Last spring we had the best kind of landscaper working with us: he really knew plants and was committed to transplanting everything we were digging up:
the hosta takeover that was uprooting a path by the toolshed, the shade-loving astilbe that were never happy in our shade, a hedge of boxwood so impenetrable it belonged in a fairy tale. One day I saw him contemplating a flowerbed that, in 28 years, I have never been able to get just right.

“You need to spread that bed out,” he said when I joined him on the patio. “And it’s too dark back there,” he continued, gesturing to the expanse behind the never-just-right bed. “You need to lighten it up. The hosta will do just fine there.” He was right about the “dark back there.” A tangle of ivy and vinca vines layered with years of fallen leaves and branches, I long ago nicknamed it the wasteland. A couple years ago, I tackled it, taming the ivy, making way for the vinca to weave her way through. In the dappled spaces free of vines, lilies of the valley have begun to spread. But it was still a wasteland, dark and boring. Perfect place to relegate the hosta, it’s probably my least favorite plant.

Why am I no fan of hosta? In just a season or two it can colonize an entire flowerbed, doubling and tripling in size like yeast, or the blood-hungry plant from Little Shop of Horrors. And wouldn’t you just know it? The landscaper specializes in hosta; grows all kinds of varieties from little bitty ornamental ones to great big feed-me-Seymour ones. “Yep,we’ll sprinkle them in the back. Put in some white hydrangea, too. That way you set off your flowerbed in the front.”

So he widened the bed of affliction, dug in my less-than-loved variegated white and green hostas, divided an over-enthusiastic Japanese anemone and tucked part of it among three deep green hostas big as playhouses. He refilled the hosta-free bed by the tool shed with astilbe. Maybe they’ll like back shade better than front shade? He pulled out the “boxwood sarcophagus,” a twelve by three by four foot hedge so thick that if I were Sleeping Beauty, my Prince Charming would have never made it through. Luckily my Prince Charming’s been with me since before the boxwood was the size of a take-out carton.

A year later everything has so far made it through. The variegated hosta are up and brightening the formerly dark wasteland. The halved anemone is already playing house with the trio of Seymour-sized hosta. The astilbe is rising abundant and luscious, looking better than it has in years. No flowers yet, but they look so healthy I can just hear the nearby forget-me-nots looking over and whispering to each other, “I’ll have what she’s having….”

I may never know why the shade by the back door is better than the shade by the front. What I do know from tilling this little patch of earth going on three decades, once something finds its place in the sun (or shade) there’s no holding it back.