People aren't the only ones who like to sit in the shade on a hot summer's day. A lot of plants like it, too. The homeowner simply has to learn a different plant palette.
I define shade as an area that gets fewer than five hours of direct sunlight a day, or gets only dappled or indirect light, perhaps reflected from a building or body of water. All plants need some sun to photosynthesize, but many plants prefer cool, moist, filtered sun.
If you have many shade trees, prune the lower limbs on mature trees to eight feet above the ground or higher. In addition to getting more light onto the ground, pruning or removing lower limbs will let you better determine where to place plantings, and the garden will have a more designed appearance.
There are plants for every level of a shade garden. They naturally grow in groups, based on height and, while tolerating shade, they like a forest floor in terms of soil type--lots of moist compost on a well-drained site, and some protection from the hot, drying sun.
Here are plants that grow from one foot to two feet tall:
* Epimedium. The early pink or yellow flowers and fall leaf colors are attractive features of this disease-free, versatile, long-living perennial, also called barrenwort. Many species are available and you can't go wrong with any of them. After establishing itself over several growing seasons, it does best in shade, sun, moisture and drought.
* Big blue lily-turf. This tough plant (Liriope muscari) with grassy-looking foliage does well in sun or shade. It forms a tight clump, stays green in winter and has lavender grape-hyacinth-looking flowers in summer. I've seen it growing in heavy shade, such as under pine trees.
* Hellebore. This European favorite has large leaves and stays green year-round. Blooming from January or February and holding into April or later, the whitish-purple flowers are wonderful to see during that period, when little else is making a show. And they continue to appear in spite of cold snaps, ice and snow.
* Hardy begonia. The reddish-green foliage of the plant (Begonia grandis) emerges from the ground in spring, and the new leaves are shaped like angel's wings. The plant will colonize an area from seed over several years, but it's easy to control. There aren't many other perennials you can establish that will become as full and lush in the moist, very dark corners of your property that have pink fall flowers.
* Hosta or plantain lily. There are hundreds of varieties of this early-leafing perennial. Hosta species that I especially like are the large, blue-green-leafed, gold-margined Francis Williams; honeybells with light green leaves and fragrant white flowers; and the dependable, slug-resistant, small lance-shaped-leaf (Hosta lancifolia), a good plant to mass at the edge of a walk or flowering border.
* Silver variegated Japanese sedge. Most of the more than 1,500 types of grasses commonly called sedges are shade-tolerant. This variety (Carex morrowii Variegata) is evergreen and presents silvery-edged, 18-inch-tall foliage that will color a woodland garden throughout the growing season.
These shade-tolerant plants grow four to 10 feet tall:
* Bugbane. (Cimicifuga racemosa): This plant's common name stems from its tendency to repel insects. The white, nodding spikes of flowers will brighten a shady site in summer, and it's a perennial with three-foot-tall foliage that makes it look like a woodland shrub from June to September.
* Nandina. This deer-resistant, low-maintenance shrub is nicknamed heavenly bamboo for its close appearance to the graceful habit of bamboo without any of the invasive tendencies. It grows only five feet tall tall. The foliage turns red in winter, and its red berries are excellent to use in cut flower arrangements.
* Dwarf Fothergilla. Here's a dependable, problem-free shrub with fragrant spring flowers and showy yellow-red fall foliage. Growing five feet high and wide, it's an excellent complement to the azaleas and rhododendrons usually found in woodland gardens. And it's deer resistant.
* Japanese yellow waxbell. This perennial (Kirengeshoma palmata) grows four feet high, and its large maple-shaped leaves give it a shrublike appearance. Several planted together can define a sitting area, while planting in a group gives the waxy, yellow nodding flowers more impact when they bloom in late summer.
* Chinese witch hazel. Depending on how you prune it, this plant could qualify as a shrub or tree. The fragrant yellow flower that opens in winter is an exciting sneak preview of spring. Fall leaf color is an outstanding orange-red, and many hybrids are available. Any of them are well worth trying.
These shade-tolerant trees will create low canopies on the overhead plane, growing 15 to 25 feet high:
* American redbud. This member of the pea family has small pink flowers in March and April. A nifty characteristic of the tree is that it flowers profusely through its bark as well as at the branch tips, so entire branches are often covered with blossoms. My favorite hybrid of the American redbud, which is a native plant and the state tree of Oklahoma, is one called "forest pansy."
* Kousa dogwood. This extremely disease-resistant plant offers year-round interest. It has wide white, long-lasting flowers in spring, large red edible fruits in summer, a lacy bark and deep red fall foliage. The species named Chinese kousa dogwood has the largest flowers.
* Japanese maple. There are numerous varieties of this small, graceful tree, but any species will work fine. You may want burgundy or green foliage or an upright- or low-growing habit. If there are price ranges, get one that is less expensive. Since it's growing in shade, showy foliage color may be lost anyway, and then an inexpensive one might serve the same purpose as hybrids costing hundreds of dollars more.
There are two books I like for helping design a shade garden. "100 Favorite Plants for Shade" by Teri Dunn (MetroBooks, $15.98) is a listing of plants that thrive in low-light situations. "American Horticultural Society Gardening in Shade" by Linden Hawthorne (DK Publishing, $8.95) offers guidelines for design, preparation and planting in low-light situations.
Lerner is president of Environmental Design in Capitol View Park, Md. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org