Cool Greens and Whites, Jan Cantrell's Shade Garden Is a Southern Classic

Jan Cantrell's Biltmore Forest garden is typical of a Biltmore Forest garden. It has a lot of ivy and it has a lot of shade. Cantrell, a Master Gardener, uses these elements to create a classic Southern garden that is beautiful and, on these hot summer days, invitingly cool. 

Cantrell has a gift for making small vignettes in her landscape, inviting spaces that are intimate and soothing. This birdbath with the concrete bunny nestled against it, sits in the middle of a patch of Sedum 'John Creech', an evergreen perennial succulent that is zoned 3-8 and can tolerate light shade. Bordered by a dwarf Japanese pieris, Cantrell said it took three years for the sedum to fully grow in and fill the space. 

Cantrell has a gift for making small vignettes in her landscape, inviting spaces that are intimate and soothing. This birdbath with the concrete bunny nestled against it, sits in the middle of a patch of Sedum 'John Creech', an evergreen perennial succulent that is zoned 3-8 and can tolerate light shade. Bordered by a dwarf Japanese pieris, Cantrell said it took three years for the sedum to fully grow in and fill the space. 

Cantrell's garden teaches us that gardens don't always need lots of sunshine and colorful perennials to take our breath away. Stepping into Cantrell's palette of green and white, you feel the tension of the day and the stress of world ease away. Instead of leaving you breathless, you feel your shoulders relax, your lungs fill with a deep breath of satisfaction, and the desire to just sit for a spell. (Clicking on each picture will bring up the description of the picture for those of who desire to know more.)

In keeping with her white/green color scheme in the backyard shade garden, Cantrell uses a white concrete container with Acanthus 'Whitewater' or bear's britches. This showy shade plant is zoned 7-10 which makes it borderline for her zone 7a garden. So, the bear's britches is still in it's black nursery pot and placed in this container for the summer. That makes storing it indoors for winter much easier. The ivy sets off the white and green.

In keeping with her white/green color scheme in the backyard shade garden, Cantrell uses a white concrete container with Acanthus 'Whitewater' or bear's britches. This showy shade plant is zoned 7-10 which makes it borderline for her zone 7a garden. So, the bear's britches is still in it's black nursery pot and placed in this container for the summer. That makes storing it indoors for winter much easier. The ivy sets off the white and green.

Cantrell's use of green and white fits with her home and surrounding ivy. Biltmore Forest is famous for their invasive ivy, but Cantrell shows us that it can be used as an advantage in the garden, remembering to keep it off trees and shrubs. She uses it as a living mulch.  (Note: This is not a suggestion to plant something invasive--please don't--but if you're already fighting it, Cantrell's garden shows how to take advantage of what you have.)

This ephermal statue of a joyful woman is one of the highlights of Cantrell's garden. It was purchased at Grovewood gallery and done by Joe Miller. She is placed in one of the beds in the back lawn.  

This ephermal statue of a joyful woman is one of the highlights of Cantrell's garden. It was purchased at Grovewood gallery and done by Joe Miller. She is placed in one of the beds in the back lawn.  

Moving from Bluffton, South Carolina into their Biltmore Forest home in 2000, Cantrell and her husband John, learned how to garden in a four season environment that was mostly shade. While some help was employed for larger projects like retaining walls and transplanting shrubs, most of the garden is their own handiwork. Cantrell went through the 2007 Master Gardener class to learn more about her garden environment, so the plantings are her work, while her husband John is in charge of the green sweep of lawn and keeping the ivy at bay.  

Sixteen years in a garden and one learns that gardens evolve over time and design. What begins as one idea, often becomes something totally different as light shifts or the gardener's knowledge grows. Cantrell is quick to say not everything has succeeded, but she has kept to her original vision of the green and white shade garden in the back of the house, while adding more color to the front where it is sunny. 

Please click on each picture below to enlarge it and read the description of the plantings, and do so with a cup of tea in hand. This is a garden that is meant to be savored. Thank you, Jan Cantrell, for being a gracious host!

(To visit the other gardens featured this month: Becky Ewing, Cynthia Gillooly, and Barney Bryant.)

AAP, Cinthia 

Cinthia Milner is the garden coach, outside salesperson and blog writer for BB Barns Garden Center.

BB Barns Garden Center serves all of Western North Carolina, upstate South Carolina, and Tennessee.