Gardens for Shady Characters:

By Kathryn Pankowski

  This north-facing porch looks totally shady but one small corner catches sun until about 11 am – enough to keep sun-lovers such as lavender and beach strawberry alive. The lattice breaks up wind flow. Photo by Kathryn Pankowski

This north-facing porch looks totally shady but one small corner catches sun until about 11 am – enough to keep sun-lovers such as lavender and beach strawberry alive. The lattice breaks up wind flow. Photo by Kathryn Pankowski

While we were flinging plants about at the spring plant swap, a few people wandered by, looked sadly at the plants, and said “I have a shady 11th floor balcony and everything dies.” So this column is for you, and anyone else struggling to garden on the shady (and windy) side.

Planning a garden for such conditions requires a three-pronged approach: careful observation, improving conditions as much as you can, and picking the right plants.

The first thing to do is to observe as if you were Sherlock himself. You may think of your area shady, but does one corner get a little sun in early morning or late afternoon? Does a spot get sun in midsummer though shaded in January? Is it brighter at the level of the balcony rail than on the floor? Where is the wind strongest and where is there some shelter? See if you can identify the most plant-friendly spots.Then you can think about how to improve things.

To increase light, consider making the surrounding surfaces as reflective as possible. Paint things bright white, add a strategically placed mirror to bounce more light into the area (make sure your mirrors won’t tempt birds to try to fly through them), or – if you can stand the look – add some inexpensive reflectors such as recycled aluminum pie plates or cardboard covered with foil behind or under your plants.

To break up the force of the wind, add a windbreak at one or both ends of your balcony. Try an open lattice or trellis, with or without a vine, or a particularly tough shrub or two.

And then there’s the plants. You will have to resign yourself to never growing sunflowers, tomatoes, or most of the bright bedding plants sold at grocery stores, but there’s still a word of possibilities. Here are a few ideas:

A temperate rainforest

The plants that grow in the local forest understory are already adapted to our climate as well as shade. Make yourself a green-all-year and tough as nails refuge with some potted native ferns, salal, Oregon grape, and bunchberry.

Colourful foliage

Lots of shade plants sport brightly patterned or colourful leaves. Try hostas, heucherellas, Japanese painted ferns, coleus, and Japanese forest grass.

Salad greens

Lettuces, spinach, and lots of interesting Asian greens love cool conditions and will grow in shade. Leafy herbs such as parsley and coriander will grow for much longer in shade before they bolt-flower, set seed, and die. If you have a bit of sun in a corner, you may be able to get radishes and green onions (from sets) too. Yum!

So, 11th-floor shady balcony gardeners, don’t despair. And if you want to feel smugly superior, just consider that your plants are extremely unlikely to be eaten by deer. Ever.

Neighbourhood Garden News

A big thank you to all the people who turned out for the neighbourhood plant swap and sale on May 5. It was great to see more people trading plants, and to welcome the James Bay Community Project which set up an information table about their gardening plans and gave away nasturtiums grown from seed by local preschoolers. Thanks also to Discovery Coffee for the caffeine supply and to the folks who responded to our plea for more pots. There’ll be another swap and sale in the fall, featuring house plants, perennials, and winter veg starts. Watch for the date!

The first plantings have gone into the new pollinator-support garden on the Michigan Street boulevard near Menzies, while the front part of the pollinator garden at New Horizons is getting a bit of redesign. Don’t forget there’s also a ‘secret’ pollinator-support garden hidden behind the Legislative Building hedge near Menzies and Superior. It has a more formal, symmetrical design, so wander in and have a look sometime.

Kathryn Pankowski is the James Bay Neighbourhood Association Neighbourhood Gardening Advocate: she can be reached at jamesbaygardens@gmail.com. The JBNA would like to acknowledge the financial support of the City of Victoria for this initiative.

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