Friday, October 25, 2013

Welcome to the Dark Side: Redesigning the Shade Garden


The beginning of the shade garden before I extended the beds. I extended them another 18 inches or so after this photo was taken.

I stand in the garden and stare. I do this often, all this standing and staring. I pace silently, my eyes scanning the shady beds, irritation rising in my throat like bile. The plants lie jumbled, a dog pile of leaves and stems. Brunnera squeezes past the hellebores for a quick glimpse of the sun, stretching across desiccated hostas and pop up violets to announce itself with a slight yelp.


The area at the base of the river birch is so dry several hosta nearly died.


 The top of this bed is at the bottom of a small hill and is moister than the area at the front. It's hard to tell in these photos, but this area is on a very slight slope.

Shallow and badly designed, I stop photographing this area come summer when spring blossoms no longer hide the mess. Perennials planted nine years ago clog the bed like commuters at rush hour, a blob of green in a narrow bed. The beds need to be extended and new plants added. I stop and mentally scan plant lists I've cataloged over the years. Bone dry shade: the list is short and frustration swells. Epimediums needed to be divided, the brunnera rescued, and the hostas given moister soil. The Solomon's Seal were slowly drowning in a sea of anemone canadensis and I couldn't find the bigroot geraniums or purple euphorbia. I analyze and fret.


This area is moister than the rest of the shade garden and features spigellia, Japanese anemones 'Honorine Jobert', pulmonaria 'Moonshine', as well as thornless blackberries and other perennials.

What if I pick all the wrong plants? What if you don't? What if it all looks craptastic next year? What if it doesn't? This is going to be a ton of work. Yes, it is. Now get your butt out there and get it done.

So I did.

I started by increasing the depth of the beds by about three to four feet and creating a deep curve. The curve helps catch rain and trap it in a drainage basin for the river birch. It also keeps this area moister. I removed all the sod with a shovel, laid it out to dry so the worms would return to the moister soil underneath, and then shook as much soil as possible from the grass before composting the remaining turf. Almost 40 bags of composted leaf mold were used to fill in the new extension. The hardest part of the redesign was finding plants that would thrive in dry shade but also attract pollinators. Plants that attract and support wildlife are marked with an asterisk. 

I've broken down each each area of the garden into different sections based on their light and moisture conditions. The area below receives morning sun and afternoon shade and has moist, well draining soil. Because visualizing how this will all look next spring/summer takes a bit of imagination, I've created collages to highlight the different plants I chose.


With the exception of the dwarf lespedeza, which I've already killed once, and the 'Lodden's Anna' campanula, all of the plants in this area are from other spots in the garden. 

The shade garden merges with my mostly sunny Founding Flowers garden, which was also redesigned. Two David Austin roses were transplanted to the sunny side (not pictured) while a swath of 'Romiley Purple' veronica * and a large patch of stokesia * were divided and added to the moist tip of the partly shaded curve. Variegated 'Ascot Rainbow' euphorbia and no name hostas were added for foliage interest.





Kalimeris is sold as a sun loving perennial but it grows well in bright, dry shade, too. Solomon's Seal purchased on clearance and already dormant has been planted in front of the crape myrtle. The northern  sea oats grass (chasmanthium) has already been cut back.

Because this area is so dry, a soaker will be added to keep the soil moister. The new drainage basin created by the deep curve will also help trap water, although it will quickly be devoured by the ever thirsty river birch. This bed is also full of anemone canadensis. Sedum 'Autumn Joy'* and 'Autumn Charm'* are also sun lovers that thrive in dry partial shade. I forgot to add the sea oats to the collage.


These won't all bloom at the same time. This bed features plants that bloom from late winter (hellebore) to fall (sedum). If you follow each collage from the upper left hand corner (hellebore) to the pink fluffy sedum in the middle, you can trace the bloom schedule of the plants in each bed.


There's no significance in the colored letters. The black letters were hard to see. 


The first plant to bloom in this area will be the Solomon's Seal (far left), followed by the red columbine and Bowman's Root. By mid summer the 'Goldsturm' rudbeckia (middle left) will be lush and colorful. This bed is an odd spot for a baptisia, but it's happy so I'm leaving it alone.


In the moistest part of the shade garden, broad leafed mountain mint * and 'Goldsturm' rudbeckia * - which thrives in moist, bright partial shade - were planted with a cluster of native Bowman's Root, Japanese anemone 'Max Vogel' and 'Honorine Jobert', 'Laura' geraniums pratense *, spigelia marylandica *, and native red columbine*. Pulmonaria 'Dark Vader' and 'Moonshine' were added to brighten the shady beds. I removed the plant that was growing between the mountain mint and the baptisia and will let the mountain mint fill the area.

This area is moist enough to keep the Japanese anemones happy but too dry to allow them to become aggressive. Short pink 'Serenade' hybrid anemones (non-aggressive) and 'Pink Octopus' campanula were added to the front border. It's possible the red and yellow columbine might clash with the pink and blue flowers of the pulmonaria. But it's also possible that I might not mind.




The first to bloom in this bed are the epimediums (upper left), followed by the columbine and Bowman's Root. The last to bloom are the pink 'Max Vogel' and white 'Honorine Jobert' Japanese anemones. 

This bed is at the bottom of a hill and is the moistest spot in my shade garden. However, because of the two crape myrtles, the soil is well drained. Epimediums can take very dry soil but after years of fighting for moisture with the river birch, I thought I'd give them a break by planting them in moister soil. There was much cheering and applause.





This collage also shows the bloom time of the plants, starting with the yellow epimediums in the upper left hand corner. These are followed by Golden Alexanders*, 'Chester Thornless' blackberries*, pulmonaria 'Moonshine', salvia koyamae, and spigelia marylandica*. The 'Chocolate' eupatorium* and Big No Name hosta aren't pictured.




The almost finished redesigned shade garden
I just need to add soaker hoses and mulch and I'll be completely done.


Shivering in my thin garden pants, I finally stand, my knee pads thick with compost, and begin to pace. I follow the new curve but don't analyze or fret. I just smile.



Most of the native and hard-to-find plants were purchased at Lazy S's Farm Nursery. The 'Max Vogel' anemones came from Bluestone Perennials. Everything else came from my local nurseries.

70 comments:

  1. Congratulations on just biting the bullet and diving in to a redesign. Dry shade is absolutely the hardest conditions to garden with, I think. You've given us a good list of plants to consider for these conditions. So glad you're smiling now. Nothing better than finally being satisfied with a difficult area.

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    1. It's taken me a long time to figure out dry shade. It's definitely the hardest area in my garden to work with. But I think the redesign is going to work well.

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  2. I don't know which impresses me most - the effort that went into the redesign and planting or your very professional presentation of annotated pictures and photo collages! I think I need to have you come here and stare at my back border a bit as I'm completely disillusioned at present. I spent the afternoon tearing stuff out. Moves and replanting will follow when I figure out what the bleep may do better.

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    1. I knew if I wanted this post to be helpful that I needed to make the info as accessible as possible. So that meant annotating and being as specific as possible. If I see a picture full of plants I'm not familiar with but don't know the growing conditions or the names of the plants, then the photo isn't that helpful. I wish I could help you but it's been so long since I lived in CA, I wouldn't even know where to start.

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  3. AMAZING! Lets start with your emotion at the beginning of the post as you looked and assessed your area....your description of how you were feeling was so well written. I can just imagine myself standing there in that moment as I have many times in various locations of my garden. I am so impressed with how well you know your space and how detailed you were with every plant. I can only hope to achieve that precision one day. Your shade bed looks fantastic! I love it pulled out that way! It changes the whole feeling of the space! And your plant selections...WOW! I am bookmarking this post for future reference!

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    1. Yay! I feel satisfied and happy every time I look at it. I know an area is a problem when I don't take pictures of it or blog about it. That's always my first clue, along with thinking "Ick" every time I pass a garden bed I don't like. I love the big deep curve, too. I wish I'd done that 10 years ago!

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  4. Wow.....Amazing, Tammy! I always get stuck on researching what to plant, let alone going through the entire process! You are awesome and I look forward to your pictures in the future! :)

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    1. Don't get bogged down in the details, although it's very easy to do. It's rare to find one plants that has every single quality we want.

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  5. OMG! What a project and how brave you are! It looks much better already! Dry shade area with some big trees' roots is the most scary area in my garden. I catch myself doing the same thing that you described in the very beginning: standing and staring. I am jealous regarding 40 bags of compost! It sounds delicious!

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    1. I knew I needed to do something since all my standing and staring wasn't accomplishing much. Ordering a truck load of compost would have been much cheaper but I didn't have anywhere to put it that wouldn't have blocked the garage so I just bought the bags instead. I'm really happy with the redesign. It feel good to see it completed.

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  6. Wow. I am totally in awe of your redesign. It looks really nice. I love the curves in the bed and the way the trees are limbed up. Very nice. I look forward to photos next year. Great job!

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    1. I can hardly wait to see what it looks like next year. :o) I will definitely post pictures!

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  7. Boy am I impressed with this post and all you've done. The sheer hard work is one thing, but also the research on the plants and then to share them so specifically with us. Thank you! Being in Portland, we don't have dry anything -:), but I sure have shade to deal with. I've learned a lot. P.S. You are so funny Tammy. I'm reading Jenny Lawson's (The Bloggess) new book. She is really out there....but there are some definite very funny ways of talking. (Maybe it was the vagina thing......-:)

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    1. Thanks! I will have to check out Jenny Lawson. :o) I love the physical labor of gardening. It just feels so good. I knew this post needed to be specific to be helpful so I enjoyed the extra time I spent on all the photos.

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  8. You inspire me to redesign my east back yard. Right now, I planted vegetables and some flower also foliage there. But the vegetables weren't doing well.
    Thank you for sharing.

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  9. Wow, you have been a busy bee, and you have created what looks like it will be a magnificent display of flowers in the new garden bed.
    Can't keep a good woman down they say......

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    1. Once I'm committed to something, I'm like a rat terrier. I just won't give up. I knew I had to fix this area and knowing I was working toward a solution was all the motivation I needed.

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  10. Good for you Tammy! I really like the new bed lines and I love that you picked plants to support wildlife. That is a real challenge in the shade garden.

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    1. It was a challenge, indeed! Most plants that support wildlife are sun lovers. I'm glad sedum grows well in bright partial shade because that will benefit my fall pollinators.

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  11. That is an awful lot of work but it's going to pay off for you big time. It's going to be lovely next Summer and even more so the following year as things mature even more.
    Cher Sunray Gardens

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    1. I agree! As the years go by, I think this bed will just get better.

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  12. Yes she did? The garden has a really lovely shape with a wonderful variety of plants. The success of this garden will rest in the great deal of planning that you have done and the time that you have taken to understand the conditions of the garden. Well done. I have am finally getting a shade canopy so that I can plant a shade garden in the front. I'll take lessons from you. Can't wait to see the garden develop over the year.

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    1. Many of these plants are southeastern natives but there should be several in the mix that would do well for you. Epimediums and Solomon's Seal are the most drought tolerant in my garden that would also grow for you.

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  13. The new curve of the bed is a huge improvement -- the shape and scale of it are just right. That alone, regardless of the plants chosen, will make you happy. But you also have put some real thought into the plant selection, especially things like light and moisture needs, which I completely ignore most of the time, to mixed effect. I can't wait to see how all your new combinations work out next season!

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    1. You're right about the scale. The long narrow beds and tall trees just looked wrong. The deeper curve looks so much better and everything isn't as crowded. I'm a very research based gardener. The idea of just sticking something in the garden without knowing what it wants makes me twitch. Sometimes I overanalayze a planting and make myself crazy.

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  14. I am exhausted! What a lot of work you have done: planning it, rearranging and planting it, and then writing about it! The results, from your photos, should be fabulous and well worth all the effort. I have found the big projects are best just DONE, just getting in there and doing it without thinking too hard about the effort. I love the new curve! Now you deserve a good rest in that hammock! By the way, thanks so much for mentioning me on your new Garden Love feature! I am humbled and most appreciative. Have a great weekend! Deb

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    1. You're very welcome! I would love to park my butt in that hammock but I still have so much work left to do before it gets too cold. But I do see some hammock time in the very near future.

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  15. Great work! It is odd how plants can be a little unpredictable about where they will or won't thrive. What kind of soaker hoses do you use? I use plain flexible hoses that I roll out early each season. There is no permanent installation, I just connect them to the hose from the water spigot as needed. You've got some of my shade favorites, including Aquilegia canadensis and Zizia aurea. After reading about Spigelia on your blog, I saw some at a local garden center and bought just about the whole lot.

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    1. I am so glad you bought spigelia. It's such an incredible plant. It needs to be well drained but moist. I use cheapo soaker hoses from Lowe's and leave them in the garden all year. But my winters are much milder than yours. Duct tape is great at fixing them.

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  16. I'm tired just thinking about the planning and thought say nothing of the work you did. You've inspired me to get a little more done in my garden this fall instead of waiting until late winter to get out there ad get busy.

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    1. It was a big project but a fun one. I've also redesigned my rain garden/sunny side garden and should have that finished tomorrow. It's already been below freezing at night so it's a rush to get it all done before it gets too cold.

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  17. I have dry shade in the planters under the ash trees. I battled. Now I've drifted to masses of Chasmanthe bulbs. Fading to gold as summer starts to show her teeth.

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    1. I need to check those bulbs out to see if they grow here. Dry shade can be a beast but it's satisfying to learn how to work with it.

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  18. Hooray, what a great job you did. The curve in the bed adds a lot of design and the new plant arrangement will make every happy. I am curious about the Bowman's Root: how much dryness can it take?

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    1. Thanks! Bowman's Root is a champion of dry shade. It's one of my favorite shade plants. The spot where it's growing under the river birch is one of the driest spots in the garden.

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  19. Wow! Go You!! Fabulous post, fabulous detail and loads of fabulous ideas n' inspiration. Fabulous! :-)

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  20. I do so love that curve...sigh...

    What a job, but you tackled it, and you have won!

    Now I am going to take another look at your plant list, and see if anything that you choose will work for my dry beds, only problem is they get more sun. But you never know what is going to work until you do the research.

    Jen

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    1. I think quite a few of them would thrive in your garden. :o) Porteranthus stipulatus is a native that is very similar to Bowman's Root but is taller, wants more sun, and a red base to the flowers. It also has beautiful fall foliage. I just moved mine out of the shade and into a sunnier spot.

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  21. I'm impressed, no, awed, by your analysis, planning and execution. And looking forward to seeing it all grow and prosper.

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    1. Thanks! I'm excited about its possibilities. :o)

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  22. I am doing the same analysis and redesign in several spots next year....I have to live with my garden for a while as it has been neglected for years due to work...but I love what you did and it is close to how I am planning to tackle it all...congrats on a fab job!

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    1. Sometimes letting our gardens fend for themselves gives us the best information because it's authentic site based data about what works in that spot, as opposed to a greenhouse. I never would have known how tough brunnera is until I found it surviving in bone dry conditions under a hellebore. The same goes with kalimeris. For this redo, I couldn't look at that area as a whole but as separate sections with different needs.

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  23. Wow, congratulations on a beautiful job reworking that whole area instead of just moving a few plants here and there. Your writing brought us in to the project and your science teacher side really shows in all the thought and detail. Like others I'm looking forward to seeing more photos of this emerging new plan beginning next spring!

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    1. I'd played the plant shuffling game the year before and it just reinforced the idea that I needed to overhaul the whole area. I definitely revealed my organized/detail-oriented side in this post. The annotated photos are physical replicas of what I'd been carrying around mentally as I redesigned this area. I can hardly wait to see it next spring. :o)

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  24. Such a lot of work you've done! I am impressed by the scale of this project and your determination to get it done. Bravo! It was neat to see the plants all mapped out in your photos- a master plan clearly illustrated.
    Dry shade is sure a tough nut to crack. I have this one spot where I have tried many different plants and they either die or look terrible. I think this is because I try to fight the conditions by planting things billed as "part shade" rather than accepting this spot for what it is-"full shade". One of these days I find the perfect combination of plants!

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    1. I have a chunk of my Sunnyside garden that has become dry partial shade that I've been in denial about all summer. I finally had to admit that the sun lovers needed to be replaced with shade tolerant plants. I'm hoping they're as happy as I imagine they'll be. I'd appreciate a crystal ball so I can see the plants next summer before I plant them this fall!

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  25. I loved reading about what you did, in part because I've been procrastinating on doing the same thing in my back yard. Somehow I keep postponing it because it seems so overwhelming. Like you, I stand and stare, and stare and stare. It's interesting seeing what you have growing in part shade - and dry-ish shade, to boot. I would never have thought stokesia would work there, for example. Or brunnera. Or pulmonaria.

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    1. I added the 'Moonshine' pulmonaria this spring and they thrived so I added more when I extended the bed. The variegated brunnera isn't nearly as drought tolerant as the sold green. Had it not self seeded and grown despite being squished by the hellebores and anemone canadensis, I never would have known how tough it was. As for the stokesia, it's taken a long time to learn how to make them happy. They want moist, well drained soil in bright partial shade. The river birch makes sure that nothing stays wet for too long in that spot.

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  26. I, too, often stand in the garden and stare, working out how it could be improved, but it doesn't usually lead to such an amazing transformation! This must have been a huge amount of work ( on the ground and also in this blog post with all its labels and collages) but how satisfying for you. It does look as though the whole bed is now stretching out with a sigh of relaxation. Looking forward to seeing it as the plants fill out.

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    1. I really like your description of the bed stretching out and relaxing. It was a bit constipated before. It was a lot of work but I loved all of it. I'm mulching tomorrow and will finally be done. I have quite a few spring bloomers in this bed so I'm glad I won't have to wait til summer for any action. :o)

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  27. Phew ! That was a labour of love ! look forward to photos through the season charting your successes (see the positive thinking I'm doing on your behalf !!). Esp interested in Solomon's Seal which peeps shyly out at me in my garden,for a nano second, before being devoured and shredded by some nasty little beasties ! I do love the nano second though !

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    1. You must have a bug that hasn't made it to the US yet. Nothing seems to bother my Solomon's Seal, which I'm grateful for. But it was a labor of love, for sure. Plus, I was just tired of looking at all the mess. Something had to be done!

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  28. A labor of love indeed! Wow...I'm seriously impressed. So much work and thought. But you love it so I know it's not work (well...kind of...sort of...NOT! :) :)

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    1. It felt like I was putting a puzzle together. I just had to find all the right pieces. :o)

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  29. Tammy, It's startling how much work you planed in your garden. Redesigning garden and a lot of new plants. Happy Halloween!

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    1. I also redesigned the other side of my garden, too. :o) Happy Halloween to you, too! Does Russia celebrate this holiday?

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  30. Isn’t it great when a good plant comes to realization! Congratulations on getting your new bed done, it looks great, can’t wait to see it all in flower next year. Dry shade is so hard to deal with, I have the same problem at the bottom of my garden and have killed a good few plants in my attempt to create a bed there. I am thinking about having a soaker hose in my beds too, just dreading laying it out, the beds are so filled with plants it will be a big job getting the hose around everything and in the right distance.

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    1. Soaker hoses can be a life saver and are pretty easy to squish in between plants. You can even find some with a fairly narrow width. I've killed lots of plants in dry shade!

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  31. Yes, this is all so familiar. Especially the part about standing in the garden and staring. And then pacing around, stopping, and staring again. My neighbors must wonder about me sometimes. ;-) Dry shade has been more of a problem for me in recent years because of drought conditions. One area, in particular, was filled with beautiful Ferns that all croaked last summer. I kind of let it go this summer, but recently planted seeds for Virginia Bluebells and Pennsylvania Sedge with a layer of Marsh Hay as mulch. We'll see how they take. Your photos with labels are great, and very helpful in visualizing your plans.

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    1. I hope all those seeds take root and grow. :o) I've known for a while that this area needed help I just wasn't sure what I wanted to do. I'm hoping other gardeners will find those photos helpful enough to inspire them to tackle a similar project if they were feeling unsure of how/where to start.

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  32. Love the new deeper beds and smooth curve, that really works well. But what I really love is your method of planning and recording for each area, I have bookmarked this to swot up some ideas - thank you! I hope it thrives and makes you smile next year. And for many years afterwards.

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    1. Me, too! Go ahead and take every idea on the page! That's why I created such a detailed post. I wanted it to be helpful to other gardeners.

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  33. yah for you!! impressive lady, seeing that a redesign was necessary and then diving right in and doing it. Well researched plants and you did the whole project all the way through. All things I'm terrible at! Wanna come finish my flower bed? pretty pretty please

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    1. I redesigned half my garden this fall. I just haven't shown the other beds yet. :o) Buying or transplanting plants without having done any research on how to make them happy would make me twitch. I like the problem solving aspect of it. I would love to redesign your beds!! When I lived in zone 4 delphiniums, astrantia, lady's mantle, campanula, yarrow, Persian cornflowers, etc all grew really well for me. Maybe you could create a post where other gardeners can help you plan the bed? It would be fun to read everyone's ideas.

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  34. Wow, what a project! I really admire that you had the guts to take it on! It looks great right now and I hope that the re-designed areas will develop into what you had envisioned in the future. I think widening the beds is key. It gives you so much more possibilities. In my garden I deal a lot with very narrow beds, which can't be widened, because there is not more space and it drives me crazy!
    Christina

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  35. You did a great job all around. It is hard dealing with the dry areas in gardens, especially those shaded too. I love the Crepe Myrtles and River Birch even though the water needs are a problem. Your soaker will be a big help.

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  36. It is clear you have done a great deal of thinking (and pacing) on the garden and it looks great! All that work paid off:)

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  37. I need to try and find some Epimedium locally...have a lot of dry shade, would be perfect. Have- no strike that- HAD some Spigelia and it disappeared....really want some and will have to figure out a better spot to plant it so it doesn't disappear again. Love the different varieties of Pulmonaria. I have two, both are great, will have to look for Darth Vader and Moonshine.

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