By Kyle McKean
The area in the front of our house is 100% shade. There is a spot where grass refuses to grow, moss builds up on the trees and the flagstone path is forever speckled with algae. Not even one ounce of sunlight! Two old Azaleas flank the front entrance. They are worn, tired and look like giant bonsai Azaleas. They are planted in basic rectangular beds — one is filled with a dense cover of periwinkle (Vinca minor). Over the years, I made it my mission to learn about shade plants. I was determined to bring some color to this wet and lifeless spot.
I’ve planted several shade-loving perennials in the beds. My absolute favorite is a Foam Flower (Tiarella cordifolia var. collina ‘Springwood’) that explodes into bloom every spring. I look forward to it every year and am consistently amazed by it’s flower power. Also a favorite is a bright, chartreuse green Coral Bells (Heuchera villosa ‘Citronelle’) that can be spotted all the way from the road! I’ve also planted some Hakonechloa macra ‘All Gold’ and several kinds of Hosta for added texture and color. I love the way dew and raindrops sit suspended on Hosta leaves, creating what I call a “Zen garden moment.” I planted a few spriglets (that is a word, right?!) of a variegated Vinca which was quick to take root and began to establish as a ground cover. Around the corner is a thick covering of Pachysandra and some impressive Fiddlehead ferns, which unfurl in such a tender way — another “Zen garden moment” for me. A few Epimedium ‘Alabaster’ plants tucked in here and there and I was really starting to like my little shade garden. Then came Irene.
One of the costliest hurricanes on record in the Northeastern United States, Hurricane Irene made landfall at my house in Southeastern Pennsylvania in the wee hours on August 28th, 2011. My family, including my 2-week old daughter (she had already weathered a rare East Coast Earthquake just five days prior!), and our three pets hunkered down in the basement to ride out the storm. A sleepless night, one flooded basement, a leaking kitchen ceiling and two downed trees later, we survived.
The next morning we walked the property and surveyed the damage. An ancient Norway Maple (previously chosen by the residents of our little country town as the nicest tree on our winding back road) that once stood tall and proud in our front lawn had dropped several limbs. A handsome White Pine also succumbed to the heavy winds of Irene. It took weeks to get a tree company to come out, but when they did, they informed us that both trees had to be removed. With great sadness, we said goodbye to both trees. We cringed and shuddered with every “zing” of the chainsaw. Within hours, my Zen shade garden suddenly turned into a glaring sunny spot packed with all the wrong plants. I’m going to wait to see what happens this spring before I panic about totally losing the little bit of garden sanity that I had.