Magazine article Sunset

Shady Secrets

Magazine article Sunset

Shady Secrets

Article excerpt

Northern exposure: from deep gloom to glory

Cindy McNatt, garden and home design staff writer for a West Coast newspaper, relishes a gardening challenge. So when she moved into her current home, the first planting area she tackled was the north side of her house. As gardeners who have faced this situation know, the north side of a house is especially difficult to landscape, as it's in deep gloom all winter yet can face harsh late afternoon sun in summer. Most of us settle for plant survival in these spotsa lawn or a juniper hedge, for example. But McNatt wanted glory. "I knew I couldn't rely on flowers to create interest," she says, "so I concentrated on foliage color and texture instead."

McNatt used many shades and shapes of green leaves. But she also added a strong splash of burgundy, primarily from `Gulf Stream' heavenly bamboo (Nandina domestica) in the background and fat-leafed Iresine berbstii (bloodleaf) in midborder. (In the mountains, where these plants are too frost tender to survive, substitute plants such as red-leaf Japanese barberry or purple smoke tree.) For brightness, McNatt brought in golden Japanese sweet flag (Acorns gramineus 'Ogon'), the grass at the border's edge, as well as lime-green zonal geraniums in pots. Splashes of silver-lamb's ears and bulbous oat grass-add further light. The few flowers coordinate with leaf accent colors. The burgundy flower spikes belong to two species of Persicaria, and the big poufs of lime green are garden hydrangea (H. macrophylla).

Conquering this northern exposure has been immensely satisfying, says McNatt. "Over time, the border has become richer-more layered and textured," she says. …

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