Considering a shade garden?

Beat the heat with this innovative creation

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— The cool and serene shade garden at Paul and Camille Fisher's home was a highlight of the Strings Garden Tour on a sizzling Saturday a few weeks ago.

A shade garden provides a beautiful respite from hot days as well as a perfect location for many of the plants we cannot grow out in the open here in the high country. Here are a few pleasing perennials, annuals, shrubs and groundcovers to consider for your high-country shade garden.

One of my favorite shade garden perennials for our Zone 3-4 environment is the beautiful Bleeding Heart (Dicentra), which has pendant, heart-shaped pink and white flowers. Monkshood (Aconitum) with its deep blue cowl-shaped flowers is another tall garden perennial that loves a shady area.

Columbine (Aquilegia) and Lily of the Valley (Convallaria), renowned for its fabulous aroma, are two lower-growing shade garden perennials that can be grown in the Steamboat area.

For foliage, you can't beat Hostas. They can be found in miniature varieties growing just 6 inches high to large 3- to 4-foot-wide plants with solid or variegated leaves. Many guests to the Fishers' shade garden were enthused over Camille's patch of Sweet Woodruff (Galium). This plant is noted for its beautiful low-growing foliage as well as its aromatic, tiny white flowers. Other great foliage plants for shade gardens include Wild Ginger (Asarum canadense) and Brunnera, both with heart-shaped leaves.

The pointed, plume-like flower of False Spiraea (Astilbe) is an eye-catching shade-loving annual that is found in peach, pink, orange, cream and purple hues. They look good enough to eat! Impatiens is another gorgeous annual that loves a shady spot.

I think that ornamental grasses add interest to most any garden, and find the Tufted Sedge (Carex elata) a great shade garden addition. This plant grows 18 inches high with flowering stems up to 3 feet high that sport dark brown spikes. The yellow-green foliage changes to golden yellow in the fall.

For shade-loving shrubs, try Coral Berry (Symphoricarpos orbiculatus). Its bright pink flowers are followed by small white berries that last long after the leaves have fallen. Japanese Yew (Taxus cuspidata) is a fast-growing conifer that is tolerant of shady conditions, as are cultivars of the American Arbor-vitae (Thuja occidentalis). The dense foliage of arbor-vitae turns bronze in the fall.

Lungwort (Pulmonaria), despite its unappealing name, is a wonderful groundcover for shade gardens. The simple oval to lance-shaped leaves of this low-spreading plant sometimes have a downy covering and are often white-spotted. Another creeping groundcover to consider is Periwinkle (Vinca minor), which can be found growing profusely in the bulb garden at the Yampa River Botanic Park. In my garden, Vinca helps hide the yellowing foliage of my bulbs following their bloom.

The natural protection provided by trees and structures in a shade garden help keep moisture in the soil, another plus in our windy, arid environment.

If this year's hot, dry summer has motivated you to consider a shade garden, cool.

Deb Babcock is a Routt County resident and a Master Gardener through the Colorado State University Cooperative Extension office in Routt County. Questions? Call 879-0825 or e-mail: gardeners@co.routt.co.us.

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