Will anything grow in rain, shade and clay?

Bremerton, WA

Hello, I am new on this site and love it :) I moved to Bremerton 8 years ago from MN and I am delighted to have space at long last for a garden but....besides the rain and the Big Leaf Maples, my soil is solid clay. I began by killing the nasty buttercup and pulling the stinky Bob and spreading loads of compost every year. Now I have hundreds of Tulips (which the rain ruined this year) 6 Hellebores, a Hydrangea and a bunch of Hosta. Every year I buy plants from Annie's catalogue that say they will do OK in partial shade and even clay but every year they do not make it through the winter rain. Any suggestions will be appreciated.

South Beach, OR(Zone 9a)

Hi Sarabird! I'm afraid I don't have any info for you, I just wanted to say hi and welcome to the site! You might try posting your question in one of the more general gardening threads too, since shade and clay certainly aren't specific to the PNW.

Poulsbo, WA

Welcome to the neighborhood! Ferns, salal, huckleberry, pieris, tiarella, heucherella, vancouveria and saxifrages are some of the plants that do well for me under similar circumstances. Valley Nursery up in Poulsbo and Bainbridge Gardens on Bainbridge Island both have a good selection of shade plants that do well in our area. Plus they both have Certified Professional Horticulturalists (people with college degrees in horticulture and lots of real life, local experience) on staff who would be able to give you some good advice. If you swing by the Bremerton Farmers' market (4-7 on Thursdays at Evergreen Park), you'll find a booth staffed by Master Gardener volunteers who could give you some ideas too. You also might want to swing by the Master Gardener Plant Sale at the Kitsap County Fairgrounds this Friday (9-5) and Saturday (9-2), where there will be lots of Master Gardeners to talk with and lots of locally grown plants at very reasonable prices.

Camano Island, WA(Zone 8a)

Hi Sarabird! Welcome! I also haven't had a lot of luck with Annie's Annuals, but still drool on the catalog and can't resist the occasional purchase.

My garden area that sounds similar to yours does well with astilbe, hosta, brunnera, various ferns, cimicifuga 'Black Negligee,' hakone grass, lady's mantle (can seed), hellebores, and even pieris. I have some primroses that love it there, too. Oh yes, and pulmonaria. Also arisaema if you like that kind of thing (I do). I suspect that epimedium would like it there also, although I stuck it in my dry shade because not much else will grow there.

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

If you keep adding compost every year, the clay will soften.

I try to add some coarse material as well as the compost. It seems to me that when I don't have "enough" compost, coarse material helps the clay stay "fluffed up" long enough for roots to penetrate and help mantain soil aeration.

Crushed stone or grit and bark nuggets are my favorite. I even added some "coarse" sand, but I think that most sand is too fine.

Compost is key to "fixing" clay. Unfortunately, it is only a temporary fix, since the compost's job is to feed microorganisms, and they do consume it within a year or two.

If you don't turn compost under or till it in, heavy and consistent mulching is almost as good as adding compost. The mulch breaks down and leaves into the clay, feeding the microorganisms that support roots and tunnel around through the clay. I suspect that fungi also serve to "support" the clay and maintain aeration.

Camano Island, WA(Zone 8a)

Pic 1 has astilbe and ferns, and the primroses that are growing in the shade, multiplying and blooming like crazy. Also columbines that come up everywhere, even shade.
Pic 2 has mostly astilbe, plus some hostas and a brunnera. The red-leaved one in back is the pieris.
Pic 3 shows hakone grass, cimicifuga, a native vaccineum that wants sun but grows in shade, and the pieris again.
The hakone and cimicifuga are small and - just coming up. In particular, the cimicifuga gets tall.
Oh, just realized...cimicifuga is now actaea. I hate those name changes. It was hard enough the first time around. :-)

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Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

I don't know about shade. I only try to grow things where I have partial sun. Good luck!

There must be at least one kind of tulip that thrives around here. Someone gave me two in a pot. I planted them out and they keep coming back.

Crocus vernus keep coming back and multiply slowly for me.

Grape Hyacinth are multiplying.

Around 3/4 of my Giant Hyacinth only last one year, but a few come back much smaller, for a few years.

Maybe 1/3 of my Daffodils come back for a second year.

Bellevue, WA(Zone 8a)

The biggest reason that tulips don't return around here is too much water when they are dormant. They would like to be really dry in summer. Amazingly enough, winter rain is OK (with reasonable drainage), as they are growing roots at that time. Hope this helps.

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

Thanks, I didn't know that. "Dry summer", I can supply!

Bremerton, WA

WOW! What great replies, THANK YOU everyone. I will be looking up all those plants you all mentioned and trying them out. What a great community :)

Lake Stevens, WA(Zone 8a)

Welcome Sarabird!
I too have dry clay in shade, one area under a limbed up Pine tree, and another under a Cedar and laurel hedge. Annies Annuals plants seem to be for N. Calif, where it is hotter in the summer, and sun is stronger. Same thing with High Country Gardens. Both of those venders do put that info about surviving clay, but otherwise the climates are too different.
Pine tree garden made last year-I spread 6" purchased light 'soil' over the clay, planted in it.
I haven't yet found any very showy flowers, but am still working on this.
Here is what is (so far) working for me:

Seems Reliable for Dry Clay Shade:
Veronica 'Georgia Blue' a polite little ground cover
Geranium phaeum 'Samobor' but flowers are dark, invisible
G. phaeum 'Lily Lovell' flowers only slightly more visible
Tellima grandiflora 'Forest Frost' but leaves not red in winter as billed
Iris cristata 'Abbey's Violet' (Edelweiss Perennials recommendation)
Epimedium pinnatum ssp colchicum has brassy bright yellow flowers
E. davidii
E. x warleyensis nice orange flowers
(Epimediums may be a problem, leaves mimic Bindweed)
Heuchera 'Autumn Bride' jury still out on this one
Polypodium scouleri a tiny native leathery fern
Digitalis purpurea if a bit of sun, naturalized here
Choisya ternata 'Sundance' fabulous shrub for this
Clematis group 3, but must be watered some
Sanguinaria canadensis
Carex 'Ice Dance' spreads, so far not invasive
Bergenia
Vinca minor the variegated kind, so far not invasive I don't water it
Encrusted Saxifrage between rocks on slope!
Geum 'Eos'
Potentilla neumanniana might be invasive, but so far a good groundcover
Sedum 'Angelina' does NOT get orange like photos
Erythronium 'Pagoda'
Japanese anemones rarely watered, spreads so far not invasive
Cyclamen hederifolium
An old purple Bearded Iris, not new kinds
Viburnum davidii need multiple seed lines for berries
Aruncus 'Guinea Fowl'
Spanish squills they naturalize here

NO Good:
Tokyo wood fern
Tatting fern
English Ivy do not be tempted-invasive
Eranthis hyemalis
Astilbe
Primula
Caladium needs heat
Impatiens used to work now they get some disease

Jury Still Out:
Iris foetidissima lutea
Hemerocallis fulva 'flore pleno'
Mukdenia Karasuba' survives but not lush
Impatiens omeana survives, not lush
Brunnera 'Sea Heart' came back yay, others are slug bait.
Heuchera 'Regina'
Geraniums "st Ola' and White Ness'


Let us know what works for you.

Lake Stevens, WA(Zone 8a)

here are some recent pictures. I plan a better photo essay on the Pine Tree Garden soon.

#1 Geum 'Eos' gets crispy late in summer but comes back like this every year.
#2 on left is Choisya 'Sundance' sooooo easy, nice and bright, always perfect
on right is Paeonia lutea growing fast, 2 flower buds now! I saw this growing in a forest in Edmonds, and it blooms too. Who would have predicted this?
in between hosta, Aruncus, ferns
#3 Iris 'Abbeys Violet' spreading and blooming under the Pine tree!
#4 Encrusted saxifrage! Who would have thought! I think the Pine intercepts a lot of the misty rain so it thinks it is in a drier climate.
#5 Under Pine- G. phaeum "Lily Lovell' and Angelina sedum Lily is blooming but you can't see it because blooms are small and dark.

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Springfield, OR(Zone 8a)

mlm, beautiful informative photos and records! Again.
I think your saxifrage probably thinks its in a drier climate because it is :~). Micro-climate that is.
I would add to your NO note, on ivy: DO NOT EVEN THINK ABOUT IT! to stress how bad it is around here (the whole country?)

Sarabird, welcome. It sounds as though you are not new to gardening, just to doing it in Bremerton?

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