Gardening in Carderock Springs
This article was written in 1990 by long time resident and
community activist Jay Stedman. As many of you know, the garden circle
on Hamilton Spring Court was dedicated to Jay. This article was one in a
series of articles for the Your Carderock Springs booklet
produced by the CSCA in 1990. Others include the History, Development of
the Community, Origin of Street Names, Architecture, and Trees of
I am indebted to Jay for the wealth of information she passed
on to the community. Gardening in Carderock has new challenges
with invasive wildlife and plants as well as hotter summers and more
From Jay: One must make decisions with any
garden-what to plant, where, and when. If possible, plant deciduous
trees to shade the house in the summer and to allow the sun to warm it
in the winter. Use evergreen trees and shrubs in the perimeter of the
property for privacy and as a backdrop for flowering shrubs and plants.
Avoid blocking windows so that light and air may enter. The police
recommend avoiding high dense shrubs near the house because criminals
seek such hiding places in order to accost homeowners.
When planting trees and shrubs, call “Miss Utility” at
1.800.257.7777 first to be sure you won’t hit electric, telephone, gas
or cable lines. Hitting a line could be dangerous, even fatal. Most of
us have underground utility lines; however, a few Carderock homes are on
roads with overhead wires. So, when planting, look up. The tree you
plant may reach those wires in a few years and the utility people are at
liberty to cut off the top. It is important to learn not only how high a
tree or shrub will be at maturity, but also how wide. It’s hard to
believe that the small tree you planted will grow up and out, but it
will all too quickly, if in the wrong place.
If your home is surrounded by mature trees and there is shade
everywhere, that can be an advantage. To lessen the shade, remove lower
branches from most tress. However, magnolias and other trees whose
beauty and form are enhanced by limbs touching the ground should be left
alone. Some trees are considered “weed trees” and should be removed.
Silver maples and wild cherries are examples. Other trees may be removed
to give specimen trees more room to grow. All dead and diseased
branches should be cut off.
There are degrees of shade. Densely shaded areas receive no sun and
few plants will grow. In medium shade areas there would be only a few
hours of sun. Light shade areas receive morning sun only or perhaps only
filtered light all day. However, there are bulbs, flowers, shrubs and
ground covers that will tolerate shade and some will bloom even in dense
Narcissus and tulips are the better known bulbs but there are many
other kinds of spring bulbs. These may be planted under deciduous trees
because they will bloom after the trees leaf out.
Azaleas and rhododendrons are wonderful plants. They like shade and
acid soil and do better when planted away from the house. In full sun,
azaleas tend to develop spider mites, a real problem. Rhododendrons
appreciate even heavier shade than azaleas. There are other evergreen
shrubs that thrive in shade that may be planted by the house- mahonia,
leucothoe, pieris, aucuba and nandinas to name a few. These lend
themselves to pruning when necessary.
Evergreen trees that prefer shade are yews and hemlocks. Yews come
in various forms-spreading, upright and dwarf. Hemlocks can be pruned
into hedges or left as specimen trees. Hollies-and there are many
kinds-tolerate light shade. Almost all are unisexual and for the female
tree to produce berries a male tree must be near. Osmanthus resembles
holly. It has small but fragrant flowers in October.
Other kinds of evergreens like sun-pines, spruces, cedars,
junipers-and they too have many varieties. Arborvitae is another
sun-loving evergreen. They and junipers tend to develop bagworms which
can be controlled by hand picking and destroying. Leland cypress has the
advantage of being pest-free and although it matures at around 75-feet
high, it remains narrow, less than 12 feet in spread. It, too, needs
Among shade-loving deciduous shrubs are vibernums which bloom in
the spring and hydrangeas which bloom in the summer. There are many
varieties of both. Viburnum caricephalum has a spicy fragrance.
Hydrangea macrophylla “Nikko Blue” is especially colorful. Hydrangea
Qeurcifolia (oakleaf hydrangea) has large white flower head and its
leaves turn dark red. Fothergila is another shrub recommended for our
area. Clethra ainifolia (sweet pepper bush) is a summer bloomer.
Cornus florida (dogwood) is native to our area. However a virus
called “anthracnose” is attacking them and so far is unable to be
controlled. Cornus kousa seems resistant. It has the same kind of
flowers but they are on the top of the branches and it blooms after the
native dogwoods. These are “understory trees” and should not be planted
in full sun although the kousas bloom more heavily with about four to
six hours of sun.
Shade-loving flowering perennials are numerous. Of course most do
even better with sun. Hemerocallis (daylilies) are fine in light shade.
The period of bloom can be extended for weeks by careful selection. Two
that are repeat bloomers and bloom into fall are “Stella D’Oro” and
“Bitsy”. Hostas thrive though they must be protected against slugs which
love them. A later summer-early fall one is “Royal Standard” which has
white fragrant blossoms and seems far more resistant to slugs.
Helleborus orientalis (Lenten Rose) is another and is easier to grow.
Brunnera macrophylla whose flowers resemble forget-me-nots has large
attractive leaves as well. Anemones hupehensis (Japanese anemone) are
fall bloomers. Sedum “Autumn Joy” which will stand some shade is
delightful and long-lasting in the fall. Another fall flower is aconitum
(Monkshood). Lobelia cardinalis has brilliant red flowers but is
relatively short lived. Its blooms should not be picked but if the plant
is happy it will self sow. It likes moisture and light shade. Another
spectacular plant is Iris kaempferi (Japanese Iris). It thrives in acid
soil and loves wet feet. Monarda (beebalm) takes light shade, is an
early summer bloomer and attracts hummingbirds as does Lobelia
cardinalis. Aquilegia Canadensis (Canadian columbine), Astilbe Primula
(primrose), Heuchera (coral bells) all do well in shade as do Cimicifuga
(Snakeroot), Chelone (turtle head), Dicentra spectabilis (large
bleeding heart), Dicentra eximia which is smaller but blooms off and on
all summer, and Tiarella cordifolia (foam flower). Arisaema triphyllum
(jack in the pulpit) has an interesting bloom but its main attraction is
a stalk of flaming red berries in the fall. It will grow in medium to
dense shade. Begonia grandis is a shade-loving begonia that is a
As for ground covers and edgings, there are many. Ajuga
(bugleweed), Ceratostigma (leadwort) a fall bloomer, Convallaria (lily
of the valley) Epimendium-a delight as an edgingn, Hedera heliz (English
ivy), Pachasandra where all else fails is well behaved. Liriope muscari
(lily turf) and Asperula odorata (sweet woodruff) all do well. Phlox
divaricata (woodland phlox) although rabbit’s favorite food, is lovely
in the spring.
The ubiquitous Impatiens with its many colors is the best annual
for shade. It self sows frequently, is colorful, and doesn’t require
care. Begonia semperflorous (wax begonia) is not quite as colorful but
also may be ignored. Coleus is a reliable, primarily a foliage plant,
but its foliage comes in many color combinations.
The above trees, shrubs, and flowers are only a partial sampling of
plant materials useful in shade gardens and represent some of the ones I
have in our garden and find desirable.
Mulching is the greatest favor one can give a garden. Mulch makes
for more consistent temperatures. It preserves moisture and coolness in
the summer and helps prevent weeds. By adding more mulch once there is a
heavy freeze one helps offset the alternating freezing and thawing that
can occur in our winters. In early spring, the mulch can be worked into
the soil loosening and enriching it. Once summer starts, a layer of
mulch should be added and the procedure started anew. Christmas trees
cut up and placed over perennials protect them over the winter as do
fallen leaves. However, both evergreen branches and dead leaves should
be removed gradually in March as insects and diseases may thrive beneath
them. HAPPY GARDENING!