One thinks of hostas as being thirsty devils, but Rice says certain types establish well in drier conditions. “In general,” he writes, “choose vigorous, unvariegated cultivars and avoid very small, very slow-growing types.” I grow robust upright hostas in such conditions, of a blue variety named Krossa Regal. They look great as long as you have never seen them growing more robustly in full sun.
Heucheras, or coral bells, are popular shade perennials and demand free-draining soil. There are now a million varieties; some do better in our heat than others. I’ve seen Montrose Ruby flourishing at the foot of a great oak.
Adrian Higgins has been writing about the intersection of gardening and life for more than 25 years, and joined the Post in 1994. He is the author of several books, including the Washington Post Garden Book and Chanticleer, a Pleasure Garden.
(Judy White) - Hostas and ferns work in a dry shade garden, but only certain types.
One of the quickest ways to kill yews and boxwood is to drown them. This foible makes them fine evergreen shrubs for the dry woods. I would avoid the fussy English box in favor of some new high-performing varieties. Rice likes, among others, Green Velvet, Green Beauty and the upright Graham Blandy.
I was in the Tidewater garden of bulb expert Brent Heath last week and asked him to show me a dry border under three old willow oaks. Here, he has planted the hypericum Brigadoon, the cranesbill Rozanne, a lovely low-growing cranesbill named Orkney Cherry and the stonecrop Angelina, which would need the brightest area in the shade garden. Most bulbs love dry soil, especially in summer dormancy, but not all of them like the shade. In the shadow of American hollies, my grape hyacinth and glory of the snow are weak and poor flowering.
Heath says I should be trying winter aconite, various crocus species and the yellow woodland tulip (Tulipa sylvestris). He says I should also try the three-cornered leek (Allium triquetrum), named for the way its stem forms a triangle in cross section.
If I had a little more light, I would go to town with hardy cyclamen. Both Cyclamen coum and C. hederifolium have varieties with gorgeous heart-leafed foliage, mottled green and silver.
Planting in dry shade also takes patience. Things grow more slowly. After years of struggling in the worst spot, a group of St. John’s wort (Hypericum calycinum) is now growing merrily.