Sunday, August 1, 2010

Simply Out of Place

I distinctly remember the day, ten years ago, when I sat on the patio benches adjacent to the back deck in the blazing sun. Today, I sat on those same benches at high noon and realized that the patio was now officially a part-to-full shade gardening area. The nearby honeylocust and linden trees cast their shadows on the patio during most of the day with the exception of the low late-evening sun.

I'd been avoiding this admission most of the summer because I didn't want to concede to the rules that container gardening in the shade imposes. I didn't want to bid a final farewell to the bright flowers of full sun annuals and tropical plants, but one of the containers forced me to face reality. Sitting in the shadiest corner of the deck, the plants in the container (a former pickling crock) looked bedraggled and sick. The marigold, thyme, pentas and petunia -- all full-sun annuals -- were screaming for a brighter home on the front porch.


There are two container groupings on the back deck, one that gets a bit more light than the other, but that both demonstrate the reality of a part-to-full shade condition.


The containers in the shadier corner of the deck are comprised mostly of coleus, elephant ear and caladium -- plants that prefer low-light conditions. These containers have been vibrant and lush since planting and seem perfectly suited for the deck growing environment.


In the opposite corner of the deck, I used more flowering annuals and a large tropical hibiscus, optimistically hoping they'd get enough sun to flourish. For a while they did, but as the summer has drawn on, the plants have gotten leggy and weak, as if they were reaching for sunlight they would never receive.

One of the great advantages of container gardening is that you can pick up the container and move it to a place better suited for the plants in it. I've done that with a few of the pots from the back deck, relocating them to full-sun areas around the front of the house. Within a week or so, the annuals have responded to the additional light with a bounty of blooms and stockier, more lush foliage.


Next year, the back deck containers will have to be more like the foliage containers (example above) I plant under the red maple in the side yard, full of shade-loving plants like coleus, ivy and caladium. I'll miss the color of annual flowers out the dining room windows, but part of successful gardening is being able to adapt to changing environments and realizing that sometimes a plant, even if it's not a weed, is just simply out of place.

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