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Some Evergreen Shrubs

Mahonia repens (Creeping Mahonia) I can never over-emphasize the importance of evergreen shrubs in the garden. Otherwise, you have nothing to look at during the winter months. Here are a few of my favorites. Talk about a carefree plant! The PNW native  Mahonia repens (Creeping Mahonia or Creeping Oregon Grape) requires nothing special and will even tolerate drought after it is established. I tend to think of this plant more as a groundcover but after many years (six to be exact - it was planted in April of 2017) it is beginning to look more like a low-growing shrub. The height is less than 2 feet tall. Growth tends to be more horizontal and it has spread 3-4 feet. Not a fast grower. Sun or part-shade. The leaves are an attractive blue-green and they become tinged with red and purple when the weather is cooler.  Flowers have been sporadic but every year they increase. It usually blooms around April - The flowers are then followed (around July) by the berries or "grapes" - Os

The shade garden

The only shady area in the garden is along the back property line which is shaded by a large pink dogwood and a row of rather large and ungainly Red Tip Photinias. It does get some morning sun. This is the view from the bottom of the slope looking up the pathway. I created three access points to get to the top - the other two (to the right and in sunnier areas) are steps. I wanted to leave this pathway as it was in order to get a wheelbarrow up the slope with ease. 

Anytime I bring home a new plant that requires shade, it is usually destined for this particular area. Needless to say, there isn't room left for much. Ferns, hosta, hydrangea, heuchera, epimedium, and others reside here. Near the top, on the far left, is the Anise (Illicium floridanum 'Woodland Red'), a beautiful woodland shrub with lovely blooms that unfortunately have a horrible odor. Many describe the smell as licorice but I would say it is more like dead fish. Fortunately, you have to have your nose right up on it to smell it. It is not blooming now, but here is a photo from earlier in the spring when it was -

Illicium floridanum 'Woodland Red'

Here it is, photographed this morning, with early sunlight hitting it -

Despite the fact that the border is crammed, there is actually room along the back fence for some larger shrubs or even small trees. Of course, that is if some of the photinias are removed. I initially wanted to take them out a few at a time but I'm now considering just leaving them and limbing them up and plant underneath. It is a matter of "wait and see". I am not too enthusiastic about leaving large holes that will take away our privacy from the neighbors behind us.

Some other plants in this area -

Aucuba 'Rozannie'

Hydrangea 'Pistachio'

Trochodendron araliodes (Wheel Tree) - a recent addition. This is a small evergreen tree (or large shrub), grows to about 15 ft. in gardens. It is called "Wheel Tree" because of the spoke-like arrangement of flower stamens.

Acer circinatum 'Pacific Fire' - the native vine maple. At first, I tried to grow this in a large pot in a considerable amount of sunlight and it wasn't happy. It is more at home now in the ground with protection from afternoon sun. However, it does need some sun to brighten the bright green color of the leaves.

The "Giant Cardinal Fuchsia" can supposedly grow up to 8 feet tall. It is a bit crammed underneath the dogwood tree among hydrangeas and rhododendron. I don't necessarily want it to get so tall. It is blooming nicely this year and gets better every year. This is the third year it has been in the ground.

A  classic case of the "buy before you think" scenario, I picked up this Goat's Beard (Aruncus 'Horatio') from the Dancing Oaks booth at Study Weekend. Later, I learned that it is a bog-type plant. Hmmm The soil in this border is clayey and seems moist most of the time. When planting it, I tried to mimic a more bog-like condition by placing a large plastic container that I cut to try and make it more moisture retentive. Who knows what will happen but it looks happy right now.

Asarum caudatum (Wild Ginger), planted the first spring, has spread rapidly, filling a 3 ft. space. A nice plant to share.

Text and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy


  1. I enjoyed this look around your shady area. I have a 'Pacific Fire' vine maple too, one of my favorite small trees. Mine is about 12 feet tall after probably 8 1/2 years in the ground. I love its red branches in the early spring when it starts to leaf out. I tried goat's beard when I first moved here and couldn't keep it moist enough in the summer, so you're wise to try and create bog-like conditions for it.

  2. I love shade and woodland gardens. They are peaceful and inspiring, with a canopy above and plant tapestry below, as so beautifully demonstrated in your first photograph. It seems I ran out of shady planting area too... Maybe I need more small tree to plant under.

  3. I like how all of the textures draws your eye up the hill. Definitely keep your privacy. Nothing worse than having your neighbors gawking.


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