Shady spaces can be challenging and discouraging, especially if you can’t get the vision of bright colorful annuals out of your mind. But there are actually some surprising benefits to shady places and lots of hope for creating beautiful gardens there. All it takes is an open mind and a little information.
Advantages of Shady Spaces
Sunlight can create a lot of stress on plants – scorching, wilting, fading and inhibiting growth. Sunny gardens can require a lot of watering maintenance because of these factors.
Shade, on the other hand, often offers locations with rich, cool, loose soil because of the trees and bushes that create it. This is a great environment for plants to grow in.
Weeds don’t like shady spots so you generally find fewer weeds in shady gardens.
Many shade-loving plants are not attractive to pests such as deer and rabbits.
Shade gardens with sitting areas offer respite from summer sun for reading and relaxing.
Types of Shade
It is helpful to know what kind of shade you are dealing with before you purchase plants. The light requirements for full shade plants are different than partial shade plants. Make an assessment by observing your shady areas throughout the course of a sunny day, and take notes.
Light shade – open but protected from direct sunlight
Partial shade – two to six hours of morning or afternoon sunlight
Moderate shade – diffused light through trees or reflected light from buildings
Deep shade – receives no direct sunlight and has limited reflected light, usually under thick growth of trees
You can also evaluate if you are dealing with moist shade or dry shade. Each offers a different soil environment. Most shade-loving plants enjoy moist conditions. Dry shade is found under large trees that consume lots of water. There are some plants to choose fromthat thrive in dry shade. Be sure to take this into consideration when selecting your foliage. Once you know the types of shade you are dealing with, the key is to match your plants to the site.
Brighten up dark spaces. Yellow, chartreuse and white leaves reflect light. They also stand out among darker greens and browns, adding interest.
Think beyond flowers for color. Open your eyes to see all the beautiful leaf variations of green and yellow, blue and purple. Drive around and observe other shade gardens for inspiration.
Create contrast. Look for different plants that complement each other. Huge chartreuse hostas look fabulous planted with large violet impatiens.
Group creatively. Plant a large group of large dark green plants with one pop of flowering color in the middle. Even a huge cluster of white flowers is stunning in the middle of wonderful greens. Or create a theme in your shade garden. I’ve seen a creative hosta “kitchen garden” planted not with vegetables but only with hostas of kitchen-related names such Java, Cookie Crumbs, Guacamole and Fried Green Tomatoes.
Consider texture in your shade garden and mix it up. Look at leaf shape and variety. An interesting example would be the spikey green leaves of ornamental grass popping out of bright yellow-green circular leaves of Creeping Yellow Jeannie.
Choose varying heights. Many shade plants are short so include taller varieties as well.
Work with nature. Plant early spring flowering bulbs under trees that bud later for that desired pop of color before the shade sets in. If you do crave some vibrant color, many annuals do enjoy a little afternoon shade. (Impatiens, Caladium, Edging Lobelia)
The good news is there are many flowering plants for shady spots. Plants use light to make food through photosynthesis, and with the right selection of flowering plant and shade spot, there can be enough light in shade for the plant to have energy to flower. If there is not enough light, you can thin trees or shrubs, but flowering foliage won’t grow in dense shade.
Some of the flowering options include: Astilbe, Coral Bells, Hellebor (Christmas Rose), Yellow Corydalis, Dead Nettle, Bigroot Geranium, Bergenia, Begonia, Impatiens, Polyanthus, Hosta, Foxglove, Epimedium, Old Fashioned Bleeding Heart, Gardenia, Honeysuckle and Lungwort.
Many herbs grow well in the shade as well, such as basil, chives and dill. Rhododendron and Hydrangea offer the bright colors like annuals, but prefer partial shade. They have important soil considerations you need to research, but are great part-shade options.
Plants that love shade often have wonderful large leaves because they gather light through them, and they often are chlorophyll rich (which means lots of green). Non-flowering varieties can be found in the form of ground cover, plants, shrubs and trees, including Wild Ginger, Ajuga, Ivy, Bamboo, Boxwood, Japanese Laurel, Japanese Maple, Winterberry, Ferns (there is a huge selection of this shade plant to choose from that adds great texture to your garden). Moss plants such as Sheet Moss and Cushion Moss are ideal for shade as they grow without roots and can survive in most all poor soil conditions.
Now you’ve got some inspiration and information to go transform your shady spaces into beautiful places!