Plants for a Colorful Shade Garden

A hosta lover shares some of his favorites among shade-loving plants.

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Jack Driskell in his garden

When self-proclaimed plant nerd Jack Driskell bought his house four years ago, he started with a clean slate. In the front yard was a bit of grass, along with a sloping, woodland area. Above the stone retaining wall along the entire length of the driveway, the ground was completely bare.

Having been a plant collector for years, Driskell immediately began transferring his treasures — including an extensive hosta collection — to the new house, despite the fact that it was mid-winter and most of the plants were dormant.

Surprisingly, Driskell says, he had a fairly good garden the first year. Today his ornamental gardens look as if they've been there for decades. The area in front of the house now contains a rich tapestry of green, made up of an intriguing collection of hostas and other shade-loving plants, many of them with striking variegation.

The space above the wall along the driveway garden is already overflowing with sun-loving perennials, shrubs and even some small trees. Yet another walkway bordered with gardens, filled mostly with hostas and hydrangeas, disappears around the side of the house.

In these three garden areas, Driskell has mixed in pieces of garden art he's collected on his travels with a group of friends who officially call themselves the "Plant Nerds" (they even have T-shirts they wear on their excursions). A turquoise porcelain cat sits on the stone wall next to a red cutleaf Japanese maple. The combination is stunning.

In the shade garden, many prize hostas are in containers, some of which are only inches high. He feels this is the best way to display miniature hostas, which often don't show up very well in the ground. Several of the large hostas, particularly those with a cascading habit, are also set up in pots above ground level.

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