Shade Is Not Always Cool

Deep shade can be a problem.

Tall Victorian houses make long shadows. Lower ranch houses make shade with broad eaves. Awkwardly big modern homes shade more of their disproportionately small gardens than the others, especially since they have such tall fences to compensate for their minimal proximity to other homes. Even the sunniest of home gardens have some sort of shade.

Like various architecture, various shade trees make different flavors of shade. Silk tree, honeylocust and silver maple make broad shadows of relatively light shade. Because they are deciduous, they allow most sunlight through while bare in winter. Southern magnolia, Canary Island pine and Canary Island date palm make darker shade throughout the year.

Spots that are shaded only by the west side of a fence get warmer afternoon sun exposure than spots that get eastern exposure in the morning. Plants that are only shaded in the morning therefore need to tolerate both warm afternoon exposure and partial shade. Eastern exposures are easier to work with, since most plants that tolerate a bit of shade also like to be sheltered from harsh afternoon exposure.

Because fences lack eaves, southern exposures lack shade, and may enhance exposure by reflecting glare and heat. Southern exposure against houses and garages is determined by the height and width of the eaves. Light colors reflect more than darker colors. Northern exposures are of course the shadiest.

Whether for shade of sunny exposure, plants need to be selected accordingly. Bougainvillea, ceanothus and other plants that like good warm exposure with plenty of sunlight will not do much if shaded. Kaffir lily, hosta, rhododendron and various ferns that prefer partial shade can get roasted if too exposed when the weather gets warm and dry (with minimal humidity).

Eastern redbud, sweet bay, Oregon grape, Heavenly bamboo (nandina), various hollies, various podocarpus and both English and Algerian ivies are some of the few plants that are not too discriminating about their exposure, and will be just as happy with partial shade as with full exposure. Hydrangea, camellia, fuchsia and aucuba are nearly as agreeable, but will get roasted by harsh exposure enhanced by reflected glare from walls or pavement. All palms tolerate shade while young, but adapt to full exposure as they grow above what shades them.

Shade can change as the environment changes. Sun exposure increases if a tree or building gets removed. Remodels or newer and higher fences can increase shade. Even without such obvious modifications, large shrubbery and trees make more shade as they grow.

Scotch Moss

Sctoch moss resembles Irish moss, but is lighter yellowish green rather than dark green.

Too much water can be as much of a problem as not enough. Too much direct sun exposure can likewise be as much of a problem as not enough sunlight. Scotch moss, Sagina subulata ‘Aurea’, wants regular but not excessive watering, and only a bit of shade without darkness. To propagate, pieces with roots can be torn from healthy plants and ‘plugged’ (planted) as new plants where more are desired in early spring or autumn.

The remarkably finely textured and dense foliage makes a nicely refined ground cover for confined spots, or fills in the spaces between stones in a wall or walkway. It gets only about an inch deep, with tiny and obscured stems that get no longer than four inches. Stems develop roots where they touch the ground to creep any farther. The tiny and narrow leaves do not get much longer than a quarter inch. Tiny white flowers that bloom late in spring may not get noticed. What distinguishes Scotch moss from richly deep green Irish moss is that it is instead yellow or almost chartreuse.

Crested Ligularia

Crested ligularia is not what it seems.

There are so many excellent ligularia to choose from. Crested ligularia is not one of them. Although it is an excellent and distinctive perennial, it is not really a ligularia. It is Farfugium japonicum ‘Cristata’ (which actually sounds more like a hybrid of a Volkswagen and a Toyota). The slightly fuzzy and coarsely ruffled rounded leaves form grayish green mounds more than a foot high and wide. Gold trusses of small daisy flowers bloom late in summer or early in autumn. Regular watering and partial shade keep foliage full. Harsh exposure can discolor foliage during the warmest summer weather. Frost is not often a problem.

Shade Trees Adapt To Urbanism

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Traditional shade trees get quite large.

Modern urban home gardens are shadier and more confined than older suburban home gardens originally were. Modern homes are both taller and closer together on smaller parcels. Fences are also taller to compensate for the minimal proximity of adjacent homes. Less sunlight reaches the ground. There is not as much space available for shade trees. Nor is there as much use for them.

Huddled modern homes are simply not as exposed to sunlight as older suburban homes were. Sunlight is more of an asset than a liability. Walls, ceilings and windows are so thoroughly insulated that shade is less important. Solar arrays up on roofs must remain exposed to sunlight. Smaller and denser trees are more important for obscuring views of adjacent homes, rather than for shade.

Shade trees are still useful for rural and suburban homes. Shade helps to keep older and less energy efficient homes cooler through warmer summer weather. If strategically situated to the south, west or southwest, they shade homes during the warmest time of day. Well proportioned trees do not darken too much of their gardens. Deciduous trees allow warming sunlight in through winter.

The popularity of modern urban homes is directly proportionate to the popularity of small evergreen trees. Such trees fit into smaller garden spaces, and permanently obscure unwanted scenery. Big deciduous shade trees that are practical for larger garden spaces become obtrusive in confined spaces. Defoliation in winter reveals unwanted views, and deprives the landscape of privacy.

Some of the more practical of small evergreen trees are actually large shrubbery. English laurel, Carolina cherry, photinia, hopseed bush and various pittosporums can get high enough to obscure neighboring windows. All are conducive to pruning if they get too tall. If staked on single straight trunks, or pruned to expose a few sculptural trunks, they do not occupy much space at ground level.

Tristania laurina, and some melaleucas are naturally small to midsized evergreen shade trees. Some species of Podocarpus can be pruned as midsized trees.

Horridculture – Green Is The New Black

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Foliage does not get any blacker than this.

This is not another of my many racial slurs for the renowned Southern Californian landscape designer, Brent Green. Believe or not, I endure many more of such slurs from him; so will not even bother putting something else out there that compels his retaliation. This is about Japanese laurel, Aucuba japonica, which is incidentally rather yellowish with rich golden variegation.

Japanese laurel, which is known as gold dust plant locally, is happy in partial shade, and will tolerate rather significant shade. That is a distinct advantage in landscapes that are dominated by so many big redwoods. Even without significant bloom, the bright yellowish foliage is an asset in visually dark parts of the landscapes. There probably should be more of it here than there is.

It is not one of my favorites though. It does not cooperate with pruning, and often produces overly vigorous growth that flops over in response to aggressive pruning. It shelters proliferation of snails in warmer climates. What I dislike most about it is the prominent blackening of some of the foliage that is too exposed to direct sunlight. It is so unsightly in front of the cheery gold.

After pruning a few overly vigorous stems that became floppy, I noticed how quickly the lush and fresh new foliage blackens from exposure. The pictures above and below were taken about two hours after the stems were pruned. The stems grew in a notably shaded situation, and were then left out on a hot black bed liner without shade, which of course accelerated the process.

I should have gotten a picture of the foliage as I found it, with all exposed surfaces blackened, as if spray painted where they were on the black vinyl. The portions of the leaves that remain green were shaded under other foliage.

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Shaded parts are still fresh and gold dusted green. Exposed parts are roasted to a crisp.

Variegated Foliage Brightens Shady Spots

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Variegation contrasts nicely with dark green.

Up at high elevations and out in deserts, where sunlight is most intense, plants can actually get more exposure than they need. The bluish or grayish glaucous foliage of the Colorado blue spruce from the Rocky Mountains, and the century plant from the Sonoran Desert, is actually designed to reflect a bit of sunlight so that the foliage does not scald.

Plants from foggy coastal areas, and understory plants that naturally live below the canopies of larger trees, do the opposite. They are deep green to absorb as much sunlight as possible. This is why Monterey pine and Monterey cypress are the same shade of dark green; and why most ferns are such dark green. Only tree ferns that stand above lower plants are naturally light green.

This can make it difficult to brighten a dark spot in the garden, since most lightly colored foliage wants an abundance of sunlight. White or lightly colored flowers would theoretically work nicely, but generally are neither permanent nor abundant where shaded. Golden foliage, like that of golden elderberries, golden arborvitaes and golden junipers, is greener in the shade.

Variegated foliage is different. Even if the green parts of the foliage are greener where well exposed than where shaded, the variegated parts are always variegated. Some plants are variegated with white. A few are variegated with yellow. Those that tolerate shade can brighten shaded spots nicely, or at least add a bit of contrast to dark green.

Even if the big pastel flowers of variegated angel’s trumpets and variegated hydrangeas do not stand out as well as they would against deeper green foliage, the foliage provides its own contrast. A concern with hydrangeas, as well as variegated dogwoods, is that they are deciduous, so lack foliage through winter.

Variegated Pittosporum tobira and variegated euonymus have smaller evergreen leaves. Variegated ivies are nice ground covers. On a smaller scale, so is dead nettle. Euonymus, pittosporums and ivies will sometimes need to have more vigorous unvariegated stems pruned out before they overwhelm and replace variegated growth.

 

Sword Fern

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Sword fern looks like Boston fern.

This is not the native Western sword fern of forested and riparian regions here on the West Coast. This sword fern, Nephrolepis cordifolia, is native to Northeastern Australia, Southeastern Asia and Hawaii. It is naturalized in many regions beyond its natural range, and is considered an invasive exotic species in some regions. Its resiliency and reliability are appreciated in local gardens.

If it resembles the popular houseplant, Boston fern, it is because this sword fern is of the same genus. It just happens to prefer to be out in a garden rather than inside a home. Much or even most of the light green foliage stands more upright, rather than cascading from pots or elevated planters. Foliage of mature plants can get almost three feet high, with an even broader horizontal reach.

In fact, sword fern is notorious for sneaking around the garden and spreading wider than just a few feet. It is not particularly aggressive about. It creeps slowly but steadily until someone eventually notices that it has gotten a bit too prolific. Their abundant runners are wiry and strangely hairy, and produce small round tubers. Foliage can be yellowish if not watered enough in sunny situations.

Horridculture – On The Fence

P90522Where I lived in town, the backyard was surrounded on three sides by fences, with the house on the only unfenced fourth side. These were the sort of fences that were common in suburban neighborhoods. They kept children and dogs in or out of adjacent gardens, and probably provided some sense of privacy, although I never understood why we all needed such privacy there.

I mean, if I really wanted significant privacy, I would not have lived in town, where the homes and gardens were all so close together. I enjoyed living there, and I enjoyed my neighbors. We could hear some of each others conversations and televisions, but no one seemed to mind. It was worth living in such an excellent neighborhood so close to everything we could want in town.

Years ago, suburban fences were not too obtrusive. They were only about four feet high. Some of the older homes were still outfitted with picket fences that were only about three feet high. We could still talk to neighbors over them, and sometimes pass over a bag of extra fruit or vegetables, or even flowers, from the garden. Dogs and young children were effectively contained.

Then everyone became obsessed with privacy. At the same time, many of us added onto our homes or replaced them with new homes that occupied more of the allowable space within their compact formerly suburban, but now urban parcels. Smaller remaining garden spaces became more shaded by bigger houses and taller fences. Gardening, as we once knew it, became passe.

What are all these big fences for? What are they keeping out? . . . or . . . What are they keeping in? Why do so many who want so much privacy live so close to so many who crave the same?!

Shade Can Be An Asset

90911thumbJust about every home garden has some sort of shade. Even if there are no substantial trees or shrubbery, there are northern walls of homes and garages, and they likely have eaves that extend their shadows a bit farther. Fences to the south create shade to the north. Gardens of modern homes are smaller, and surrounded by higher homes and fences, so are shadier than older gardens.

Those who enjoy gardening tend to enjoy more trees and substantial shrubbery than those who do not enjoy gardening, so generally contend with more shade. It is both and asset and a liability. Cooling shade makes outdoor living spaces more comfortable in the heat of summer, but limits what we can grow. With very few exceptions that are not worth mentioning, all plants need sunlight.

Fortunately, many plants need less than others. Of these, many are understory species, which live in the partial shade of larger plants in their natural environments. Not only do they naturally need less sunlight, many prefer to be in partially shaded or sheltered situation. Their foliage and bloom can be scorched by sunlight if too exposed, especially while the weather is warm, windy or arid.

Plants that prefer partially shaded and sheltered situations are characteristically different from those that prefer more exposure. Their leaves tend to be bigger and darker green to absorb more sunlight. Those that are sensitive to frost may prefer shelter from evergreen shade. To compete for pollinators with bloom above, flowers may be either bigger and more colorful, or more fragrant.

There are, of course, many exceptions. Ferns are probably the most familiar foliar plants for shade, but provide no bloom. Cast iron plant is comparable to fern for providing rich green foliage, but with insignificant bloom. Caladium, coleus and hosta are grown for lush foliage that is strikingly colorful instead of rich green. Hosta contrarily blooms with pastel flowers that are not even fragrant.

Kaffir lily, calla, hydrangea, azalea, rhododendron and impatiens provide more color for partial shade.

Rain On The Shade Parade

60622thumbModern urban lifestyles are becoming less conducive to gardening all the time. Bigger and taller homes cast larger shadows over smaller garden spaces. The taller fences between these homes do not help. The densely evergreen trees employed to obscure the views of other larger and taller homes also obscure sunlight. Not much sunlight reaches the ground where shorter plants need it.

While all this is going on, we are supposed to be gardening with more sustainable plants that demand less water. Smaller, shadier and more sheltered gardens should naturally use less water than larger and more exposed gardens need. Yet, the plants that do not mind the shade naturally want more water than plants that want more sunlight. There are not many that are drought tolerant.

Drought tolerant plants are naturally endemic to dry climates. Many are from chaparral regions. Some are from deserts. In such ecosystems where water is too scarce to sustain much foliage, there is not much competition for sunlight. Shade tolerant plants are just the opposite. They are from forested ecosystems with taller and shadier trees. Such ecosystems are sustained by rainfall.

There are quite a few plants that do not mind a bit of shade. Heavenly bamboo, flowering maple, hydrangea, camellia, azalea, rhododendron, holly, daphne and andromeda (Pieris spp.) are some of the more familiar shade tolerant shrubbery; but alas, none are drought tolerant. Nor are the various ferns. Even small shade tolerant trees like dogwood want to be watered regularly.

Most of the plants that tolerate shade but are not too terribly thirsty are groundcover plants or perennials. They are not exactly drought tolerant, but can survive with minimal watering because they do not dry out so much in the shade. Once established in a cool shady environment, plumbago, lily turf, periwinkle Saint John’s wort and coral bells (Heuchera spp.) only need to be watered occasionally through summery weather, although they are thirstier in sunny spots. Both English and Algerian ivy need nothing in the shade.