Gardens of the Arboretum Series: The Shade Garden

By Paul Kammerdinner

Anyone who has a tree in their yard usually asks the question, “What can I plant under a tree that will grow in shade?” Sadly, grass won’t grow in the shade so it seems we are left with a bare spot. Luckily, there are different options for planting in the shade. At the Arboretum, our answer was to make a lovely spot where you can relax and get out of the hot sun.

A shade garden was a feature in the original design; here is what that plan had to say; “The north wall of the walled garden will provide the initial shade for the first phase planting in the shade garden, which can be expanded after some shade giving trees are planted and assume some size. Many homeowners are faced with the dilemma of which plants will thrive in a shady environment. This garden will help answer this question by addressing the conditions of wet shade and dry shade using native and non-native plants.”

The walled garden mentioned never became a reality but as always that didn’t stop the wonderful teams of volunteers from making the shade garden a reality. Sharon Jordan and other volunteers started the Shade Garden with just a small collection of hostas around a group of 5 Honey Locust trees that were part of the site when it was still farm pasture. These trees are now the oldest trees on site.

The area really began to take shape with the formation of a project sub-committee in 2004. According to records on file from a meeting held in August of that year; Maurine Crisp, Nancy Friedman, and Keri Leymaster put together a plan “to create a garden to collect named hosta varieties and companion plants, to encourage visitors to explore the eastern part of the Arboretum, and show a design where shrubs, ferns, ornamental trees, and hosta are attractively intermixed.” The initial plant list contained over 60 varieties of hosta and through the years, other plantings have been added.

A major addition to the Shade Garden was the acquisition of a complete collection of the award-winning Stout Day Lily collection for each year since its inception in 1950. This collection was first planted along the southern edge of the garden where it has flourished and provided a spectacular display of blooms each year. In the fall of 2013, the collection was moved to a location that will enable us to better display each variety by planting them in a single file line along the path that leads to the garden from the Display Garden area. This also allows us to label each variety with an individual sign as well as providing space for future year winners.

The realization of this plan took some time but with the help of volunteers like the “Gentle Gardeners” and others, we never lost sight of what this space could become. In 2009 with a grant from the Community Foundation a hard surface path was built to lead visitors from the main activity area of the grounds down into the Shade Garden. Over the next couple of years, seating was added and educational signage put in. In 2012; five Redbud trees were planted as an understory to the Locusts; thus completing every aspect of the original 2004 project.

As with all of the gardens in the Arboretum, this one continues to evolve and improve. Today this is a peaceful oasis of shade and beauty to rest and meditate on the wonders that surround you.