Gardening In The Shade: Easy Tips for Creating A Shady Garden Retreat

Shade Gardens can be as bright and colorful as a sunny garden even with 5 or less hours of direct sunlight. For many people the frustration results from not planting the right plants in the right location.  Another common misconception is that shade gardens don’t have color or flowers, not true. With a little creativity a shady garden can be as colorful as a sunny garden, starting with the right plants.  But before you can plant get to know your yard.

Take a look around your outdoor space. Become aware of where the sun rises and sets.  See how the sun plays upon certain areas of the garden at different times of the day.  You may find areas that are shaded but have dappled sunlight in the morning or indirect light in the late afternoon.  This can make the difference between plants that need partial sun to full shade.  If you have bare spots under trees where grass no longer thrives consider adding a perennial border, they are easy to grow and require little maintenance.

The next step is to assess the condition of the soil.  I recommend testing your soil to determine whether it is acid or alkaline.  You can purchase an at home testing kit or send a sample off to your local government extension office to get an in-depth analysis of your soil.  Knowing what nutrients your soil needs is a big part of how successful plants will grow in a specific area.  Soil in shaded areas can tell two different stories.  It can be extremely dry, especially underneath mature trees and too moist in locations where drainage is poor.  Adding compost helps to condition and break down soil and improve drainage.

A shade garden is a great way to experiment with colors, tones and textures.  When designing the garden keep colors light, avoid plants with dark foliage, bright colors like lime green, and variegated leaves can brighten up dark areas.  Dark foliage plants are usually offset by white flowers and work when planted against bright green foliage or flowering Astilbe.

Pink Astilbe ‘Rhineland’ offsets dark purple foliage

Hosta is one of the most popular shade plants and for good reason.  It looks best when planted in full shade. It’s  stalks of fragrant lavender or white trumpet flowers are the perfect accent to the large heart shaped leaves.  Planting Hosta in the sun does not capture its beauty.  Leaves become burned and color looses intensity.  When Choosing Hosta go for large leaf varieties like Sum and Substance.  It’s large display of lime green leaves is show stopper.  Colors range from blue and lime greens as well as variegated.  Perennial varieties of Heuchera, offer a wide range colors to add depth and texture, with their scalloped and ruffled leaves. Fern varieties are great texture and Astible can provide both flowering color and texture.

Hydrangea arborescens, ‘Annabelle’ , Hygrangea quercifolia, ‘Oakleaf ‘ provide big white blooms and thrive in full shade. These are some of the plants and shrubs for shade, just to name a few.  I suggest you do your research before you head out to the garden center to buy plants.  Other design tips to consider are planting flowering perennials that bloom in succession. You want to have a colorful blooming garden from spring to fall.

‘Annabelle Hydrangeas

Remember it’s your garden in the shade, follow your inner designer and don’t forget to add a bench or garden to seat so you can stop, sit and admire your hard work.