Shade Garden - Shade Loving Perennials
I didn't plan a shade garden originally. When we first bought our house, our back yard consisted of a giant 10’x 10’ sand box in one corner of the lot and the poorly graded spot where an above ground pool had stood. There were no bushes or gardens, very little grass and it flooded when it rained. Not what you would call lush by any means.
After carting away most of the sand, we filled the space with amended garden soil and it became my first perennial garden. At the time it was a sun garden, but now, 24 years later, it has become a shade garden.
It didn’t change overnight, but gradually as a tiny one gallon blue spruce tree grew into a large beautiful specimen that blocked the sun in that part of the yard.
The original garden was divided into four quadrants using reclaimed bricks from an abandoned barn building. In the center of the garden was a clay bird bath. I still have the brick path and the birdbath, but all of the sun flowers have been gradually replaced with ones that thrived in the shade.
The first change was when I bought a couple of hostas. There are many, many varieties of hostas, and they are celebrated for their lovely leaves. These plants come in colors that range from almost white to very dark green. The leaves can be a solid color or variegated with wonderful stripes. Every year there are new varieties out and the newer strains are usually fairly pricey. I don’t buy those. Although beautiful, I can usually find something that is far more economical and in a few years when the price drops maybe I will.
One year I was very lucky and managed to find an unadvertised sale on hostas at my favorite garden center. I bought three, all in two gallon pots. They were all different heights and different colors and the best part was they were very crowded in their pots.
I came home and immediately divided all three of them into half. It is not difficult to divide a large plant. Usually you can see where there are two crowns or more and you just use a shovel to cut down through the root ball and split your plant into two or more sections. Now I had six plants for the cost of three, and I was quickly able to fill in one whole quadrant of my garden.
Plants that are overcrowded in their pots are not always the best buy, though. You need to know that when you buy a plant in this condition, you are taking a risk that the plant is already stressed and you are further stressing it by transplanting it. Be prepared to baby your plants and give them extra water until they recover and establish themselves. Sometimes things don't make it, but if it was on sale and it was all you can afford you might be lucky. This time I was.
Since then I’ve obtained more hostas, some coral bells,a few ferns, some woodland wildflowers, columbines, lamb’s-ear and several astilbes. In the summer I intersperse impatiens, begonias, and coleus in the few bare places.
When I first noticed that my sun loving plants weren’t thriving any more, I was disappointed, but it doesn’t make sense to fight Mother Nature. What I did instead was start a new garden at the back of the house that received the full sun all day. As I gradually lost the sun in the back corner of my yard, I transplanted my sun lovers to my new garden and replaced them with plants that wanted a less sunny environment.
Now my shade garden is one of my favorite gardens. We have cut several of the lowest branches off the blue spruce tree, and it has become a perfect haven for a large elephant ear hosta.Sometimes new gardeners think of a garden as only the bright colors, but there is a lot of subtle beauty in the contrast of feathery astilbe, fuzzy lamb’s ear, and the multiple colors and designs of the hosta leaves. Not only is my shade garden beautiful, it’s peaceful. A bench near it makes a perfect place to sit and relax on a too hot, summer afternoon.
This fall I added several daffodils and narcissus to my shade garden and I’m looking forward to letting them naturalize between my hostas.
One word of caution though. My beautiful blue spruce tree can cause a dryness problem in this garden. That’s another reason we cut off the lower limbs. The tree is so thick that rain has a hard time reaching the ground. Removing some branches afforded me more space, more light and more moisture. I also dump my birdbath water under the tree when I change the water in the bird bath so that has helped to alleviate my problem, too. Every year I apply a few inches of mulch, which among other things, keeps the soil from drying out so fast.
There are actually degrees of shade from deep shade to light filtered shade and you might be surprised to find out you have a patch of sunlight in your shade garden. Study the sun patterns in your garden and then use them to your advantage. I have some yellow day lilies and white Shasta daisies in a sunnier spot in this garden that do just fine.
In general the flowers in a shade garden are paler in color than in a sunny garden. Adding something white or yellow (like thread leaf coreopsis perhaps) can really make your garden pop.
Some other flowers you might consider for this garden are Bleeding Heart, Trilliums, cowslips, woodland violets, primroses and Jack in the Pulpit.If you do add woodland flowers though, please buy them from a reputable nursery. Do not dig up and transplant woodland plants from the woods to your garden.
Probably very few of us have the ideal situation for a perfect garden in our yards, but with a little research and perhaps experimentation it is possible to turn even the most difficult landscapes into lush gardens. So go out and enjoy the shade!
Add a Secret Garden to your outdoor living spaces for a place to relax, and unwind in the shaded seclusion you desire!
Perennial Garden Ideas
Grasses and Ferns
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