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Dismayed in the Shade


“President Jimmy Carter once said that life is not fair. I’m not positive, but I don’t think he coined that phrase. I’m not positive about this either, but I think he was referring to gardeners. I’ll check LexisNexis when I have a spare decade.

The point is that not all gardeners are blessed with perfect growing conditions. (I haven’t gone out on a limb here, have I?) The types of soil, water and asphalt paving can all be challenges to the success of our gardens, our personal esteem and hence, our very existence. At least, that’s what I tell my therapist.

But nothing is more of a stick in the wheel spokes of horticulture than that Ol’ Debil Shade. Yep, shade is the deal breaker. It’s the one that separates the men from the yetis, the women from the, um, whatever they need to be separated from. Usually men sitting in front of a sporting event on TV.

(A quick digression. Why is it that I can type “biodiversity” and the writing program I use tells me that the word doesn’t exist. But if I type the plural of “yeti” it doesn’t blink. Based on that alone I fear for the future of the English language.)

It’s important to be able to identify the various levels of shade. The horticultural texts are always referring to “dappled shade.” Who are these people? Have they been spending their Sundays in the park with George? Are they looking at the world through dappled-shaded glasses? Real gardeners know that there is no such thing as “dappled shade.” In the real world, gardeners confront “3-flat shade,” “skyscraper canyon shade,” “can’t see my trowel in front of my face shade,” “forget about it shade,” “not even a stalagmite will grow here shade,” “dark as an advertising executive’s heart shade,” and “abandon hope all ye who enter here shade.” Not pretty choices, if you ask me.

As you can imagine, that puts a lot of pressure on the gardener to make sound plant choices. Heck, it puts a lot of pressure on plant growers to come up with varieties that can survive “can’t see my trowel in front of my face shade.” Why haven’t these people been awarded MacArthur Genius Grants? Perhaps it’s because the MacArthur people know that folks shouldn’t be trying to garden where the light level is lower than under a rock on the dark side of the moon.

There are special tools that are needed to work in ubershady gardens. Your best friend is your flashlight. However, some people prefer the natural ambiance of Tiki torches. Others set their burning bushes on fire, which has a poetic resonance with me, especially since we’ve discovered that burning bushes can be invasive. Speaking of resonance, you might want to try a sonar device. And I don’t say this just because I recently invested in a start-up company called Sonar Solutions for Shady Sites. On the other hand, if I can’t interest at least a few of you in one of these techno-horticultural gadgets, my gluten-powered lawnmower is going to get repossessed. I’m just sayin’.

Of course, there can be no gardening without actual plants. Actually, there can be, but I’m saving that for a day when I’ve run out of column ideas. And nothing says deep shade gardening like the much-maligned hosta. It used to be that hostas were hated because they were so plain. Now that there are more hosta varieties than there are actual hosta plants on the planet (I need to check LexisNexis about that) hostas are hated because they are not native to the U.S. You people are hard to please! What next? Hate hostas because they didn’t invite you to their hosta party in sixth grade? Geez.

Let’s just put it this way. A hosta will survive with less light shed on it than the workings of the average city council. Hey, I once grew a hosta at the bottom of a laundry hamper on an old T-shirt. Of course, I didn’t put it there. It just showed up. And now, every time I open the lid, it says, “Feed me.”

Hmm. Maybe there is a reason to be suspicious of hostas. I’ll check LexisNexis right after I feed Harry the Hosta another tube sock for lunch.

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questions

My Siberian iris ‘Gracilis’ plants have only one bloom per clump. I have five 3 to 5 year-old clumps that are 8 to 10 inches wide. They do not appear to be crowded. All are planted in a moist area. Why is there only one bloom per clump?

What are your three favorite “all-but-forgotten” perennials that every garden should include? Why do you like them?

I purchased some pre-chilled hyacinths and tulips for forcing but there were no directions with them. Does this mean I don’t have to chill them in the refrigerator, and will they just bloom in the house any time during the winter? The last batch of bulbs became moldy in the refrigerator.

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