Favorite or New Plant
Groundcovers for Dry Shade
Finding plants that thrive in the dry shade under the canopy of mature trees can be a big challenge. Grass doesn't have a chance, and many groundcover plants struggle to compete with the tree for light, water, and nutrients. One good choice for these tough spots is bigroot geranium (Geranium macrorrhizum), a fast-spreading plant with large, lobed, rounded leaves about a foot tall and early summer flowers in rosy tones held above the foliage. I grow the cultivar 'Ingwersen's Variety', with light pink flowers, in a sloping bed underneath a yellowwood tree, where it mixes with yellow archangel (Lamiastrum galeobdelon 'Herman's Pride'), another excellent choice for dry shade. This particular Lamiastrum cultivar is clumping, rather than spreading (avoid the straight species, which can be an aggressive spreader). Its green leaves are beautifully veined with silver and are accented with interesting, hooded, yellow flowers in spring. Also in the same bed and another choice tolerant of dry shade is barrenwort (Epimedium spp.). Its heart-shaped leaves are attractive all season long; in the spring, small, nodding, spurred flowers add interest. There are many lovely barrenwort species and cultivars available, so choosing only one wasn't easy. In the end I chose E. grandiflorum 'Lillafee', that grows 12 to 15 inches tall and displays its relatively large, lilac-purple flowers on wiry stems above the foliage in spring. All of these plants are hardy at least to Zone 4.
Tool or Gardening Product
This is my one, indispensable piece of gardening equipment -- I don't leave the house without it! Because we gardeners are necessarily out in the sun so much, finding a well-designed, broad-brimmed, washable hat that you like enough to wear consistently is a must to avoid the perils of too much sun exposure. My current selection is made by Sloggers in heavy, brushed cotton in dark brown (so the dirt doesn't show) with a strap that can be cinched with a sliding clip to keep it in place on windy days. Other stylish and lighter-weight styles are available from on-line retailers of sun protective clothing such as Coolibar, Sun Precautions, and Solartex. Buy two hats and keep one in the car to have on hand when you spend an afternoon plant shopping at a local nursery or garden center.