A Shady Garden in August

So let’s take a look at the Back Garden in mid-August. Summer is a quiet time in a shade garden, but there are still a few things worth noting.


A bright spot, so to speak, is taken up with Great Blue Lobelia (Lobelia syphilitica) near the birdbath/fountain. This had been a patch of Cardinal Flower (L. cardinalis). They were short-lived, but I decided to heck with it, I would just keep planting replacements. Problem is this last time they were mislabeled – right genus, wrong species.


My irritation has been tempered by the beauty of the Great Blue Lobelia. Also they attract hummingbirds just like L. cardinalis. Also I love blue flowers. We’ll see if these end up lasting longer than the Cardinal Flower. I did notice that the Great Blue Lobelia was just about the only plant to make it through last winter in a container.


Container flowers and foliage provide a lot of the seasonal interest at the moment. Above is a container planted with white Caladium underplanted with Creeping Wire Vine (Muehlenbeckia axilaris).


Another couple of pots near the back steps. This ones have some Fusion Impatiens (Impatiens hawkeri). These are New Guinea Impatiens with a different flower form. I think they are  now my favorite Impatiens.


I find the flower shape and colors more appealing than the usual New Guinea Impatiens. Also, Fusion flowers definitely attract hummingbirds, which I have not found to be the case with other types of I. hawkeri.


We got this little wooden wheelbarrow after the old one we used as a planter finally rusted out. Planted with Calladium, Euphorbia ‘Diamond Frost’, and Creeping Jenny.


Containers along the edge of the patio: More Caladium  with Bacopa ‘Betty White’.



I’ve also been mixing Parsley as a filler with the other shade plants.


This is a problem area in summer. During the spring, this area is full of ephemerals: various Trilliums, Siberian squill, Virginia Bluebells, etc. But by summer, it’s a big blank spot. I’ve tried a variety of succession plants (Japanese Anemone, Toad Lily), but the results have been uninspiring. I move some of the containers into this area during summer, but this is not an adequate solution.

I suppose there’s always the possibility of ferns, and I could encourage the Zigzag Goldenrod (Solidago flexicaulus) that’s moving into the area.


Another problem: American Spikenard (Aralia racemosa) has been very disappointing. It looks good until early summer, then loses all its leaves. Not a good look at all.

This has happened the last two summers in a row. Time to think about some substitutes.


It’s too bad, because I like the Spikenard berries.


One last problem: Rupert is losing his feathery colors. This is a shame because Judy spent a long time carefully applying paint after using a fixative. Rupert should probably spend the winters in the garage, but Judy has to figure out how to restore his color.

That’s all for now.

33 Comments on “A Shady Garden in August”

  1. The Blue Lobelia is indeed an underrated plant. I have a couple seeders here that are looking good in summer to late summer. One is Linaria purpurea (Purple Toadflax) yes, for sunny areas but mine reseeds in the middle of Wild Ginger and Penn Sedge all the time. And, of course, there are those sedges. One of my favs is C. muskinomensis. Happy gardening!

  2. That blue really shines in the garden .. I love how you use such nicely planted containers ..
    I wish I had more energy to do that myself .. caladium is such a pretty mainstay to plant other complimentary fillers with.
    This time of year I find the garden really winding down now .. so many bug bites on foliage .. a time gap in when some plants will flower next .. kind of uninspiring but the gardener in us is always planning for next year , right ? LOL
    I would recommend more ferns in your problem patches .. they really can brighten those spots.
    Poor Rupert .. I have done the same thing myself .. guilt guilt ! LOL

  3. I love ferns in my shady areas, a couple of favorites are hart’s tongue fern (Asplenium scolopendrium) and leather-leaf fern (Polypodium scouleri). They’ve both been pretty drought-tolerant in my garden. What a bummer about your Aralia. Could something be wrong with it, a disease maybe? I have a few that do fine all summer. Aralia cordata ‘Sun King’ would look fabulous in your shade garden. Areas where spring ephemerals die back are always a problem for me too.

  4. Larry Weaner’s Garden Revolution has an intriguing passage on how he learned to encourage cardinal flower. Because it’s a quick-growing but short-lived plant, it depends on disturbed soil. So once an initial planting of cardinal flower sets and drops its seed, cultivating lightly right around the plants will create the conditions for a new follow-up crop. Worth trying.

  5. I just planted some Great Blue Lobelia. I can’t wait until they grow up and bloom. I have never had luck with Cardinal Flower. I have had an Aralia Sun King for three years. It has never grown taller than a foot and doesn’t do a thing for me. I think I will remove it and plant something else. Those empty spaces would bother me too even tho they say you need someplace for the eyes to rest.

  6. I’m sorry about your spikenard. It’s such a big, hold plant, whose leaves are a considerable part of its charm, that this kind of dieback is understandably hard to put up with. All the Aralia racemosa I’ve seen in gardens here (western foothills of the Blue Ridge in Virginia) are in fairly woodsy situations. Is there a chance that lavishing it with leaf compost would help?

  7. I think your various containers involving the caladiums are so attractive. It occurs to me that it’s partly the mix of plants accompanying them that help to make the total more than the sum of the parts involved. Clearly, my friends and I, who certainly aren’t gardeners, haven’t fully appreciated the importance of underplantings.

  8. Goodness, you got some fun varieties. I have never seen that lobelia, and have not even seen cardinal flower for many years. I actually think that the mistake is prettier than cardinal flower. (I did not grow it in my own garden, but as a cut flower crop.)
    Aralia is a new one for me, and only because there is a big native one growing in one of my garden parcels. It looks so weird leaves that look like really big English walnut leaves. It dies back even sooner here because of the dry air. I can not remove it because it was there first, and I sort of want to get acquainted with it.

  9. The comment I left last week disappeared into the ether last week so I’ll try again now. What I most noticed was how great all the foliage is in your shade garden, Jason; I know you say that you’re not a foliage person but your choice of plants is perfect for this area.

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