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Made in the Shade–A Garden in the Hammock

Shades of green on a rainy day

Both of the last two month’s second Saturday Plant Sales at Washington Oaks Park in the Hammock of Palm Coast brought me within hearing of the following question: What plants grow in the shade? There once was a time that I also wondered the answer. Now I pipe up with my two cents worth and add: come take a look at our house–our garden was made in the shade. Better yet, for you that is, we frequently have self-setters that are yours for the asking.

6 years of trying to grow Bahia then Bermuda grass and at one time only celebrating success with 6 months of winter ryegrass are a testament to our effort. No more. Now we live surrounded by shades of green with intermittent splashes of color. Mother nature provided her share of help with the 7 trees she reclaimed from our neighbor’s backyard during Hurricane Matthew. A little sun is indeed important, but just a little lest you fear I have nothing more helpful to share. If you enjoy grass in some areas, don’t worry, centipede does very well in our oak hammock soil that is 9 parts sand and enjoys at least 6 hours of shade per day.

Try Centipede grass seed in the shade

Our Hammock garden is comprised of several categories of plants. These are not categories you will find in any botanical record, but rather how they made their way to our shaded Hammock home.

In Situ

Live oaks, Sabal palms, Turks Cap, shrimp plants, a few red spikes, ginger and of course ivy and ferns were well established on our vacant lots when we purchased the land for our future home back in 2004. Even with the clearing necessary to allow for our house, we retained a quantity of each.

Sabal Palm
Turks Cap

Shrimp Plant
Red Spikes

Neighborhood Gifts

The second category and the one that seems most appropriate are those plants that came from the surrounding Hammock. Some were self-setter gifts from neighbors and some were liberated from vacant lots scheduled for clearing. In all cases, some of the mother plants were left to continue to grow and multiply. It is only logical that plants thriving in conditions similar to ours (the shade) would have a decent chance at survival.

The easiest to transplant are the Bromeliads. They are actually air plants that only need the support of soil. They take their nutrition from the air. They do best in the shade. This row that lines our drive is a little light in leaf color as they were actually getting too much sun at one time. Be careful some have spikey foliage!

Bromeliads with too much sun
Just the right amount of shade

I have found that all types of lilies and irises like the shade. Even your potted Peace Lilies feel at home out of their pots. Walking Iris make for great potted plants and although ours first came as a gift, they could just as easily make it into several of my categories.

Swamp Lily
Flax Lily
Peace Lily
Walking Iris
Walking Iris Specimen

I love Peperonia. It is actually a type of miniature rubber plant. It really does not like the sun. Believe me, I tried. The glossy leaves in the photo below are the Peperonia. They never receive sun. The white blossom is Star Jasmine sometimes referred to as Confederate Jasmine. It also does very well in the shade and covers one of our boundary fences.

Peperonia with Star Jasmine

Lest you get annoyed looking at all my neighborhood gifts, I am going to finish with just 2 more. They look and sound the most exotic: Devil’s Backbone and Oakleaf Hydrangea. The Oakleaf came to us as two small pups. They took quite a few years to feel at home, but this year they rewarded us with lush foliage and flowers.

Devil’s Backbone
Oakleaf Hydrangea
enjoying its 1 hour
of morning sunlight

Home Grown

The fourth category belongs to our very own nursery plants–those raised from seed or cuttings. Some from the more tropical clime of Key West. What an awesome feeling of success, like watching a child grow from a helpless infant to independent adult. Jacarandas, Papayas, Avocadoes, Ponderosa Lemons, and Powder Puffs are trees in addition to the above mentioned plants. You may gather the seeds as we did or take cuttings to raise your own. If you are lucky, I may have some started that you are welcome to.

Garden Center Varieties

Every once in a while we actually buy plants, Ha! The best ones fall into all of the other categories. Some we have had the most success with are philodendrons, snow bush, White Bird of Paradise, Fiddle Leaf Fig.

White Bird of Paradise

All ferns do well but I must offer my personal warning about two ferns that I have found invasive and one of them is painful to remove. We bought a $5 Macho fern and were thrilled with the value. That is, until it took over a 20 by 20 foot bed. We moved some to a 5 x 40 foot border and it also enveloped that! At first it seemed like a great ground cover that saved on buying pine bark mulch. Then we started to wonder what else might be lurking amidst it. Fortunately, it was easy to pull out, but no more Macho Ferns for us! The painful and invasive fern is the hothouse variety Asparagus Fern. I had received a pretty potted gift of mixed greenery.

The Asparagus fern was one of two that survived being pot bound. A move to the garden was a huge mistake. They are not only invasive but painfully full of thorns when you try to pull them out. They also resist being pulled. We still battle them a couple of times a year. In addition, they are toxic to dogs and cats. Do you think you might pass on them now?

Self-Setters for You

My final category is dedicated to you, the reader. These plants join with the plants above that are waiting to be shared with you. Some create pups that can be divided once they reach a certain number in their litter.
Elephant Ears, Loquat fruit trees and several varieties of Ginger all thrive in the shade. The birds and bees also lend a hand to Mother Nature along with Sister Wind with her semi-tropical breezes that broadcast the paper-sleeved ovules. Afternoon storms help the rotting fruits to release their grasp. These are our gifts, just call or stop by. We the parents are proud to see our once infants take their leave to flourish in the wider world amidst the shade of gardens near or far.

Elephant Ears

These ears got really big last summer with all the rain we had. The loquat trees are the perfect tree to me. They have glossy evergreen leaves that don’t drop and leave a mess. They provide a tasty peach-like small fruit that makes a lovely compote or liqueur if you can get to them before the squirrels do. You will have to ask my husband for that liqueur recipe.

Loquat Fruit
Loquat Tree




Seriously folks. We have so many plants that we dig them up and put them in the landscape recycling. Give me a call and come and get them!

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