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Garden Reports and Rejoicing – October 12

Last night I spoke in northern Massachusetts about gardening in shade. When I asked the audience what was difficult about shade gardening, several people responded, “Not enough color” or “There’s a limited number of plants.” A couple of people also offered “Slugs” as a common problem.

With the exception of the slugs, what these gardeners struggle with originates in the same place. When people say that shade gardens don’t have enough color or are limited in the number of plants that can be grown, they are looking at the shade garden with sun in their eyes.

In other words, they are looking at the shade garden while keeping a sunny garden, and all the plants that grow there, foremost in their minds. This is not a critical comment…we all do it. It’s human nature to start with a whole host of expectations and desires and then judge other experiences through those lenses.

This is understandable but limiting. If we come to shade gardening with the same expectations that we approach a full sun garden, we’re bound to be disappointed or frustrated. What if we approached infants expecting them to behave as ten year olds? We’d be unhappy, of course, because an infant isn’t able to walk, talk, or be empathic, among other developmental abilities.

More importantly, we would cheat ourselves out of the pure bliss of experiencing a baby in infancy.

When we look at the shade garden with the same expectations and desires that we hold for sunny areas we miss out the pleasure of the cooling oasis and the mix of foliage colors and textures that is shade gardening. We are swindled out of the rich and subtle experience that cultivating plants in shady places offers.

In our landscapes and lives, it’s important to constantly remind ourselves not to look at shady locations with the sun in our eyes.

Shade gardening is all about plant communities, subtle combinations of foliage color and textures, and soothing environments.


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