I saw one of the best shade gardens Iâ€™ve ever encountered last weekend, with thousands upon thousands of hostas, astilbes and ferns.
This fantastic 6-acre garden in Willow, N.Y. (near Woodstock) was open for the day on Saturday as part of the Garden Conservancyâ€™s Open Days Program. We thought we’d never get there, but boy was it worth the long drive.
The owner, Suzanne Warner Pierot, says sheâ€™s been gardening on this rocky and steeply sloped property since 1984.
A waterfall/fountain that she made:
Because they were in absolute peak bloom, the real stars of the garden last weekend were the astilbes. Pierot has more than 75 varieties of this shade-loving hardy perennial.
I had no idea astilbes threw off so much fragrance when planted en masse. Itâ€™s a vaguely sweet smell, like mock orange.
Astilbes like cool spots with rich, loamy soil and lots of moisture. They will do fine in direct sun, but you have to work harder to keep them moist. I love the dark red and maroon ones:
In either shade or sun, a good layer of compost or mulch will help keep them cool and weed free.
They are on just about every list of deer-resistant plants, but the deer (or something) has begun to nibble at mine this year.
Pierot, the author of â€œWhat Can I Grow in the Shade?â€ (Liveright, 1977), says she loves astilbes because they self-sow so easily. Iâ€™ve found them easy to dig up and divide, too. Suzanne has a great house, too — built right into the steep site that overlooks a creek bed.
The delicate fronds of astilbe blooms come in a wide range of colors, including pink, white, crimson, mauve, white, cream and salmon. They usually last for four to six weeks.
The hostas are a close second here when it comes to best in show.
I love the big-leafed hostas with white flowers.
The more common lavender blooms:
Hostas look so good in dappled light.
Ginger and moss:
Moss is everywhere here.
Foxglove, another great bloomer for the shade garden.
If you want to see more of Pierotâ€™s garden, buy the July issue of Martha Stewart Living. She gets a full 8-page spread, starting on page 132.
We also stopped to see Jim Dinsmore’s great garden in Olivebridge. As Suzanne and Jim both told me, their gardens could not be more different. Jim has absolutely full sun, with sandy soil and no rocks. His is classically based, with lots of symmetry and squared-off edges and beds. “You won’t find a straight line in my garden,” Suzanne says.
A look at Jim’s many beds, from a high spot near the house.
I didn’t take as many photos here because it was hot and sunny and I figured most things would look pretty flat to the camera.
I really like the way Jim uses brightly colored ornaments in parts of his garden.
Purple smokebush, one of my favorites.
Sunflowers, simply sublime on a hot summer day.
And now back to our own gardens…