Shade Gardening

Shade gardens are all about filling dark corners; think dappled leaves rustling in a cool breeze, and the scent of damp earth in mid-Summer heat.

Is It Worth The Bother?
Most shaded spots are easy to ignore. They’re damp. They’re dark. They even harbor green soil and the odd patch of moss. We avert our eyes and tramp off in the sunshine with our wheelbarrow full of brightly colored flowers labeled "full sun".


Yet when beads of sweat roll down our face, and our shirt is sticking to our back, those little spots of shade look incredibly inviting. The idea of a quiet little nook with a cool stone bench and the sweet smell of Lily-of-the-Valley begins to germinate, and soon we’re inspecting the ground and thinking layout.

It’s up to you, and of course, it depends on the kind of shady areas nature has seen fit to give you. Still, my shade garden has become one of my favorite places. That stone bench I mentioned? Yep.



Drainage is especially important in places where the sun can’t dry things out after the rain. If your shady spot is prone to standing water, you have a dark bog. In some circles we call these a swamp.

You have two choices with swamp land: ignore it, or drain it. If it’s a reasonably small area and/or you’re really committed to getting gardening footage out of it, digging it up,laying drainage tile and a layer of pea gravel can be worthwhile. If you don’t have the time, money, energy, or a combination thereof, you may be better off ignoring it.


There is a wide variety of plants that flourish in shady spots all over the world. But even these require some light. If your dark corners get no light at all, (or almost none) you’re looking at growing mushrooms. Mushrooms have their good points. Lush foliage isn’t one of them.

In many cases, you can correct this wee problem with an assortment of trimmers and cutters (and possibly a chain saw).


Any area protected from the elements by trees usually stays dryer than surrounding areas accessible to normal rainfall. Unless your climate includes torrential downpours on a regular basis, your shady places are going to require supplemental watering to get things going. After they’re established you will find most plants adapted to shaded areas will develop deep roots and won’t need much watering. This is true of shade-loving perennials.

Shade loving annuals, are the exception to this rule. If you want the kind of color in your shade garden that only annuals can give you, you will have to water regularly and fertilize periodically. Decide now whether you’re going to feel pressured, or grateful for the break in your schedule and plant accordingly.


If the soil has a high clay content, you need to amend the ground with organic peat, humus, and/or other composted materials.

Plants That Love the Shade


Ajuga (bugle weed)
Bishop’s weed (snow on the mountain)
Caladium (tender bulbs)
Ferns (all varieties)
Hosta (all varieties)
Jack in the Pulpit
Lily of the Valley
Myrtle (vinca minor)
Solomon’s Seal

These are all the old favorites, and for good reason. They’re reliable. You don’t need a lot of variety in your plants to have variety in the shade garden. Both Hosta (Plantain Lily) and Ferns come in a huge assortment.


Mimulus (a.k.a. Monkey Flowers)
Pansy (partial shade)
Snapdragons (partial shade)



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