Keep your yard cool, clear and charming through spring and summer with the art of shade gardening.
Persistent sun will keep a few would-be gardeners inside this summer, but most will bear the heat grudgingly and a few will enjoy the weather by gardening in the shade. Shade gardening works in New Hampshire where tall, leafy trees abound - these types of gardens host plants that thrive in the shadow of an oak or pine. And, maybe best of all, shade gardeners can create a beautiful yard without all the withering work.Not everyone is lucky enough to have shade, but early retirees Nora and Steve Gelinas had plenty of it when they moved onto a heavily forested acre of land in Bedford 33 years ago. "It was all woods," says Nora Gelinas, 55, thoroughly tanned from her annual six-month stay in Florida. "We did all the landscaping ourselves."Looking out at the lush lawn you'll see that it's dappled with shade and dotted with dark berms sprouting 60-meter oaks and foot-high hostas. Azaleas, bleeding hearts, impatiens and daylilies offer a flash of color.
Over the years, while Steve, now 59, selectively cut the forest to create a lawn and trimmed the trees until all limbs lifted from view, Nora grew her hostas. She began splitting them to grow more each spring. "It was an addiction at that point," she says, "and then I said, 'How about a nice pond there?'"Nora lured Steve into constructing a shallow pond with some rubber pond material, some flat stones and some ingenuity. Then Steve planted filtered pipes and a tank to bring the whole thing to life. This homemade wonder has outlasted the store-bought version that they recently removed. The waterfall voice blends in with the bird-song and squirrel-chatter above the openness provided by towering, trimmed oaks.For Steve, who built the log cabin home, "sitting here and enjoying it afterwards" makes gardening worth the effort. And what an effort it has been.Aside from the cabin and pond, Steve's built a storybook playhouse/workshop for the family, complete with loft bedroom. He's also erected an outhouse/tool shed for himself and restored an old shed he picked up years ago. All of his artistic touches - shutters and trimming - create a wondrous, fairy-tale mystique about the lawn, which consists of shade grass."My favorite is working around my pond," says Nora, "and placing different plants. And I just love collecting little statues for my gardens."The little statues have lives of their own, it appears. The couple's six granddaughters are constantly moving them around, says Nora. Their inconspicuous, almost-hidden placements elicit second glances from visitors.Nora's made several of the pots in her garden out of hypertufa. Mix peat moss, sand and vermiculite together and let it sit in a mold and a week later you'll have a hypertufa pot resembling natural stone and culturing moss.Moss also seeps in between the cracks of the mosaic stone walkways. The moss cuts down on mowing duties and weeding, and it grows well in the shade.Aside from shade, moss and hypertufa, the Gelinases have found other ways to garden coolly and efficiently. The couple bolsters their garden bed berms with lawn and leaf compost. Building berms under the oaks makes mowing easier and adds an artistic shape and definition to the landscape.The real heros, however, are the hostas. "You can't kill 'em" says Nora. And the varieties are endless - she has about as many hosta varieties as she has hosta plants.Her main hosta bed, blanketed in pine shade, is covered in needles. The bed, in effect, helps fertilize and mulch itself."Ninety percent of this stuff comes back every year," says Steve, "and then she puts the color in after." The couple loves returning from Florida to find their hostas alive and well. The verdant atmosphere is canvas to some 1,200 impatiens that Nora plants each year. The Gelinases care more about their garden than meets the eye. Each fall, they fill up the back of the truck with their precious potted plants, which then accompany them down to Florida. As you might expect, they have some of the oldest and biggest begonias in the neighborhood. NH
This article appears in the July 2011 issue of New Hampshire Magazine