Capitol Hill Garden Club In Washington, D.C., Since 1952

Designing with Texture to Make a Shady Garden Shine

April 08, 2014 6:30 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)
Designing with Texture to Make a Shady Garden Shine


Featured: Janet Draper, horticulturist, Smithsonian Gardens

Janet Draper brought her gardening creativity and experience to shed light on designing shady garden spaces. The Mary Livingston Ripley Garden, a tiny 1/3rd of an acre that includes areas of deep shade and dappled light, is located on the U.S. National Mall and is open 24 hours a day to visitors from around the globe. With labeled plants representing over 900 different taxa on display, this garden educates it visitors. Due to the nearly constant events occurring within a stone’s throw, and major construction on the historic Smithsonian Arts and Industries Building, the challenges of keeping the garden looking good can be daunting.

Janet Draper has served as the sole gardener at the Smithsonian Association’s Mary Livingston Ripley Garden since 1997. She has extensive design and horticultural experience with firms, nurseries, and garden centers including Oehme von Sweden Associates, Homestead Gardens, The Plantage, and Kurt Bluemel, Inc. Janet also interned domestically and internationally with Mt. Cuba Center for Native Plants in Delaware, the Ball Seed Company in Illinois, Beth Chatto Gardens and Elmstead Market in England, and the Perennial Nursery of Countess VonStein-Zeppelin in Germany. She holds a B.S. degree in horticulture from Purdue University.



Synopsis of Designing With Texture To Make A Shady Garden Shine 


Submitted by Sallie Strang


Opening the April Capitol Hill Garden Club presentation with a slide of a sunny summer garden in full flower, Janet Draper asks, “Is this the garden you are imagining? If so, the shade gardens I have to show you will not meet your expectations. But they can offer you a beguiling path to walk down.”


A self-acclaimed “plant geek,” Draper frequently quotes English gardener Beth Chatto, author of Beth Chatto’s Woodland Garden: Shade-loving Plants for Year-round Interest, in touting the rewards and sumptuous pleasures of gardening in shade. Draper speaks from 15 years experience with the Ripley Garden, a deciduous shade garden where “all spring bulbs do well,” but as spring moves to summer, the shade becomes darker and darker. Then, says Draper, contrasting texture becomes the focus, and flowers, if they appear, are merely bonus.


Draper offers visual suggestions with the slides and plant combinations that almost overwhelm until she offers her simplified approach. “When I start a garden,” she says, “I begin with three plants with different textures that appeal to me. Then I add another three and another three and another three.” That one hint let each of us leave the meeting with inspiration and the impetus to follow those directions on the first sunny day.


“I’ve fallen in love with bold, bold foliage,” Draper says and suggests:


*Chinese mayapple (Podophylum versipelle)

*Hakenochloa macra Aureola (Plant it to cover dying tulip leaves.)

*Helleborus foetidus (Cut the seed heads off when you have enough plants.)

*the fine linear lines of Carex (sedge)

*Danae racemosa (a slow growing, evergreen laurel with glossy fronds to three feet and great for cut foliage)

*epimedium for dry, shady hard-to-grow areas (In April, Epimedium x versicolor 'Sulphureum' in my way-back shady garden provides a bonus of yellow flower sprays peeking out among the fading daffodils.)

*Polygonatum odoratum varigatum (variegated Solomon’s seal) or Polygonatum odoratum cultivar with a golden shade

*Parthenocyssum vine (Virginia creeper) for “a great plant to add oomph to any group,”

Draper suggests Brunnera and illustrates its drama with a guttural, drawn out emphasis on BRUNundefinednera.


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