Friday, April 6, 2012

The Shady Naturalistic Tennessee Garden

As my gardens here in Tennessee mature they gain more and more of the naturalistic type of look. You know that look, the one that reminds a person of a woodland where all plants are carefully planted and tended, weeded, and pruned, and tenderly loved. Perhaps it is a woodland garden where Snow White played with the birds, or perhaps it is a woodland garden where there are no people around but you nonetheless know a gardener tends the plants. That gardener is me of course and the gardens I talk about are mine. I recently returned from a trip and when I left the trees were not leafed out and the garden was still in the sun. Upon my return the garden is now in complete shade and there is that secretiveness that comes with wooded gardens that somehow seem enchanted. Walks in the shade in a garden are the best. Let's walk through my shaded gardens so you too can see and perhaps even feel natural forces at work that help to make the naturally shaded woodland garden a special place.

The above blossom is from one of two tree peonies. While you may not consider peonies to be shade plants they actually do quite well here in Tiger gardens with only about three to four hours of sun per day. Right behind the garden that holds the above peony we'll find azaleas beginning to bloom.
These pink azaleas are a real treat. They don't bloom well but when they do bloom they are splendid. Azaleas for sure fit into shady woodland gardens. Can't you just imagine a sprite jumping through the woods with an azalea bloom tucked behind her ear? The yellow tractor implement is actually in another border alongside the road. Gardens are arranged here so that when you look at them you can only see gardens and the plants in them and not the grass pathways.
Japanese roof irises (Iris tectorum) are a must for all shady gardens. These irises do fabulous in the shade and stay fairly evergreen all winter long. I have yet to find a weak spot in the Japanese roof irises.
Nearby coral bells cavort with aucubas (the spotted shrub behind and to the right of the coralbells). Aucubas are my go to evergreen shrub for dry shade. Oftentimes you'll find nothing but dry shade in woodlands and my gardens are no exception. Pieris grows to the left of the aucuba. The pieris is sometimes called the lily of the valley bush. It is an acid loving evergreen shrub that is a slow grower. Be sure to give it good drainage and a nice mulch. I killed another pieris most likely due to drainage so I like caution readers on that experience.
Hostas, Asiatic lilies, wood sorrel, and catmint spread their wings in the part shade conditions of this garden. Wood sorrel is a must in my garden. I believe it can get a bit weedy further south but here in northern Middle Tennessee my wood sorrel has not been a problem at all. I like that it is evergreen and never fails to bloom for me. Contrasting foliage is a big deal in a shady gardens and you'll see lots of types of foliage to use in this post.
Just to the left of the front garden candytuft, more catmint, spirea, 'Shamrock' hollies, and leftover daffodil foliage carry on the show. Candytuft blooms for more than two months here and is one of the best plants I have found for raised beds where it can get at least an hour of sun.
Moving to the backyard we find a bed surrounding a large oak tree that is edged with 'Caramel' heucheras and tall bearded irises. Irises, surprisingly, can do quite well in only a few hours of sun. I bet these irises don't get two hours of sun per day. Not all bearded irises will do well in shade though. I have found the older more common varieties tend to do the best in my woodland conditions. Be sure not to mulch the rhizomes or you will have problems with rot and borers when growing irises in the shade no matter what type they are.
Looking up toward the house on the south side of the Rear Center bed we find a stunning contrast of a gold smoketree (Golden Spirit) and a red smoketree (Royal Purple). I theorized that if one smoketree did well in this area then two would do as well. Smoketrees are very drought tolerant and have an extensive root system that not only maintains them in the dry shaded garden, but actually inspires them to grow more and to reach for the sun. I keep mine pruned in this bed because the smoketrees are actually a divider between the sunny side and the shady side of this large center bed. At the feet of the smoketrees many plants grow with the few hours of sun they get here. Sedums, irises, asters, peonies, irises, alliums, daylilies, and many more perennials grow in this area. As the smoketrees fade away the other plants quickly grab your attention.
Plants like Tartarian asters and chrysanthemums quickly fill up every available bit of soil in the shady garden. It is actually a job to keep these thugs bullies down a bit. The good thing is that they bloom and they bloom well and they keep the weeds at bay. Mums are a great filler in my shady garden and even when they are not blooming I always take the time to note their promise of future joy. As a bonus mums usually have fragrant foliage and deer don't seem to prefer them as much as other shade plants.
Japanese roof irises, ferns, Solomon's seal, bleeding hearts, hostas and bearded irises continue the floor tapestry in the shaded garden.
Sweetshrubs are a mainstay here. Mine would prefer more sun (they get none at the present time) but still, they manage to bloom a bit. The above 'Athens' is looking good for a bloom or two this year. The other, 'Raulstonii', has yet to bloom even though it is planted near 'Athens'.
I have been nursing this small area of Iris cristata for a few years now. Imagine my surprise when it bloomed in white-as in 'Tennessee White'! I knew I had the 'Tennessee white' native iris but for some reason thought this bed was blue. These little irises grow wild in the woods around here and are a native plant. The flowers are a mere 4-6" above the ground. Plant these beauties where you can enjoy them up close.The brown stringy flower thing on the irises is of course the flower of the many oak trees growing here in Tiger Gardens. I hate oak flower season here but it is a necessary evil if I wish for acorns to fall; which, just between you and I, I could do without acorns as they tend to sprout like crazy and I wind up pulling baby oak trees. Sigh. You can't have a shady natural garden without the trees so I think I'll keep the oaks.
Looking to the front yard again on the north side of Tiger Gardens we can see meandering lines of the beds, dogwoods, azaleas and tons of perennials. It is my goal to make my walk as enjoyable as I possibly can so we again see lots of shade trees. Some of the trees were in place when we purchased our home more than ten years ago, but many small trees, the understory trees, were added by me over the years. The crabapple above the azaleas and a few new dogwoods were added by me.I have made the bed lines in natural curving lines so as to make it easy for me to mow the grass paths. The effect did not happen all at once as like all gardens, my gardens are a work in progress but the natural lines of the beds help us to feel like we are in the wild yet in a cultivated area not too far from civilization. I call this type of garden and also my home a 'not quite in a subdivision and not quite in the country' type of garden and home.
'Admiral Semmes' has been growing in Tiger Gardens for several years. It has withstood serious droughts with no help from me. This year sees it starting to put on some real growth. It is a fragrant azalea and sure draws the eye in the woodland.
Spanish hyacinths miraculously began blooming all at once. These are a true woodland plant and are beginning to spread themselves all around the woodland.
Ginger and Solomon's Seal love the shade. Note you need no blooms for these sweet spreaders.
More of the Woodland gardens shows us some white azaleas blooming near the 'Florida Flame' azaleas. I am partial to the bright hot colors in my garden but when it comes to azaleas I'll be happy to have all different types of colors blooming here. Azaleas have been a difficult plant for me to grow in Tiger Gardens. I think azaleas would prefer a sandier soil with more moisture than what is generally found in Middle Tennessee.
Deutzia 'Chardonnay Pearls' is a brilliant chartreuse. It is worth growing this lovely little shrub even without the blooms that look pearls. This fine foliaged plant is simple to grow and asks only for a few hours of sun. It will stay short (around about two feet) but will spread to 3-4' feet or more.
Bearded irises are just beginning to bloom in a big way. It won't be long now and Tennessee gardens will be ablaze in color from our state's flower.
Japanese maples, 'Vanhoutte' spirea and coralbells are looking very happy in the woodland under our numerous oaks. As much as I love my oaks they are growing phenomenally and I see the day fast approaching when I will not be able to grow any vegetables or any plants that need at least a few hours of sunlight. While that will be a sad day for me I simply could not imagine living in a place with no trees to shade my daily walk through the gardens....

in the garden....

Be sure to come back Monday as there'll be more pictures of Tiger Gardens. Also, Garden Tour season has started so I'll start posting some photos from other gardens as well.

Words and Photos Property of In the Garden Blog Team, In the Garden


  1. Your woodland plants are thriving and blooming beautifully this spring Tina. I really need to add some of the beauties you have like the Japanese Roof Irises and Ginger. Now to find the perfect spot for them. :) Oh and I love that brilliant orange 'Admiral Semmes', what a glorious color!

  2. I don't know how to express the pleasure I have touring your garden! Your commentary is so helpful. I wish I could remember all the plants' names like you do! We're heading "down" your direction on Sunday. I look forward to all the beauty we'll be seeing en route and when we arrive over the mountain into North Carolina....

    I am a little sad to be leaving our own yard and flower beds just as they are maturing so beautifully....

    1. Rebecca, If you make it to the Clarksville area and have time to stop by be sure to email me ahead of time! I'd love to meet a fellow blogger!

  3. wOw! All the while I was thinking you must not have very much grass to mow! We bought a motorhome and I hope to have a "real" visit to you all within the next year. I'd love to see this in person. Have a happy easter!

    1. Lots of grass to mow but no room to maneuver the lawnmower due to all the gardens-it's a mess! Hard to mow for sure. I SURE hope you come to visit!! I need to FB you soon so look for a message from me. Glad to see you on the blogs again!

    2. Dawn, what happened to your picture. Did not know if was you or not....the motorhome gave it away. See ya Sunday.

  4. Your prose is simply lyrical. It would be hard for words to do justice to this lovely space, but I think you've done that.

    The tree peony is simply gorgeous. Puts me in mind of some beautiful Japanese porcelain painting.

    1. Oh yes Patricia, I just get so happy in the gardens this time of the year and can't help but talk about them. I always appreciate it when others can share in it too. Thanks so much.

  5. wow, what a glorious collection of spring blooms. Where to begin? Love the Caramel Heuchera, think the orange/yellow ones really pop. I have a lot of Deutzia Nikko, but that Chardonnay Pearls would really stand out in the semi-shade garden in the backyard. Hmmmm....
    Oh, did you know that Smoke trees were in the same family as poison ivy and mangoes? Found that out when Becca broke out last year.

    1. I had Nikko but when I swapped its spot with this Chardonnay Pearls it did not make it:( Nikko is quite a bit bigger than Pearls and I wanted a small shrub in this front of the border area. I did not know that about smoke trees at all! So sorry for Becca hope she is okay and it doesn't happen again.

  6. Magnificent. Your gardens are most pretty. Sure would like to see it in person. You've worked hard to get it to this point. I sure am proud of you.
    Been working in my gardens but it is a slow process.
    Have a very Happy Easter.

    1. Thanks Lola! Happy Easter to you and remember gardens are a long slow process. Chipping away plant by plant is the only way. Enjoy the process along the way.

  7. Nice tour, everything looks wonderful as always. Happy Easter to all.

  8. Everything looks so healthy! You answered some silent questions for me about growing conditions for some plants. Your description of a woodland garden sounds dreamy to me.

    1. Thanks Darla, I can be wordy at times but I know I like to read blogs that have words describing things so that's what I do here too.

    2. No Darla that would not work. I've tried the forget me nots SO many times that I know they would not bloom here. I think there is not enough sun as I have seen them growing here but in more sun than my garden has. On the other hand the seeds you sent me last year are blooming away! I love them!

  9. Perhaps I'll send you a Forget Me Not plant instead of the seeds and see how that works for you. I bet they would grow in your woodland garden just great.

  10. Wonderful woodland gardens, Tina. I'm learning the ropes since we moved from sunny into the Oak Woods. The naturalistic approach works for me... :)

  11. Thank you for the walk thru. White flowers really pop in a shaded woodland garden. It's a clean calm feeling too. Beautiful!

  12. Tina what beautiful garden in such soft lovely colors in the shade...can't wait to see more!

  13. *Sigh* I wish I could have stopped by to see your lovely garden in person on our way back home last weekend. We were in Illinois on business (SAM's) and didn't have a lot of time to spare. I'm hoping we will be able to return sometime later this spring or in the summer. It sure is different now, being able to work in my own garden again. I'm rediscovering muscles I had forgotten were there:)

  14. A very talented gardener tends this plot. You seemed to show us everything. What will you share with us in future posts? : )

  15. How lush your garden is! As you know, spring has barely started in Maine.

  16. Simply beautiful, Tina! I would find it hard to give up those trees, too. But you have adapted to your shady conditions so well and created a lovely space.