Maintaining the Shade Garden


I wish I could show you a picture of what the west shade garden in our back yard looked like in April of last year. It was totally congested with Virginia creeper and Indian Strawberry. I mean, it was BAD! As you can see from the included pictures, we now have a nice combination of  Vinca Minor and English Ivy. I inherited the care of the garden after Stephen unfortunately developed joint disease. He would rather do it, and I am glad to do it, but at 70 + years, I have to make my bendings, kneelings and pullings count. I think I have done that, and I am here to write about it.

Ivy and Vinca Minor as Shade Garden Ground Cover
Ivy and Vinca Minor as Shade Garden Ground Cover

Last April, I got down on my hands and knees and pulled or dug out all the weeds. The Indian Strawberry is particularly insidious, because it just grows over every thing, and like strawberries, sends out long, sneaky runners that can crop up feet away. It’s true that it is a pretty plant, but the price you pay for letting it live in your garden is that it takes over and kills everything else. I have developed a technique for getting it out, though, and once it’s gone, it’s gone. There is a central root stock around which all the leaves, flowers, berries and runners gather. What you have to do is to gather all of these together with your fingers and worm your hand down toward the base as much as you can. Most of the time, you can just pull the whole plant out. But sometimes, you have to take a small trowel and break the root to pull it out. Now the Virginia Creeper is a bit easier to pull out. It is deceptive because it seeds and sends up a little plant with heart-shaped leaves. It starts slow. But it will grow straight up your back yard fence or tree, and once it does that, it becomes huge. The primary problem with the Creeper is that it is sucking nutrients out of the soil away from the other plants.

So I got all of those two plants out, and went over the yard a couple of more times last year. This year, I have spent a TOTAL of ten minutes weeding the shade garden. Two other things I did was to attend to the Vinca Minor and the English Ivy in a solicitous way. I encouraged the vines to move to uncovered spots, and I did not put down more mulch, other than allowing the Cleveland Pear leaves to stay on the ground through winter and early spring. This allows the nutrients from the decaying leaves to leach into the soil with each rain. And finally WE DO NOT USE HERBICIDES in our yard. None. We have birds and animals in our yard that we do not wish to poison, nor do we wish to add these nasty chemicals to our environment. (Neighbors, if you are listening, have ears to hear!!)

Plants in our Western Shade Garden
Plants in our Western Shade Garden

You might as well see the whole concept for the west shade garden in this next picture. There are now three Cleveland Pear trees in a row by the fence. The western shade garden is between the fence and the deck, which is badly in need of stain. We have some garden sprites and religious icons placed amidst the ground cover on rocks. Hydrangeas and hostas form a foreground. The hostas bloom in June and July. The hydrangeas bloom the first year or two after the trees are trimmed every three years. Still, the leaves are a pretty green. And finally, since impatiens love the shade, we have two pots of them hanging on the back fence for a splash of color that lasts the whole season. This shade garden NEVER has to be mowed, and basically maintains itself. In fact, we treat the occasional blade of grass that sprouts as a weed.

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Author: Jim Andris

Retired gay married early adopter. Cooking, cleaning, fixing. Makes good music occasionally; U name it. Churchy dude. Likes to think about things, too much, sometimes. Dump Trump. Trying not to do too much harm. Revisiting blogging. Looking for a new handle on things. Exploring genderqueer.