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Journal American Rhododendron Society

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Dr. Glen Jamieson ars.editor@gmail.com


Volume 39, Number 1
Winter 1985

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Designing Shady Gardens
Rosalie Nachman
Richmond, Virginia

Reprinted from the Victoria Chapter Newsletter

        Although we know azaleas and rhododendrons are the most beautiful of all plants, even they are far more attractive when used in a comfortable garden situation rather than "rowed out" as if they were cabbages or soldiers. In my garden, I now have no "beds" and no grass, only paths. The paths may be made of stone, slate or brick as long as they look natural and curve. Straight lines have no place in a naturalistic garden. Small pools in irregular shapes add greatly, as do ground covers such as Pachysandra (solid and variegated), Liriope (dwarf, "fat", wide leafed, variegated and black), Rainbow ajuga (not as aggressive as the green), and Sarcococc(uas) which smells like heaven in March. There are at least a dozen varieties of ferns that are truly indispensible in a shady garden. Maidenhair, Hart's Tongue, Autumn, Lady, Japanese Painted, some evergreen, some deciduous, all hardy and all lovely.

Entrance to Nachman Garden
Entrance to Garden - Note use of driftwood.
Photo by Rosalie Nachman

        Wildflowers are nestled here and there for a spot of color - bluets, blood root, trillium and equisetum or horsetail rush (likes a moist spot). There are many kinds of moss that look lovely on rocks and in bare spots. What is more refreshing to the eye than wildflowers peeping through a bed of moss? Some of my favorite perennials are Helleborus - Christmas (niger) and Lenten (orientalis) rose, and the little hardy orchid, Bletilla hyancinthina. There are dozens of exciting hostas now on the market. Some are dwarfs - others giants, with all possible yellow, white, and green variegations and bloom times. Do plant lots of bulbs! I like to group at least five of one variety together, and I find that jonquils (Narissus), scilla and crocus are my best returnees.

Curving paths in garden.
On down the curving paths.
Photo by Rosalie Nachman

        Variegated leaves are a good contrast to the azaleas. Variegated English holly is good, but Aucuba japonica is a must - dwarf green and variegated are both tops, as is Sulfur with its yellow edge, Picturata which reverses it, and Crotonifolia whose scattered blotches are much more effective than "Gold Dust". Willow leafed aucuba is a nice compact shrub with lots of red berries (if a male aucuba is available). Speaking of berries, try Viburnums and both the red and white berried Nandina domestica. Mahonia bealii and Nandina are favorites of mine and have babies all over the yard.
        Andromeda or Pieris japonica is one of the earliest and showiest bloomers in the garden. There are several good varieties, but one that claims to be pink is only pink in bud. Camellias do beautifully most years. My best doers in Richmond are Gov. Mouton, Brilliant, Lady Clare, Cabez a de Vaca, Dr. Tinsley and Rose Hill. They give good shiny texture and height plus lots of bloom before the azaleas.

Pathway with lantern at entrance.
Pathway with lantern at entrance.
Photo by Rosalie Nachman

        I nestle the deciduous azaleas between and behind the other plants. 'Gibraltar' can't be beat, but the seedlings from them are fun too. One of my chance seedlings is a great yellow.

Exbury seedling and 'Sun Glow'
Exbury seedling and 'Sun Glow'
Photo by Rosalie Nachman

        My first "exciting" azaleas came from the old Tingle Nursery. Not all of the names matched the plants. It has taken me twenty-four years to begin to get the names corrected. Identification of azaleas is frequently a problem! My favorite color combination is 'Flame Creeper' and 'Waka-matsu' - orange and purple - real zap! The Robin Hills have proven to be extremely hardy, as have the Linwood Hardies and Polly Hill's North Tisbury's which are nice and flat growing and very late. Some of the Gables just can't be beat - 'Big Joe' and 'Purple Splendor' are tops. They are especially hardy, as are the Girard's, Shammarello's and Pride's. Back Acres are lovely ' 'Margaret Douglas', 'Marian Lee', 'Ivan Anderson' and 'Red Slippers'. Of course Ben Morrison's namesake is exciting as are all of his Glenn Dales. 'Anna Kehr' is a fine new cross. 'Balsaminiflorum' is a low growing tiny, unusual old timer. Satsukis bloom late and are particularly important to the smaller garden since they do not grow tall. - I'd like to try the new curly leafed ones! My old 'Isshu-no-haru', 'Kotobuki', 'Yama-no-hikari' are show offs, too. What a challenge azaleas are! There are so many really good ones that there is no place to stop collecting.

Back pond and lots of textures.
Back pond and lots of textures.
Photo by Rosalie Nachman

        Some of the rhododendrons that seem to thrive in my shade are 'Vulcan', 'Roseum Elegans', and 'Scintillation'. The yakushimanums are tops and don't outgrow a small garden - also have good texture. R. makinoi is another good small garden type.
        Middle sized trees - dogwood and Japanese maples add variation in height. Do add some big (at least 2 man size) rocks. The plants look natural against them and rocks hold moisture. Selective pruning and heavy mulching are important. Prune out the dead parts of any plant first, step back and look at what is left before getting clipper happy. The low branches of all trees are removed because nothing except mushrooms will grow in too much shade.

R. 'Mary Corcoran'
'Mary Corcoran'
Photo by Rosalie Nachman

        A collection must be unified to make a garden. Contrast in texture, height and materials used lends interest, but something must always be predominant. The garden must blend, flow smoothly from one area to another with the most plants playing a supporting role at any given time and an ever changing picture developing as the blooming season progresses. Each plant has its time to shine, some center stage as real prima donnas and others only coming into their own as accents or grace notes in a quiet garden.


Volume 39, Number 1
Winter 1985

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