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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

After my father’s tomatoes ripen on the vine, he finds when he cuts into them that there is a hard white core that extends through the fruit.

What does it take to make a climbing hydrangea flower? Ours was planted 3 years ago and is growing energetically. It’s in a protected nook near the patio and gets very little direct sunlight, but doesn’t act sun starved. We gave it a shot of slow release fertilizer on planting, and once since. Somewhat inadvertently it gets plenty of water, since the hose spigot is nearby and leaks, but drainage does not seem to be the problem. It now fully occupies an 8-foot trellis but shows no interest in flowering. Is it youth, lack of sun, too much or too little fertilizer, bugs, lack of pruning or what? When do these plants bloom and what conditions do they like?

I have two 3-year-old rose of Sharon plants, about 20 feet apart. One blooms every year. The other plant forms about 100 buds and looks healthy, but it has not bloomed in the last two years. The buds are solidly closed and look as if they are rotting from the inside out. There does not seem to be any sign of insects on the plant. What is this problem?

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