Northern Shade Gardening

Birdbaths in the Garden

Monday, April 28, 2008 Category: Garden Design

My birdbaths finally defrosted and had their first customers today. Last week they had 6 inches of snow piled on them. birdbath with robin in the gardenI enjoy watching the enthusiastic bathers, even if it means I have to refill the bath a couple of times a day. This time I was lucky; the robin is splashing in the melted snow water. I have a lot of fun watching the bird antics, no matter how common the bird.

When I see them collecting nesting material, hunting for worms, raising their babies and watch the young ones learn to fly, it confirms why I don’t use poisons in the garden. I’d rather tolerate a little diversity in the lawn, pull a few weeds by hand, and buy disease resistant plants than endanger the wildlife or my family.

This is a picture of the area last summer. birdbath with frog designThe Hydrangea paniculata is on the right, with Campanula posharskyana ‘Camgood ‘ (Serbian bellflower) under it. Matteuccia struthopteris (ostrich fern) is behind to the left, Athyrium ‘ghost’ (ghost fern) in front of it, and some double flowering impatiens between. All of these do well on the shady northern side of the fence with an hour or two of sun in the morning.

The next birdbath is the most whimsical decoration that I have in the garden. birdbath with squirrel carving in gardenHere it is last summer in the dappled shade, surrounded by a variety of ferns. They appreciate the extra water when I empty and clean the birdbath. There is the ubiquitous M. struthiopteris (ostrich fern) which manages to pop its head into just about any shot I take in the garden. The other ferns are Dryopteris expansa (spiny wood fern), Adiantum pedatum (Northern maidenhair fern), and Athyrium (lady fern).

Often in the spring and summer, there is a lineup on the tree branches next to each birdbath with customers waiting their turn. If there is a boisterous flock at one bath, the smaller birds might quietly take a drink in the other. In our dry climate, I know the birds appreciate them, and I get hours of entertainment from watching them. Do you have birdbaths in your garden? How do you encourage wildlife?

Great Foliage Matters

Wednesday, April 23, 2008 Category: Garden Design

Great foliage is important in a shade garden. Many plants that thrive in the shade tend to have no flowers or short blooming times or sparse flowering because of the low light. The flowers may come and go, but good foliage is visible for the season. The feathery plumes of the astilbes look great while they are flowering, but their lacy foliage looks great for even longer (this is probably truer in a northern climate).

Plants with leaves of different textures, habits and colours provide interest. If you are craving more colour, many of the newer Heuchera (coral bells) combine a rainbow of leaf colour.shade foliage Brunnera and Adiantum, ferns I’m partial to using a low key combination of different green shades, combined with silvers such as the perennial Brunnera macropylla ‘Jack Frost’ (Siberian bugloss). This picture from last summer also shows the Adiantum pedatum (Northern maidenhair fern) to the left, Convallaria majalis (lily of the valley) behind and Matteuccia struthiopteris (ostrich fern ) in the back corners. I like the feathery texture of the maidenhair fern next to the heart shaped silver veined leaves and the broad lily of the valley leaves with the vase shaped ostrich fern. These plants all do well under the shade of a willow tree with some dappled light.

Alternating perennials that are vase shaped, rounded, tall or sprawling adds excitement to the shade garden. Repeating these combinations around the garden ties it together. If you are looking for more foliage ideas, here is another post I wrote which has many foliage pictures.

What are your favourite perennial foliage combinations? When you go to buy a plant, which is more important to you, the leaves, the flowers, the plant form, the scent, or is it something less concrete like past memories you associate with the plant?

Spring Bulbs Bring Garden Joy

Sunday, April 20, 2008 Category: Bulbs

The earliest spring bulbs bring some of the greatest excitement in the northern garden, entirely out of proportion to their dainty size. Their exquisite blooms are eagerly awaited, not only for their beauty, but as a sign that the garden is starting its next cycle.

Puschkinia libanotica 'Alba' striped squillsDespite the fresh spring snow, the Puschkinia libanotica ‘Alba’ (white striped squills) are standing firm. They have temporarily halted opening their buds, since it’s been snowing for over 24 hours. These bulbs are planted in a garden bed on the northern side of my house with many other spring bulbs. I’ve grown the blue striped squills before, but this white variety was newly planted last fall. They are the first of the small bulbs to bloom this spring. I’m not sure if they naturally bloom earlier than the blue variety, or if they have an advantage, being 2 feet closer to the warm house foundation. These bulbs are planted next to the front porch, where it’s easy to see and appreciate them. In a larger garden, or farther from the house, it is too easy for them to disappear from view unless they are planted in large patches. This is a hardy little bulb for a cold climate.

You can see a better picture of how Puschkinia libanotica ‘alba’ looks when its blooms actually open in this later post.