I love chatting with gardeners, but oh my, gardening has become so complicated – and convoluted. Do you know there are at least nine books on “Gardening for Dummies” – nine!

Each one is about 200 pages – are we all that dumb?? Really, how did gardening get so complicated that we need nine books to tell us how to add compost? 


I seldom rant, it does little good, but I believe if we can untangle a few misconceptions, gardening simply makes more sense, and we can become more successful.  Here’s a big one.

When chatting about a particular plant with gardeners, I am always asked

“Does it like sun or shade?”


“Is it a sun-lover or shade-lover?”

Such questions are usually accompanied by

“I don’t really have all day sun or shade in my yard, will a shade-lover or sun-lover live there? “How do I know where to plant it?”

shade lover or shade tolerant

Polygonatum odoratum ‘Variegatum’

A Teachable Moment

Plants don’t love anything; they don’t love (or hate) sun or shade or wet soils or poor soils, they tolerate them. When we substitute shade-tolerant for shade-loving, siting the plant starts to make sense.

Once they’ve changed their vocabulary, then we can talk about what sun-tolerant and shade-tolerant really means. It is so simple, it can’t be right.

A shade-tolerant plant simply does not tolerate afternoon sun, whereas a sun-tolerant plant does. No love involved!

That’s all there is to this sun and shade dilemma. End of discussion. I can’t think of a single garden plant that does not tolerate morning sun (including ferns, hostas and trilliums) but the brutal afternoon sunshine in the summer is where the path forks.

shade tolerant

Fatsia japonica ‘Spider Web’

Now, when my “students” go the garden center and see all those Shade Lover and Sun Lover plant signs and labels, they simply use their new vocabulary and know exactly where and where not to plant them.

Now don’t get me started on pruning, or fertilizer or …