Some sun plants make a showing in shade
Posted: Tuesday, July 24, 2012 8:00 pm
By: By Jimmy Williams
If you’re still trapped inside that box, break out of it. I’m thinking of the thinking box, which is akin to our “mind-forged manacles,” as one articulate wag had it.
In other words, we have become so accustomed to being trapped inside our own thinking boxes and constrained by those manacles, that breaking loose seldom occurs to us.
I’ll admit that my own mental manacles are efficacious and do yeoman duty in constricting much leaning toward originality. Occasionally, however, some unique and relatively minimal brainstorm breaks from within the gray matter and surfaces long enough to grasp. Such is my experimentation in recent years with growing plants in shade (or semi-shade) that are normally considered full-sun candidates. Several of them have been pleasant surprises.
A year or two ago I bought at some bargain sale three specimens of Yucca recurvifolia, commonly called curve-leaf yucca. It does indeed have softer, recurved leaves than most yuccas.
Taxonomists now say it doesn’t deserve those italics indicating a species, but instead is probably Yucca gloriosa var. Tristis. Whatever. It will be labeled in that first manner in a nursery. Mine are a variegated form, with faint yellow stripes down the leaves.
Some yuccas are natives in our area, but this one ranges naturally a bit to our south. It is, however, winter hardy here. I planted two of them in the generally recommended “full sun,” and they have prospered despite terrible drought, as is the wont of yuccas.
I then walked over our place several times trying to decide on a location for the third one. In our woodland, far from any full sun and, in fact, in deep shade, there stood a vacancy where something or other had died, right next to hostas, hydrangeas, and other such shade lovers.
What did I have to lose? In it went, and forthwith made a startling contrast, with its spiky leaves, to other softer material there. Who would have thought it?
Then I remembered a smaller specimen of another yucca, Color Guard, of a different species and with brighter yellow leaves, that was languishing in its nursery pot.
I stuck it in a planter made from an old concrete culvert, along with some ‘Red Dragon’ persicaria, an old piece of dusty miller, a couple of hostas, and some variegated running euonymus.
The combination is almost all perennial, and makes a showing most of the year. Again, this is in full shade.
The presence of yuccas in a shade setting is incongruous, unless you are bound by mind-forged manacles, but what the heck, they are an appealing contrast to everything around them.
In a somewhat different vein: Japanese maples are generally sun candidates, and indeed those with red leaves will green up in shade.
However, the larger growing ones, including even inexpensive seedling trees, provide magnificent understory in a woodland of oaks, gums, hickories etc.
I have one such, at about 20 feet after that many years. I gave $2 for it in a gallon pot. It has typical palmate leaves of the species, green, not red. However, it has spread to some 15 feet wide and formed into a graceful and pleasing structure.
The trunk is slightly striated with a greenish cast, and is a feature the year through. Best of all, however, is the fall foliage.
Even in deep shade, where many trees with normally colorful fall foliage fail to excite, this maple turns a brilliant orange, after most surrounding trees have shed, making for a truly spectacular sight.
From Poor Willie’s Almanack:
There are no poor Japanese maples.
Editor’s note: Jimmy Williams is the garden writer at The Paris Post-Intelligencer, where he can be contacted on Mondays at (731) 642-1162.
Published in The Messenger 7.24.12
Jimmy Williams, The Garden Path