The colors and blooms of spring are often fleeting, and in the shade garden this is particularly true. Such plants as bloodroot, Virginia bluebells, lunaria and bleeding heart make a dashing appearance and then dash away, not to be seen again until next year. But oh, the impression they make while visiting! To flaunt their beauty, they take advantage of the dappled light available at this season before deciduous trees fully leaf out. Scattered about on the floor of the shade garden, they, along with tiarella, phlox divericata, ginger, pulmonaria, and lingering hellebore brighten the gardener's heart. Gardener's whimsy in the form of early botanical tulips sparks further interest.
But what happens to the deeply-shaded garden once these beauties have passed? It's important to have "bones" to carry intrigue through the next five months. These can include, as above, such structural items as the picket fence, blue birdbath, and fieldstone path. Japanese painted and maidenhair ferns lend structure and pique curiosity. Areas in the shade garden which receive more sun can support bright hosta such as 'June'. Azaleas, deutzia 'Chardonnay Pearl' and rainbow leucothe also help. The varied leaves of heuchera stay the season. And of course, plantings of shade-tolerant annuals in clumps throughout the bed assist in maintaining interest.
Many of the spring ephemerals are self-sowers. If you wish to increase their stock for next year, refrain from mulching until the ginger, lunaria, Virginia bluebells, phlox and bloodroot have had a chance to cast seed.
A shade garden is often the kindest imitation of Mother Nature, who plants in groups on the forest floor and whose tranquil, soothing scenery calms the weary soul. With planning, your garden can reflect the best our Mother has to offer.