Made in the Shade

Color and texture punctuate a green canvas in the Clarks’ garden in La Plata.

Story by L. Beth Bonifant and Photography by Ed Mann | Reprinted from Summer 2014

The cooling effect of a shade garden in summer can be one of life’s simple plea­sures. The best of both worlds, a shade garden can provide you and your guests a place to enjoy the outdoors while sheltered from the hot, scorching rays of the sun.


Color and texture punctuate a green canvas in the Clarks’ garden in La Plata.

Trying to create colorful, interesting spaces in dark shadows can be challeng­ing for some homeowners. While there is no shortage of planting material for full­ or part-sun conditions, shade choices can seem more limited. I recently visited the gardens of two “shady guys” to see how they’ve earned reputations for having bright ideas for dark places.

Growing up in Mount Carmel Woods, Matt Grote experimented with growing hostas in his parents’ shaded yard. Though his current house in Charlotte Hall has an open and sunny site, Grote has stuck to his garden roots. If you have childhood memories of building forts and playing in the woods, this garden will take you back to those carefree days. A distinct entrance at the edge of the woods leads to an interior of paths that meander around raised beds woven beneath the canopy of trees.

If this garden gargoyle could talk, he would probably agree with Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Earth laughs in flowers.”

A Waldorf Pottery employee, Grote has an impressive collection of planters, urns and containers situated at every turn. These add another layer of garden design to the space while elevating plants to dif­ferent heights. When choosing containers like these you’ll want to look for heavy, glazed pieces made in Vietnam and Malaysia. These will best weather our unpredictable Southern Maryland winters.
Grote’s first love, hostas, enjoy a prime location in many of his planters. While he’s still a fan of those leafy plants, there are additions to his garden family. These include tender woodland plants such as Jack-in-the-pulpit (Ariseama tri­phyllum), an unusual hooded green bloom with an upright spadix known as the “Jack” inside each flower, and toad lily (Tricyrtus), a late summer bloomer with numerous speckled flowers that pro­vide an important source of nectar butterflies and humming birds as they prepare to migrate south.

Not impressed with rhododendrons or azaleas, Grote’s current crush is camellias. These handsome shrubs haw glossy evergreen leaves and spectacular peony-size flowers in spring. There are fall-blooming varieties as well. However. if I were to diagnose his obsession, it
would have to be hellebores, evergreen perennials that flower before the calen­dar date of spring. As an avid collector. Grote has amassed hundreds of these charming plants.

Randy Clark and his wife Janice are lucky to live in La Plata in the presence o mature hardwood trees. Oark’s vision for his colorful recreational garden area real­ly started to take shape after the installation of a swimming pool. The pool and ho tub are at the heart of his plan, but the enclosed space surrounding them is what draws your eyes. Clark added a third water feature, which includes a waterfall and pond. The couple joked about fre­quent amphibious guests who like to hang out here and practice their strokes in the pool when the humans aren’t using it. A sign over the pond states, “Frog parking only, all others will be toad.”

Oark’s yard follows the shade gar­den school of thought to use fun objects and create interesting vignettes. Climbing vines in shade supply a vertical element. accent an area or even cover something you want to hide. Oark chose aristocrat­ic-looking sulfur heart ivy (Hedera colchi­ca) to complement a brick wall of the house; it offers self-clinging dark green leaves with a splash of yellow. An annual (one season) favorite Oark relies on is dragon wing begonia. This lush, colorful plant fills out fast and lasts until first frost. The Greenery in Hollywood, Md., makes it easy to find these and other sun-shirking plants grouped in their tented shade areas.

No need to suffer from a nature deficit disorder just because the dog days of summer are upon us. Create your own cool oasis. Unless, of course, you’re acquainted with a couple of shady guys too!♦

To purchase any of the above men­tioned plants and shrubs inquire at Went­worth Nursery in Charlotte Hall, Oakville and Prince Frederick; The Greenery in Holly­wood; and Waldorf Pottery in White Plains. 

Shade gardens are calm and cooling places during the hottest months of the year. Here, Hakonechloa (Japanese’ gross) makes a great head of hair in Mott Grote’s Charlotte Hall garden.