April through June and re-seeds;

Tiarella unifoliata (foamflower) a California native that makes a wonderful low groundcover, with interesting foliage all year;

Iris douglasiana, another California native that forms a somewhat prostrate clump that will increase in size over time and takes far more shade than most iris;

Lychnis coronaria, gray foliage similar to lambs ears, it can grow in clay soils with little water, and has magenta blooms in early summer and self-seeds;

and Cestrum elegans, a tall arching shrub with a long-lasting magenta flower, followed by a magenta berry.

Powers also likes crocosmia, Centranthus ruber, bergenia, alstroemeria and Sasanqua camellias (which she says do much better in our area than rhododendrons and azaleas).

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