Some sun plants work in shade
By Jimmy Williams
Posted: Tuesday, April 10, 2012 8:00 pm
It is nothing short of amazing what we can get away with here in the South.
Say your abode is shrouded in shade, not an unusual circumstance in our densely-treed (for the most part) area of the country. As you research printed and electronic garden media for information on what flowering shrubs or trees you can succeed with, you find, alas, precious few are listed for shade gardens; most are for “full sun.” Much of that information is written for more northerly reaches where “full sun” is not the same as here.
There is wide latitude for cheating in the sultry and humid south. Not a few of those “full sun” woody plants will succeed handily in shade here.
Take forsythia, for instance. Always recommended for full sun, forsythia will give a good account of itself in even quite dense shade here. I first realized this many years ago when I spied a large forsythia bush in a thick woodland, away from any dwelling, between Hazel and Murray in Kentucky. It was March, and the trees were still bare (unlike last month), causing the bright yellow flowers to stand out.
That shrub is still there, along with several progeny layered through the years from the parent, making an even more dramatic display. When the woods there closes in with leaves, the forsythia is unnoticed until the following spring.
Taking the cue, I took numerous cuttings from an old bush and stuck them directly into the ground in our woodland one midwinter. They rooted apace and now there is a 50-foot swath of large forsythias that light up that woodland reliably every spring. It has taken more than a few years to achieve the present show.
Another similar example is what I call bridal wreath spirea, though some attribute that common name to another spirea. This shrub is Spirea thunbergii. It blooms with, or even before, forsythia, throwing long wands of tiny white flowers in mass profusion. It is common about old homesteads hither and yon, and for good reason. The suckering habit of the plant allows for divisions to be made and passed along to neighbors and friends, thus its mighty proliferation. A capital shrub indeed, normally recommended, again, for full sun but flowering aplenty in shade.
The early flowering Oriental magnolias which we have enjoyed for the past six weeks, given the varied timing of different varieties, are excellent and long-lived small to medium trees that also are generally regarded as full sun candidates.
We have some half-dozen or so in deep woods and they give a good account of themselves, with pink, purple, or cream-colored flowers, depending on the cultivar. The flowering is not quite as profuse as it would be in sun, but that is of little consequence, since at even a half-bloom there are still plenty of flowers.
These three examples are all early flowering, before the canopy of shade is evident, and are only representative of a larger number of plants that will work. Even some summer performers will flower in shade, but their number is more restricted.
There is room for all kinds of experimentation along this line, and it is sometimes surprising what success will be realized with a bit of trial and error. Don’t worry about the error.
From Poor Willie’s Almanack: After failing for months (years?) in trying to invent a successful electric light bulb, Thomas Edison was asked what he had learned from all that work. He is reputed to have replied: “I’ve learned a thousand ways not to invent a light bulb.”
Editor’s note: Jimmy Williams is production superintendent at The Paris Post-Intelligencer, where he also writes this column.
Published in The Messenger 4.10.12