July 30, 2010
This latest spate of hot, hot weather in Chicago thanks to global warming, el nino, glacial melting, big banking fiascos or whatever leads one to conclude we gardeners had better bone up on xeriscaping or at least the upper Midwest version of dry(er) land gardening.
I have an extra helping of lack of shade since the old bat next door removed her shade trees (and my shade). Some of my lessons may be useful to some of you:
Some shade plants can adapt and some can't. My fallopia ("painter's palette") does fine, light colored leaves and all. My wild geraniums bloom in spring and then, unlike in the woods, go completely dormant and disappear till next year. The hostas are mixed as to sun & heat tolerance: blue and green ones tend to burn; yellow ones ("sum & substance") are pretty much okay. Some ("golden tiarras") are doing fine in full sun. If you have a favorite but burned hosta & no place to put it in shade, pot it up and move it onto the porch. Hostas do fine in containers - just put it in the garage or basement in the winter.
Some shade plants are retreating on their own to shadier nooks in the yard: Canadian & European gingers. The ground cover which I thought was for full shade, false lamia, is full shade. And half sun. And full sun. I'm glad it doesn't climb.
My ostrich ferns make it thru spring and the 1st half of summer and then frizzle. I think (shh, they'll hear) they may be replaced with phlox (buy mildew resistant ones, or breed your own. Yes, you can - ruthlessly cut down any mildewed victims. Don't let them go to seed. My phlox don't mildew after this regimen for 15 years.) or Russian sage or tree peonies or Tiger's eye sumac.
The rose of Sharons around the yard do fine, sun/shade/heat. A bonus: one of my friends has trimmed his back yard r-of-s's as trees and they arer close to 25 feet tall.
Some prairie plants are good in dry heat and sun: ironweed, grasses, coneflowers. The plume poppies (7 feet tall) which hung on in partial sun are reveling in full sun. As we go to press Anne Raver in her column in the NY Times writes on these same topics. She also recommends lilies, sylphium, Joe-pye-weed, sunflowers and rudbeckia maxima for the sun garden.
Because of the configurations of houses and yards in Chicago many people may have to research the best plants for dry shade but remember, nothing's forever - we may have to re-do our gardens with science-fictiony newly bred shade tolerant saguro cacti, yucca and a host of north advancing former sun perennials (formerly annuals).