Gardening in the Shade with Ease

Dawn Tack

Often gardeners struggle with the thoughts of planning gardens for the shade. Once you have determined the degree of sun light and soil conditions there are many to choices in exceptional plant material.

When I think of a shade, I picture a meandering path leading to a bench in a quiet place surrounded by gardens filled with a mixture of textures from the bold to the delicate.

Most of our yards have some shade although not all shade is created equal. Analyze your shade and create the garden to adapt to it. Deep shade is found under dense trees, beside walls or behind buildings on the north side; no direct sunlight at all at any time of the day. Medium shade is found in areas that are more open to the sky but receives no direct light. Filtered shade is relatively bright although the direct light is dappled through trees and/or structures like a lattice screening. Partial shade is direct sunlight but for limited time usually facing east. It has morning sun only for 3-4 hours and less intense sunlight.

Soil conditioning is very important when creating any garden, but some shade areas have the extra challenge of competing roots from the trees that like to take the nutrients and moisture. So before you plant you should strongly consider improving the soil. This is the only opportunity to fully work the area. The best remedy is several inches of either your home made, or commercially purchased compost. If the roots are seen close to the surface, then stay a few feet out from the base of trees and add soil. This will give your plant material more root space. Watering and mulching can definitely help as well.

You may think that less light means dull and dreary. This is not the case! The plant material that do well in less light are those that have more texture and great foliage colours.

Often, for a short time in early spring, our shade gardens enjoy almost full sun before the trees leaf out. I plant bulbs between later emerging plants like Hosta to enjoy until they decide to pop up. I choose every colour, bloom season and varieties I can find in daffodils and layer a few Allium above by a few inches for later interest. In early spring the Pulmonaria(Lungwort), Primula(Primrose), Aquilegia(Columbine), Dicentra(Bleeding Heart) try ‘Luxuriant’ that blooms June to October and Heuchera(Coralbells) start to appear. Once the soil warms up the ground covers that act as a moisture retainer and help with the weed control emerge. You can use Galium(Sweet Woodruff), Lamium(Dead Nettle), Lysimachia(Creeping Jenny) try ‘Aurea’ foliage is gold and there is even a groundcover fern ‘bladder fern’ for that airy look.

If your shade is facing east and gets the morning sun you can even add the darker shades of ‘Daylilies’ that only require minimum of four to six hours of sun like ‘Little Wine Cup’, ‘Strutter’s Ball’, ‘Summer Wine’ and ‘Mardi Gras Parade’. Then more part shade lovers; Lupines, Pulsatilla(Pasque Flower), Monadra(Bee Balm) try Petite Delight shorter non-invasive and mildew resistant. Cranesbill(Hardy Geranium) come in a variety of different blooming colours and types. You can purchase types for ground covers as well as clumping specimen forms. When purchasing any type of ground cover ask the grower if they have a tendency to spread out of control.

Then for structure and further interest you can add Polygonatum(Solomon’s Seal) with it’s arching little white bells, Brunnera(Siberian Bugloss)try ‘Jack Frost’ it has small blue flowers in abundance in spring and as the season progresses the leaves just keep growing and growing. Some others include Astrantia(Masterwort) try variegated foliaged one called ‘Sunningdale Variegated’ and Polemonium(Jacobs Ladder) how about the new ‘Stair Away to Heaven’ variety!

We cannot forget about Hosta! Only 7,000+ varieties to choose from including ones that are 1 inch to 3 feet. Their leaves come in solid colours and edged from blue, gold to all shades of green. They can create quite the tapestry of colour and textures. Some of the most popular are; ‘Halcyon’, ‘Patriot’, ‘Sum & Substance’, ‘Blue Umbrellas’, and even Hosta of the year this year ‘Striptease’. ‘Love Pat’ leaves cup and after rain at times the birds will be caught bathing in their basins. For slug resistant varieties choose those with thicker substance to the leaves. Although Hosta are grown for their foliage, the blooms are attractive too. Some are strongly scented like ‘Guacamole’ with large white blooms smelling like a ‘Gardenia’.

If you have specific shade problems like dry soil under a maple tree try; Epimedium(Barrenwort), Alchemilla(Lady’s Mantle), Anemone(Wind Flower), Corydalis(Yellow bleeding Heart), Geranium(Cranesbill), Pulmonaria(Lungwort), Tiarella(Foam Flower), Viola(Violet), Sedum(Stonecrop) ‘Autumn Joy’ and ‘Matrona’ can tolerate more shade than others and Hosta once established. Add in groundcovers such asConvallaria(Lily of the Valley), Galium(Sweet Woodruff), Lamium(Dead Nettle) and Vinca(Periwinkle)

If extremely moist then; Ajuga(Buggleweed), Ferns, Hosta, Cimicifuga(Bugbane), Heucherella, Tradescantia(Spiderwort) try ‘Sweet Kate’ lime coloured foliage with a true blue flower, Ligularia and Astilbe(False Spirea) will do just fine.

So don’t feel perplexed gardening in the shade can be just as rewarding due to the awesome plant material, help and knowledge available! The only problem with shade for me is the lack of it!

Dawn Tack of Gardens Plus is a member of the Peterborough Horticultural Society.