We returned home from a few days at our mountain cabin to find many new wonders coming alive in the garden. Soon my central valley will be in the throes of its hot, dry summer when I swear I can see the heat move in waves before my eyes and it’s everyone into the pool on a daily basis. I appreciate every little minute of springlike weather when things start to wake up from their winter’s sleep and stretch their arms out for another year.
A couple of years ago I added a shade bed adjacent to my north facing back patio. The area had formerly been lawn and the shade from the house had made it a spectacularly unsuccessful lawn. Shade tolerant grass varieties were not the answer–as soon as you passed the line of demarcation shaded by the house you were in hot, dry country. The result was a lovely curvy bed about 25 feet long but only about 4 feet at its widest.
In this photo you can actually see the “line in the sand” drawn by the sun and the shade. As the sun moves to its summer position it does encroach somewhat more into the bed (enough to have a couple of miniature roses at the eastern end) but for most of the year the meandering little bed remains a haven for shade and moisture loving perennials including hosta, Maidenhair ferns, hellebores, pulmonarias, tiarellas, calla lilies, true geraniums and bellflowers. The bed is anchored by two standard gardenias, a couple of Pieris japonica ‘Prelude ‘ and several small hydrangeas ‘Pink Elf’. It is also home to every snail and slug within a five mile radius—sometimes it seems as though you just can’t win!!
One of my favorite inhabitants in this shady little village is a colony of Soloman’s seal (Polygonatum odoratum var. pluriflorum ‘variegata’) That’s a pretty big name for this dainty perennial whose 14″-18″ arching stems sport dangling creamy white bells in early spring. Solomon’s seal is a relative of the Lily-of-the Valley and actually a member of the same family as asparagus. Its delicate leaves are edged in white and large colonies result from the spread of its creeping rootstock. It is easy to pull up if it wanders too far but really, who would want to? If you live in cooler areas the leaves will develop a lovely yellow color before dying back for the winter. In my very hot summer climate it can look pretty ragged by fall but always comes back just as hopeful the next spring. There are several interesting explanations for the plant’s name. One is that its roots bear depressions that resemble royal seals–another that pieces of the root when cut look like Hebrew symbols. Below you’ll see the Soloman’s seal and a few of its shady neighbors!
Soloman’s friends bottom row left to right: Hellebore ‘Queen’s Double’, Brunnera macrophylla and Pulmonary ‘Tivoli Fountain’