Shade Garden in Early April

 Early spring is the best season for the shade garden. It's also the season I probably lose friends . . . don't take it personally, people, I'm in the garden. It's busy go-go time for me and I apologize in advance for vanishing and not returning texts until the rains return, so, see you in October. I love you all, really. It's just that there are no days off, no weekends for us around here. Maaaaybe we can squeeze a couple in this summer. When that happens, hit us up for beer and tacos in the garden.  

In the meantime, here's a look at a bit of the shade garden looking fresh and new. I for one have walked through it a hundred times the past week savoring every little leaf popping up, every tiny insect hovering over Oxalis oregana flowers. It's magic.

Wide shot of the west end of the shade garden, the neighbor's property on the other side of the fence behind FM's horizontal logs that seem to float. They're not paranormal logs, they're just tied to the fence.

Veronica 'Georgia Blue' is a wonderful evergreen groundcover. Right now is its glory season with dark sky blue flowers. You can see it's at the base of a tree so seems to compete well with tree roots.

Fritillaria affinis, a native checker lily, was a gift from my boss Sean Hogan. I understand my friend and fellow blogger Ann Amato sowed these seeds a while back. Thank you, Ann!

A gift from a friend, Trillium albidium or giant trillium is another sweet native woodland plant. I love it! They go completely dormant in summer and have stalkless flowers. Their flowers are also smaller than one of our other native trilliums, Trillium ovatum which has much larger flowers but smaller leaves.

Mossy path last week.

Mossy path this week with poofy-er Oxalis oregana that is blooming profusely right now. It's kind of like a souffle that poofs up while in the oven then shrinks once it hits the table, summertime being the table in this example.

Cyrtomium either falcatum or fortunei fronds beginning to unfurl. Does anyone know how to definitively tell the difference between the two species? Let me know. In any event, an evergreen fern native to Asian countries and. frankly, once established, quite easy. 

Volunteer pulmonaria seedling from Pulmonaria 'Benediction' nearby, Pittosporum 'Irene Patterson' above.

Polystichum makinoi unfurling, I adore the little beads along the leaf stalk.

Oxalis oregana and its pretty flowers poised to take over.

Cardamine trifolia with Ophiopogon 'Nigrescens' and Carex 'Snowline' at the front edge of a path. The cardamine is better every year. All of these are evergreen so have a presence year-round, though right now they really look their freshest.

Primula 'Cowichan Red', a sweet primula I bought while working for Joy Creek Nursery, has survived the slugs. Hooray!

Looking west towards the end of the day. Just out of frame on the left is the top of the berm garden, FM's paranormal floating logs on the fence on the right, the northern edge of our property.

Fritillaria meleagris, snake's head fritillary, while it hasn't multiplied like I want it to, it's still charming and I look forward to its single bloom every year.

Unfurling fronds of Adiantum venustum, Himalayan maidenhair fern. Our native Adiantum pedatum, northern maidenhair ferns, are only beginning to emerge.

Ribes sanguineum 'White Icicle' has been going strong for weeks. This is on the edge of the shade garden so receives a good amount of light; otherwise, it would bloom much more sparsely.

Spiraea x vanhouttei 'Pink Ice' is a rather charming spiraea with pink-tinted blossoms and variegated foliage.

Geranium macrorrhizum in the center and left, Pachyphragma macrophyllum flowering on the right. Both are essentially evergreen perennials, that is to say they have a presence in the garden year round but really bulk up this time of the year.

Ribes aureum, clove currant just starting to bloom. This little native ribes has the best scent to its flowers.

Brunnera 'Alexander's Giant' baby blue flowers. I find the brunneras pretty easy in my shade garden requiring little water, though I read that they are thought of as needing moist soil.

Epimedium versicolor 'Sulphureum' and most epimediums are beginning their flowering. I love discovering them! This year it seems the chipmunks are leaving the flowers alone. Last year they munched nearly the lot of them.

Fading flower of Erythronium revolutum, fawn lily.

Anemone nemorosa, wood anemone, will go dormant by the dry season. They spread to form a low, informal ground cover and I am delighted when I see them pop up here and there throughout areas where I forgot I planted them.

Tellima grandiflora, our native fringe cups are growing out of their funky phase and bulking up. Soon they will have spikes of pale flowers. They spread by seed and are an excellent woodland ground cover if you have room for them. I have a fairly large patch now, it was quite small when we bought the property as they were scattered randomly. I have lovingly tended this patch to keep it clear of weeds so it has a chance to carpet the ground and now it's beautiful.

Now for a couple maintenance notes: The rosemary hedge got a haircut, something I usually do in August. This year I decided to leave it until spring and I'm glad I did, for I have a feeling it would have had major areas of dead branches from January's prolonged extreme cold. The extra foliage coverage protected it, though as you can see in the foreground, right, there are large areas of die back on this one plant, minor dieback on a few of the others. It will probably fill in by summer. It took me about two hours with a hedge trimmer and to clean up all the debris.

I also decided to cut down the Yucca gloriosa 'Variegata' (the one on the left) as it was crammed in there after several years of the arctostaphylos growing on top of it. This photo was taken last year.

Here it is with the yucca gone and room for the neighboring plants to stretch out a little. You can barely make out the stump to the left of the small gray rock next to the hebe. It was remarkably easy to saw through. I'm thinking that it will regrow from the roots, but if not it's ok. It needed a little air in there, it was so congested.

Last week I was lamenting the poor Ceanothus 'Italian Skies', threatening to remove it. Poor scraggly thing.

I still may remove it all together, but one step at a time. I cut it back very hard, removing two large branches and also pruning it from the top. There is new foliage coming on, but I don't really know if it will rebound completely or not. It's an experiment and I will keep you posted. I half expect the extreme pruning to kill it, but you never know. Plants often surprise me.

In any event, the understory plants now have much more sunlight and will be happier for it. It looks a little raw now but as the warm season comes on it will fill in and I won't be able to tell. It's hard to dig in and make big changes because it looks bad right away and it is often a hell of a lot of work. But, in the end, it's so worth it and it usually takes much less time than imagined to rebound. Plants are often happier for it, too, showing their appreciation by thriving when they were once lanky and unhappy. Everything here is made for sun, but I didn't recognize how incredibly shaded all these plants were getting until the ceanothus was flopping out over them, looking horrid. I overplanted, in other words. Happens to all of us. A good clean-out and clean-up feels good and I look forward to seeing this little corner rebound.

Hot weather will be here before I know it, full of hot-colored flowers to match. For now the cool pastels of the shade garden seem appropriate and I for one am appreciating the shade garden, especially as the heat of summer dries it up rather quickly. I like you, April. So far so good.

That's a wrap for this week at Chickadee Gardens. As always thank you so much for reading and commenting, we do love hearing from you! Happy gardening!


  1. Oxalis oregana looks like a delightful groundcover. I checked my Sunset guide and was surprised to find it's suitable to my Sunset zone 24. I've a few shady spots that could use an assertive groundcover. Sunset says it wants mild winters (which we have) and cool summers, which we can't claim but, as summer temperatures were lower here than it seems they were in your area, it's worth a try. The level of drought may be an issue I suppose. We've had another exceptional water year but that's not the norm and I expect that what's exceptional for us might still be low by comparison to yours.

    1. Give it a try, why not? If I have a really hot summer and I don't keep it irrigated (especially on sloped drier areas) it goes partially dormant, but is not killed. It's so lovely and larger plants can grow through it pretty successfully.

  2. A good clean out in Spring, I couldn't agree more! I wish I could smell that clove currant.

    1. It feels good, that clean out. Hard to make that first cut but once I'm in, I'm always glad I did it. Cheers!

  3. I'm not sure if this will help but I tell the holly ferns apart by remembering that Cyrtomium falcatum has shiny leaves that look a little plastic, and C. fortunei has matte leaves. I love your intro paragraph, so true! I've told myself this is the year I don't miss out on socializing because I am too busy in the garden, but we'll see how long I can keep to that. Afterall I LOVE being in the garden.

    How are your callistemon doing? I cut mine back into a good shape hoping the branches would leaf out, but so far there's nothing. I'm considering getting rid one completely and cutting the other to the ground with hopes it will resprout and grow fast.

    1. THANK YOU for the holly fern recap. I think this is very helpful, Marc emailed me pretty much the exact same info, thank you both.

      As far as socializing - I've been trying. Had to say no a LOT lately which stings but it's the beast I have created (that I love, by the way - being in the garden just like you). As far as the callistemon - leaves continue to turn brown (I did not cut them all back hard), but I see a little top growth and some from the base. I think once summer kicks in it will be fine. Cutting it to the ground I think would be just fine, it should recover.

  4. Jeanne DeBenedetti keyes11:36 AM PDT

    Love FM's floating logs! They make a statement. Your shade garden is looking fantastic. My shade garden is a full sun garden at the moment because my large evergreen shrubs and trees dropped their leaves! Pittosporum, metapanax, Camellia sinensis, I am looking at you! It has been interesting watching what has come back or not from the multiple snow/ice and wind storms. Even my teenager noticed how much brighter the area was! It is interesting how well oxalis grows for you. I kill it every time and then the bleeding heart and mahonia nervosa start moving in.

    1. Those logs! I laugh every time I look at them. I hadn't thought about defoliating evergreen shrubs creating more sun but there you go! Another challenge to overcome in the garden. And if your teenager noticed, well. That's saying something. And as far as the oxalis, I don't know why I can grow it so well when others have trouble getting it established. Maybe my soil isn't as rich as most other gardeners'?

  5. Anonymous10:22 AM PDT

    I love the wide shots today, especially the 'westward' facing shade area, a less common view with the tidy gravel path. I'm enamored with FM's horizontal logs and grateful for the explanation of that wondrous floating look. (Paranormal activity would have been fun too).
    I'm certain both Cardamine trifolia and Veronica 'Georgia Blue' appeared on one of your 'Take Five' posts, but it's always good - and motivating - to see them at moment of glory in early spring.
    The sun area by the deck need more heat to shed its winter appearance. I hope the ceanothus make a comeback, they are quite resilient. Any thoughts of replacements if they don't?

    1. Those logs again! Paranormal logs....ha! Thank you for your kind words once again, Chavli. The Cardamine trifolia and Veronica 'GB' have been featured before, but they are so so good.

      Well, as far as possible replacements for the ceanothus - I'm not 100% sure. I mean I planted the wrong thing there - meaning their ultimate size. Plus they probably get too much shade in the low light of winter. I was considering Osmanthus 'San Jose' or something similar....any suggestions? I too hope the ceanothus rebound. Cross your fingers.

  6. Spring, the best time of year IMO. Everything is greening up, full of promise, and fit to bursting with blooms. Your Fritillaria affinis is a fave - do you need to protect it from critters?

    1. Spring is so lovely, I love it in the shade garden especially. Bursting with promise indeed. The Fritillaria is new this year so not sure, I'll pay attention, though and report back.


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