Saturday, October 11, 2008

Shade Garden

My shade garden is mediocre at best. Under a French lilac in front of 70 ft. hemlocks, the hostas get smaller each year. Asters, silver mound, mums and numerous annuals have met their demise. Planting bulbs is as bad as digging through a tangle of bureaucracy. The root mass is quite thick. The daffodils, columbine and Japanese anemone seem to hold their own. Astilbe survives in a low spot that gets a little more water.

Two years ago I started thinking seriously about this garden. Did I want a garden survive or thrive? This happened the same year that I decided to be more environmentally aware. I have never used a lot of chemical fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides. I decided to use even less or none. The plants would have to survive or thrive on their own with only organic methods. I have soaker hoses in all the beds. They were not turned on this year.

I did a soil test in the shade garden last fall. pH is near optimum neutral at 6.8. The soil is below optimum in phosphate and potash and way above optimum in magnesium and calcium. I admit I added phosphate and potash. I easily slipped back into my “only a little” mode. I don’t know if I would do that today and risk chemicals washing into streams.

Then, in a V8 moment, I started doing what my grandmother knew to be right - if you want a good garden, improve the soil. I’ve added mulch twice each year. I’ve sprinkled compost tea in the area several times. My only fertilizer is fish emulsion. I’ll add compost in spring. This is an ongoing, never-ending job.

I have had the privilege of reading a preview of Doug Green’s “Shade Gardening” ebook. It is a clear, succinct and no-holds-barred book about what it takes to have a thriving shade garden – good soil, light, water.

Now I have to decide how much I want to fight Mother Nature. Plants need light (even in a shade garden), good soil and water. None of these is readily available under most trees. I believe there is enough light under the lilac for shade plants. I’m doing my best to improve the soil.

But, by Doug’s calculations, I will need about 3 inches of water a week. I’m not sure that I’m willing to do that. I may have to let this garden just survive.

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