Winners and Losers in the Battle of Dry Shade
My back garden raised bed has been something of a permanent work in progress. I was in my Raised Bed Period when I created it. Somewhere, I really can’t remember where, I had read about the virtues of raised beds. Over the next couple of years I created four of them in the garden.
Anyway, the conditions in this raised bed must have been more difficult than I realized, because many plants didn’t last more than a season or two. As a result, I have always been trying to get something to fill open spaces here or there.
The raised bed is in part sun/dappled shade. It’s just a few feet from a silver maple (Acer saccharinum). The silver maple has greedy feeder roots which have not been shy about pushing into the raised bed. At the same time, this bed receives supplemental watering very rarely.
In the hope that you can benefit from my misadventures, I provide below a list of the plants that did not make it in this bed, as well as those that have succeeded and others for whom the jury is still out.
First, the ones that didn’t make it. I can only assume that it was the dryness and root competition that did them in.
- Peach leaf bellflower (Campanula persicifolia). Hasn’t lasted more than a season or two.
- Snowdrop windflower (Anemone sylvestris). Completely disappeared within three years.
- Ladybells (Adenophera lilifolia). I like the flowers, but the plant overall is kind of weedy and had thin stems that would lean all over. It lasted several years, and there are still a few stems, but it is not a major presence in this bed.
- Yellow foxglove (Digitalis ambigua). I really thought yellow foxglove would be well-adapted to this site, but most of the plants have been shortlived. There are still a couple hanging on.
- Silky wild rye (Elymus villosus). It should be named silky wild rabbit food. Feh. Same thing for Japanese forest grass (Hakonechloa macra).
Now for the success stories.
- Amsonia ‘Blue Ice’. ‘Blue Ice’ feels absolutely at home in this raised bed. Every plant has established itself and set about growing into its own large clump. I cut back the foliage when the flowers are done and the new growth comes up yellow.
- Short’s Aster (Symphyotrichum shortii). The rabbits chew, but do not demolish. Clouds of little blue flowers in fall on shrubby plants.
- Purple milkweed (Asclepias purpureum). The one Asclepias that tolerates shade. I’ve learned that it doesn’t like to be crowded by other tall plants, so you have to give it some space.
- Brown eyed susan (Rudbeckia triloba). A profusion of flowers smaller than most Rudbeckias. Short lived but it self-sows determinedly so it is always popping up somewhere.
The jury is out.
Since last year I have been adding plants at every opportunity. Along the west side of the bed I have put dwarf goatsbeard (Dioicus aethusifolius) and yellow corydalis (Corydalis lutea). On the shadier east side I planted Lenten rose (Helleborus x hybridus).
I’ve also got Indian pinks (Spigelia marilandica), and an Arkansas bluestar (Amsonia hubrichtii). Oh, and for drama and height, one spikenard (Arelia racemosa).
Sounds overcrowded, you say? Probably. But some stuff won’t make it, and I can always transplant. Experimenting with different plants under different conditions is half the fun of gardening.