Monday, May 22, 2017

A Dry Shade Garden

For a brief but glorious time, before the tree canopy has had a chance to leaf-out each spring, Sue and Terry Chaffe's garden is bright and sunlit. It is during this small window of opportunity that many of the woodland plants in Sue's garden choose to flower.

Then gradually the days lengthen and warm as the month of May moves forward. Finally, the trees that have been patiently waiting for the right moment, launch their fresh green finery.  As the leaves unfurl, the garden that was briefly sunny, becomes shady. "In the summer the garden gets as little as 3 hours of sunlight," Sue says.

Primula 'sieboldii'

Years of experience has taught Sue to embrace the ephemeral nature of woodland plants. She has lifted and divided the yellow Fairy bells, Disporum and spread them around the garden. Sue and a friend rescued wild trilliums from a nearby construction site and gave them a new home. Like the Fairy Bells, the white trilliums have flourished and multiplied. Not far from the trilliums, delicate white primroses, Primula 'sieboldii', sit atop fine, wiry stems like spring flags.

But we're getting ahead of ourselves. Let's start with another beginning of sorts and look at Sue's front garden. Starting at the corner of the property, nearest the driveway, the garden sweeps in a generous curve toward the front door.

Leopard's Bane, Doronicum 

Leopard's Bane, Doronicum is an old-fashioned perennial that you don't see as often as you should. It is one of the earliest of the daisy-type flowers to bloom and makes a great companion plant for spring tulips. It also makes a nice cut flower. Full sun or light shade. Divide in fall. height: 45-60 cm (18-23 inches), Spread: 25-30 cm (10-12 inches). USDA zones: 2-9.

Just behind the front flowerbed is a flagstone pathway leads visitors to the front door. Among the grey stones and pebbles, just to the front of the house, are a number of plants that thrive in dry conditions like the Sedum Sieboldii below.

Sedum Sieboldii 

Large Flowering Trillium, Trillium grandiflorum have white flowers with three petals which are held aloft on a stem containing a whorl of three leaves. Trilliums require moist, well-drained, slightly sandy soil that is rich in organic matter. Full to part shade. Height: 20-50 cm (7-19 inches) USDA Zones: 4-9.

Korean Spice Viburnum, Viburnum carlessii 

At the far end of the driveway is a Viburnum shrub. It's impossible to pass without pausing to enjoy the sweet, spicy fragrance of the clusters of pale pink flowers. 

Korean Spice Viburnum, Viburnum carlessii has waxy pink flowers that fade to white. The flowers are followed by bright red berries that fade to black. The green foliage turns shades of red in the fall. Full sun to part shade. Height: 4-6ft USDA zones: 4-8.

A wooden arbor with a Climbing Hydrangea, Hydrangea Petiolaris marks the entrance to the backyard.

One of the tulips at the foot of the backyard arbor.

Along the length of the garage is a shade garden that features a number of Heuchera (including the one seen in the image below).

At the back of the house is a flagstone patio and a large raised bed.

One of Sue's collection of shade-loving Heuchera. The foliage is as colorful as flowers would be. 

Epimedium and a pretty purple Primula.

Epimedium x youngianum 'Roseum' has soft lavender-rose flowers in mid-spring. The foliage is tinged with red in spring, becomes green in summer and turns bronze in late fall. Drought tolerant once established. Divide in the fall. Height: 20-30 cm (8-12 inches), Spread: 30-45 cm (12-18 inches). USDA zones: 4-9.

A Hosta with lovely variegation and wavy foliage.

An overview of the back garden. The pink flowering tree is a Eastern Redbud, Cercis canadensis

A quick stroll across the lawn brings you to the main flower bed. In summer this bed is shady and quite dry. Sue refuses to coddle her garden by watering. Instead she prefers to choose plants that can make it through the dry days of midsummer all on their own.

 Twisting and turning its way through the flowers, Sue has created a dry river bed that is a mix of small grey pebbles and stones. Anchoring the riverbed are several moss covered rocks. Plants include Heuchera, Iris, Fairy Bells and Euphorbia. In the more shaded areas, there are Hosta, Bleeding Heart and a Japanese Fern.

A friend created focal point using a mix of concrete and rock.

Wood Poppy 

Wood Poppy or Celandine Poppy, Stylophorum diphyllum has yellow flowers in spring and attractive green foliage. This plant prefers moist soil and part to full shade. Beware it is a good self-seeder in the right conditions (although young seedlings are easy to remove). Height: 30-45 cm, Spread: 45-60 cm. Zone: 4-9

After a long Canadian winter, spring always feels like a celebration. It's is a short season here in Southern Ontario and plants that flower in May take full advantage of those bright, sunny days and plenty of rain. Sue's garden is a great example of the season at its very best.

If you live in the GTA, you can visit Sue and Terry's garden in person this coming Sunday, May 28th as part of the Canadian Cancer Society's 12th Annual Spring Garden Tour. The tour represents a great opportunity to support a very worthy cause, while visiting ten of Mississauga's finest private gardens. 

Here's all the details about this year's tour:


  1. Very useful ideas for my dry shade and a lovely garden. Thank you for enabling those unable to make the tour to also get some ideas and enjoyment.

  2. Encore un beau reportage sur un très joli jardin. Les pots ici où là font une décoration sympathique.Le jardin est très bien soigné.
    Merci pour cette visite.
    Bonne journée.

  3. I love the wavy green and white hosta. Do you know the name of it?

    1. I will see if I can find out for you. 😊

    2. I am sorry Sherry, Sue wasn't sure of the name of that particular hosta. There are so many great hostas these days! I'd recommend heading to a garden centre and seeing what you can find. For instance, the hosta cultivar named 'Whee' has nice variegation and curly leaves.

  4. Epimedium Roseum is stunning. I love the red edge to the leaves. And the hosta that grows next to it is lovely with curly leaves.You have presented a very lovely garden, Jennifer.

  5. Beautiful gardens, and some really helpful information here, Jennifer.
    I really love the arbor. It is just perfect.
    Have a wonderful weekend!

  6. Stunning! I love Sue's use of rocks and whimsical bits and pieces to enhance the display of gorgeous flowers.


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