Did you pick your yard for it’s gardening characteristics? Probably not - but that doesn’t mean you can’t make the most of what you’ve got. Scope out your sunny areas, deal with the shady spots and make some choices that help you enjoy it more, get more blooms and less heartache.
Sunny areas – I had an epiphany a couple of years ago when I realized that most of my good sunny spots were planted in lawn grass. What a waste of good space! I could reduce the lawn and use those spaces for sun-loving native trees like Crabapple (Malus) and Hawthorn (Crataegus) in the front yard. On the side yard, reducing the grass would give me more room in my sunny fall border to add more native perennials like Asters, Wild Quinine (Parthenium integrifolium), Silk grass (Pityopsis graminifolia) and sunflowers (Helianthus).
I had also recently learned that Japanese Beetle grubs overwinter in grass roots so I knew that reducing my lawn would reduce the habitat for those bugs. I have removed a lot of grass in the last two years and am enjoying watching my new things grow.
Fragrant plants are unique plants that need to be appreciated by your nose. Years ago someone suggested that they be placed where you can smell them, and I have tried to incorporate that idea. I love Piedmont azaleas (Rhododendron canescens) for their blooms but even more so for their sweet smell. I have several of them among my foundation plantings. When my office window is open, I can smell them. When I walk through the yard, I pass them often, stopping to sniff the blooms in spring as I go. On my shadier side yard, I have planted Sweetshrub (Calycanthus floridus) so that I can smell it as I walk around that way.
Perhaps you can think of a place for your fragrant plants: near a porch, near a pair of chairs or even near a window that you open during that time of year.
In choosing your special place, remember to ensure it has the appropriate light/moisture conditions for the plant.
I love it when people tell me about problem areas that are too wet. There are so many good native plant choices for those areas! I encourage them to stop fighting the problem and choose plants that will thrive there. Here are just a few ideas:
Sunny wet areas: Summersweet (Clethra alnifolia), Possumhaw (Viburnum nudum), Winterberry (Ilex verticillata), Swamp hibiscus (Hibiscus coccineus), Inkberry (Ilex glabra), Elderberry (Sambucus nigra ssp. canadensis), shrub dogwoods (Cornus foemina or Cornus amomum), Cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis), Turtlehead (Chelone sp.), Copper Iris (Iris fulva) and other Iris like Iris virginica, and Spider lily (Hymenocallis caroliniana).
Shady to part sun wet areas: Florida anise (Illicium floridanum), Smooth hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens), Smooth azalea (Rhododendron arborescens), Bald cypress (Taxodium distichum), Royal fern (Osmunda regalis), Cinnamon fern (Osmunda cinnamomea), Foamflower (Tiarella sp.), Shuttleworth ginger (Hexastylis shuttleworthii).
Don’t be afraid to experiment – often shade tolerant plants can handle more sun when they get more moisture. I have seen some of the plants listed in the “shady” list above grow fine in full sun. By the way, if you need a source for wetland plants, contact Baker Environmental Nursery in Hoschton, GA.
Speaking of light, plants that need protection from the harsh afternoon sun in Georgia still need sufficient light in order to bloom. Morning light, light that comes from the east, is the solution. Native azaleas (Rhododendron sp.), Mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia), and evergreen Rhododendrons (such as Rhododendron catawbiense) thrive when sited on the side of the garden that gets 4-6 hours of sunlight before 1 pm. Don’t waste this space on plants that can handle more afternoon sun.
If you put these plants in shade to protect them from the afternoon sun, you might be disappointed in their ability to bloom. Evaluate your spaces for adequate sunlight starting from 7 am – and don’t sell your plants short when it comes to giving them what they need.
What then will you do with that area that is shady? The one where the grass won’t grow and the moss takes over … embrace the moss! Seriously, it is a beautiful plant in it’s own right and is a great medium for germinating the seeds that nature tosses your way. Give up on the grass and research plants that thrive in shade: ferns, trilliums, bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis), black cohosh (Actaea racemosa), crested iris (Iris cristata), gingers (Hexastylis sp. and Asarum sp.) to name but a few. Plants of all shapes, shades and textures will thrive for you in that “problem area”, turning your problem into a lush and beautiful woodland.