Garden Bloggers Design Workshop – Made for the Shade

– Posted in: Garden Design


For gardeners, shade is kind of like rain: if we don’t have it, we wish for it; if we do have it, we often long for less. And with both, there are no simple solutions. In my own garden, set in a wide-open, sun-baked field, shade is scarce, and it’ll be many years yet before any of my tiny trees will be big enough to create any. What passes for my shade border is on the northeast side of the house, but it still gets sun from dawn until 1:00 or so, which is way more sun than even the sunniest spot in my last garden. Still, it’s been interesting to experiment with traditonal shade-lovers and find out how much sun they tolerate without extra watering.

What about the rest of you? Want to share your strategies for dealing with too much or too little shade?

  • If you too have lots of sun, have you been able to create shade through planting or building structures? What tricks do you use to grow plants that would prefer shadier sites?
  • If you have shade, tell us about your garden – is it morning shade, afternoon shade, or all-day shade? Share your shade-related successes, as well as the disappointments, if you can bear it.
  • How about your personal top-10 plants for shady sites? Or, maybe a gallery of your favorite conbinations for shade?
  • Dry shade always seems to be near the top of shade gardeners’ biggest gripes. Have you found ways to deal with these difficult conditions, or are you still struggling and looking for advice?

If you’re new to the GGW Garden Bloggers Design Workshop, here’s how it works: Write a post on anything related to shade gardening on your own blog and give us the link below, or simply leave a comment if you don’t want to do a separate post. If you’ve written about the topic in the past, those links are equally welcome; it’s not necessary to create a new post to participate.

At the end of the month, I’ll gather all of the links into one summary post for easy reference. If you’re interested in checking out previous Garden Bloggers Design Workshops, you can find them here:

philadelphus-cor-var-5_19_06-bPaths and Walkways
Fences and Walls
Arbors and Pergolas
Color in the Garden
Container Plantings
Front-Yard Gardens
Stone in the Garden
Decks, Porches, and Patios
Garden Whimsy
Trellises and Screens
Water in the Garden
Sheds and Outbuildings
Incorporating Edibles
Kids in the Garden
Labeling and Record-Keeping
Pets in the Garden
Wildlife in the Garden
Water-Wise Gardening

Don’t forget that you’re all welcome to go back and add links to these older posts at any time.

A final note: Our July topic will be designing with bulbs: both hardy and tender kinds. That gives you plenty of advance notice to take pictures of your spring bulb displays and plan ahead for summer, too.

Nancy J. Ondra
Nan gardens on 4 acres in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. In the firm belief that every garden ought to have a pretentious-sounding (or at least pretentious-looking) name, she refers to her home grounds as "Hayefield." There, she experiments with a wide variety of plants and planting styles, from cottage gardens and color-based borders to managed meadows, naturalistic plantings, and veggies--all under the watchful eyes of her two pet alpacas, Daniel and Duncan.
Nancy J. Ondra

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24 comments… add one

Leave a Comment

Frances May 3, 2009, 9:54 am

Hi Nan, we have about as much shade as you, waiting for the trees to grow. But shade, like sun, is relative. This will be fun to write about. 🙂

I have no doubt that you’ll come up with something fun and interesting, as you always do, Frances!

our friend Ben May 3, 2009, 10:30 am

Ha! Here at Hawk’s Haven, shade is us! Guess I’d better get it in gear and do a post about the shady front island bed, the creekside garden, or the shady wildflower garden. And I can’t wait to see what everyone else has to say about this!

Yes, this topic is just perfect for your place.

Debra Lee Baldwin May 3, 2009, 11:52 am

Hi, Nancy — Dappled shade is essential for the health and vitality of succulents and other ornamentals where I live (inland Southern CA). Planting beneath the canopy of lacy trees protects plants from harsh sun in summer and acts as a blanket when temperatures dip below freezing in winter. Acacias and oaks provide this essential protection in my garden, and also are waterwise. Another good choice for dry Southwest gardens is the lovely, green-trunked palo verde tree.

Thanks for sharing your experience and planting suggestions, Debra!

Dave May 3, 2009, 12:26 pm

This looks like a fun one for my corner shade garden! Maybe the rain will slow done soon and I can actually get outside for pictures!

I’m glad I found another one you can join us for, Dave. I look forward to seeing your post.

Grace May 3, 2009, 12:29 pm

Hi Nan~~ I’ve got three LARGE sweet gum trees (Liquidamber) in my front yard. It’s a love/hate collaboration. They are horrible litterers, dropping round seed pods constantly. However they do provide copious quantities of shade, which I love. They hoard rainfall, making it impossible to grow anything remotely moisture loving beneath their canopy. Yet they boast glorious fall color and multiple piles of leaves for composting. Their branches cater to wildlife but their roots are extremely shallow and love to destroy shovels and creativity. See, love/hate. 🙂 I’ve had success with dwarf laurel, dwarf Alberta spruce, Fatsia japonica, Nandina and our native Mahonia. My courtyard is also under the trees’ umbrella. Here I’ve taken to container culture. Ferns, Japanese Forest grass, Dicentra, Lily of the Valley, Corydalis and many other moisture shade lovers call this home, knowing that I, their ever faithful caretaker will dish out weekly waterings without the risk of Sweet gum roots slithering up to steal it. I love the adage, “Bloom Where You’re Planted.”

“Problem” gardening areas almost always have creative solutions but sometimes we need to “dig” for them.

This is wonderful, Grace. You do seem to have made the best of a challenging situation. Great suggestions!

Gail May 3, 2009, 7:30 pm

Hello Nan, This is a subject I can easily get into here at C&L…now off to work on it! gail

I hoped we could count on you for this one too, Gail. I know you have plenty of pretty shade-lovers.

Liz May 3, 2009, 9:50 pm

Your Question…

“Dry shade always seems to be near the top of shade gardeners’ biggest gripes. Have you found ways to deal with these difficult conditions, or are you still struggling and looking for advice?”

I’m a person who would rather have my fingernails pulled out than go outside in August to water. I’m in Tennessee Zone 6b and my shade beds are foundation beds.

I add this disclaimer: any time you dig in a new plant of any kind, and in any conditions, it is best to water it well for the first year to establish it. That said, here are the plants that do well for me.

Japanese Painted Fern
Christmas Fern
Sensitive Fern
Holly Fern
Leatherleaf Fern
Cinnamon Fern (they say this needs lots of water, but mine does well without)
Hosta (check with your local nursery or garden friends for the varieties that are proven to your area. Others will do well, but only if you like to pamper them)
Bleeding Heart (native variety with ferny leaves. Blooms all summer if you deadhead)
May Apple
Virginia Blue Bell
Celandine Poppy
Wild Ginger
Arum Italica
Lily of the Valley
Itea Virginica (Henry’s Garnet is very pretty)
Liriope “Silver Dragon” (actually tame in the shade – sun is a different story)
Chameleon Plant (Described as ‘aromatic.’ Read ‘smells bad.’ Prolific like Liriope in sun, but it has the prettiest little white flower.)
Japanese Anemone
Heuchera (the old fashioned kind does better for me than the newer varieties, which tend to get leaf burn in the heat and heave themselves out of the soil in the winter)

Can anyone suggest shrubs that do well in dry shade?

This is terrific, Liz! Thanks so much for sharing your list. Keep checking back to see if anyone has tips on shrubs for you.

VP May 4, 2009, 4:07 am

Lots to write about this month as one side of the garden’s very shady as is the front side garden. I can add to Liz’s comment re Heucheras – there are basically 2 types, one comes from woodlands (so OK for shade) and the other comes from rocky mountain crevices. That may help to explain the problems she’s been having with some of her cultivars.

I must also point you in the direction of this delightful post which has a woodland garden planting list:

In fact I commend the entire blog to you!

Wonderful suggestions, VP! You always come through for us. I look forward to your own post too.

Frances May 6, 2009, 1:14 pm

Hi Nan, this one was fairly easy to work with, thanks!

My post is up:

I’m so with you on this one, Frances, because I’m lookin’ for shade too!

Jacqueline W. Schick May 13, 2009, 10:28 pm

I would like to offer my thoughts about shade gardening; I am still learning. However, your topic gave me pause to think about the sun season the garden has in the early Spring.

Thanks for your comment, Jacqueline. Whenever the mood strikes you to write about what you’ve learned about shade gardening so far, leave us a link so we can find you.

Ramble on Rose May 15, 2009, 4:27 pm

Another topic near and dear to my heart! Here’s my post:

Great to have you back this month, Rose. I’m so glad you shared the link.

Annabelle May 21, 2009, 10:55 am

I had dappled shade under 80+ yr old sugar maples, but they’ve been removed. Now my cannon’s double azalea is in full blazing sun all day long. We’re replanting new trees, but it’ll be years before my dapple garden is covered. What can I do in the meantime? Thanks!

Sorry to hear about the loss of your trees, Anabelle. You may want to check out The Sunny Woodland at Fairegarden; in it, Frances shared a similar story for last month’s Design Workshop.

Mr. McGregor's Daughter May 22, 2009, 4:56 pm

I love shade gardens, and I have all the possible permutations of shade. It’s too bad I don’t have time to write several posts, but here’s the one I did manage to do: If I get a chance, I’ll do one on dry shade, with which I have vast experience. (Here’s a snippet: forget about Aruncus and most Astilbe.)

Trust you to come up with a creative take on the theme, MMD. Thank you for taking the time to share this with us.

LINDA from EACH LITTLE WORLD May 26, 2009, 9:10 am

I went from a full sun to a mostly shade garden and think the shade is more fun. And it offers just as many opportunities for great plant combinations. I wrote about what I’ve learned about shade here:

Thanks for the link, Linda. You’ve got some great pointers in your post.

Les May 26, 2009, 7:54 pm

I garden in an older neighborhood with many mature trees and 3/4 of my garden in shaded. Fortunately some of favorite plants are shade lovers. My contribution is below and thanks for hosting the workshop.

My Top Ten For Shade

I’m delighted that we finally found a topic that tempted you to post, Les. It was very much worth waiting for!

Jim/ May 28, 2009, 7:06 am

Sign me up Nan!

You’re in, Jim. Thanks for sharing your shady characters.

Mr. McGregor's Daughter May 28, 2009, 8:20 am

Here’s my dry shade post:

Hey, a bonus post, with some really great plants. Thanks MMD!

Dave May 28, 2009, 9:20 pm

I just got my Corner Shade Garden then and now post ready! Thanks Nan!

VP May 29, 2009, 3:51 am

Hi – my post’s up. I’m sure when I look at this later, I’ll find lots of other things I should have said and lots more plants to add!

Nell Jean -- seedscatterer May 30, 2009, 6:01 pm

My deep shade gardening post is today, here:

Yesterday’s post has dappled shade plants in bloom.

Thanks so much for these links, Nell Jean. We’re glad to have you join us this month!

teza May 30, 2009, 8:49 pm

Anna alerted me to the topic for this month, and since I am a shade garden ‘vampire’ I thought I would submit a post…. hope I’m not too late. Here is the link:

Vampires are always welcome at GGW, Teza! I’m heading over to return the visit right now, and I’ll add you to the wrap-up post.

Heather's Garden May 31, 2009, 5:42 pm

I’ve written about the shady side of my house many times. We have large maple trees and a hillside chock full of their roots, so not even vinca grows well. My solution is a small perennial shade garden along the house and then a bunch of containers with shade loving plants on the hill and in hanging containers.

Back in September ’07:

From April this year:

And just recently:

Basic plants that have worked well for me include impatiens, hosta, and ferns. But a pretty glazed container will brighten up even the darkest, barest area.

Wonderful, Heather – what a super collection of links. Thanks for taking the time to share these.

Valerie Looney April 15, 2010, 10:40 pm

I keep reading about dry and wet shade. My garden is almost all shade but I don’t know which kind. How do you tell the difference between wet or dry shade?

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