Sunday, October 10, 2010

Shade Gardening-Designing For Shade

Shade Garden
Over the past fourteen years many of my clients, friends and family members have posed to me the question, " What do I do with this shaded area?"  My reply is always the same.  "There is so much you can do with a shaded area and so many wonderful plants to do it with!"  In this article I will discuss the different combinations of plants that are available to create a lovely shade garden.  I will stick to the varieties of plants which I know from personal experience to be hardy and long lasting for years of enjoyment in your garden. 

Western Arborvitae
Lets start with the basics.   I would suggest the use of evergreens as the foundation or backdrop and first element in the shade garden. Use taller shade loving evergreens to provide an element of privacy or smaller evergreens to provide interest over the cold winter months present in many climates.  Some of the shade tolerant evergreens that I use for privacy screening are Blue Holly, Dragon Lady Holly, Fastigiate Holly, Oakleaf Holly, Nellie Stevens Holly, Skip Laurel, Western Arborvitae and Leyland Cypress.  The Dragon Lady and Fastigiate forms of holly tend to stay more on the compact and narrow side whereas the other varieties mentioned tend to become larger and fuller.  Western Arborvitae and Leyland Cypress are both shade tolerant and fast growing but Leyland's are prone to wind damage and drying due to their shallow root system. 
Liriope Variegata
I often side with Thuga 'Green Giant' or Western Arborvitae which looks very much like the Leyland but with less risk of damage.  As a smaller evergreen backdrop or foundation planting I often use Cherry Laurel 'Otto Luyken', Ilex 'Compacta', or Boxwood 'Wintergem'.  For added interest, some flowering shrubs I would recommend are 'Little Princess' Spirea, Hydrangea or Vibernum.  The last three mentioned flowering shrubs are shade tolerant but do need some amount of filtered light in order to bloom correctly and should not be put into dense shade.  

Heuchera (Coral Bells)
Once the foundation of your shade planting is intact it is time to look at perennials.  Some of the best shade perennials I have encountered are hosta, liriope, hakonechloa (japanese forest grass), astilbe, heuchera, japanese painted fern, golden sedge and ajuga.  These perennials combine beautifully with cherry laurel. rependans yew, boxwood, variegated boxwood, leucothoe, holly, skimmia and aucuba.   There are many forms of hosta to choose from as well as heuchera.  My personal favorite is Hosta'Patriot' combined with Heuchera 'Palace Purple' or 'Plum Puddng' . The variegation of the hosta along with the deep burgundy color of the heuchera combine beautifully with variegated liriope or golden sedge.  Add some astilbe as well with a backdrop of shade evergreens and you have a shade garden to enjoy!

Now let's talk hardscape.  There are various hardscape elements that can be added to enhance your shade garden.  The use of large boulders as accent pieces can add some dimension and interest.  Bluestone can also serve as an attractive border to the garden or can be used to create a raised planting.  You may also like to add a bench for seating or other hardscape element such as a birdbath to attract wildlife to your landscape. 

The possibilities are endless providing you have the right plants.  So next time you ponder, "What can I do with this space?"  There is so much that can be done to create the shade garden of your dreams! Visit the following link Shade Garden for my complete album of shade tolerant perennials.   Happy shade gardening!  

Author:Lee@ A Guide To Northeastern Gardening Copyright 2010. All Rights Reserved



  1. Thank you for the shade tips. I often find shade to be a challenge as far as getting color and interest. You have provided some good info here.

  2. Interesting and important information. It is really beneficial for us. Thanks

  3. Very interesting and informative post! Thank you for some great information!


Thank you for visiting. I love reading your comments and knowing you have been here, and will try to reciprocate on your blog. If you have any questions I will try my very best to answer them. As always...HAPPY GARDENING!


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