Text by Hannah Nance
For many gardeners, a yard covered in trees might be enough to cause trepidation, but not for Lanis Littlefield. Instead of cutting down all the trees in her full-shade yard and starting fresh, she simply made do and created a shade garden oasis. “Since there was so much shade, there was very little grass and no plants other than the original shrubs that were planted in 1926 when the house was built,” she recalls. “It was basically a blank canvas. I knew it would be a challenge, but I knew if I wanted a garden, it would have to be a shade garden.”
So, shovel and trowel in hand and with no specific plan in mind, Lanis got started, tackling one area at a time. “When I started seeing the garden develop, I realized that a shade garden can be very beautiful,” she says. Working with the environment, she was tasked with finding plants that love full shade. Now, her garden is covered in ferns, hellebores, heucheras, and even a hydrangea here and there. But the stars of the show are the hostas, all 85 varieties of them. Flourishing in pots around the garden, they seem to replace what grass would normally be there, providing a gorgeous green backdrop for whatever else Lanis plants.
After living in her home for more than 40 years, she’s had time to perfect not only her plants but also the garden itself. She and her husband built a potting shed, added handmade stepping stones, benches, and chairs all around, and even found space for a plant hospital. “Ailing plants are separated from the healthy ones until the problem is treated and they are observed for a while,” she says. “Another area of the hospital is where I put plants that are to be divided and repotted. I give friends the divisions.”
In addition to the creation of a garden oasis, Lanis and one of her friends also make all the pots she uses in the garden, called hypertufa pots, made of a mix of cement, peat moss, perlite, and a handful of concrete reinforcement fibers. “Three years ago, we made our first batch, and after that, we were hooked,” she recalls. “We call it ‘pot therapy.’”
Even after all the work, there’s little you can do to get Lanis out of her garden. In the evening as she and her husband relax and enjoy the fruits of her labor, she still can’t seem to pause. “I have a hard time just sitting and looking at it,” she admits. “I love walking up and down the paths and planning my next project. After all, it’s called gardening because it’s never finished.”