Planning a Shade Garden

Shade Garden Rhododendrons

People often feel frustrated when trying to plant a shade garden.

Gardening in the shade is easy if you stick to a few basic rules, beginning with making sure that the plants you choose will thrive in shady conditions.  That seems obvious, but often our overriding desire is to create beauty and color.  This often leads to choosing plants based on their looks rather than on their temperament.

Here are a few tips that will help get you going in the right direction:

  1. Plan the overall design of the garden based on the kind of look that you want.  Instead of just a mass of plants, why not begin by creating an anchor using an interesting feature. Some ideas are: a path, stepping stones, a bench, an arbor, a statue or a fountain.  Once you have your anchor, you can plan which plants to use to bring attention to this feature. It’s all about creating an atmosphere and a purpose.  Do you want to create a secluded spot to while away summer afternoons with a good book? Or a place to sit and meditate? Or a spot of beauty to wander through?
  2. Use groundcover instead of grass.  Grass doesn’t usually do well in heavy shade, so why not find a few alternatives.  Grass also requires a lot of water, and often shaded areas are drier because they’re overshadowed by trees, walls or buildings.  Think about using different types of groundcover.  It could be a creeping ground cover plant or you could use bark mulch spread between larger plants. Variegated ground cover such as variegated Bishop’s Weed adds contrast and interest.
  3. Assess just how heavy the shade is.  Is it full, all-the-time shade or part-of-the-day shade?  Is it dark shade or shade with lots of indirect light?  All these factors will affect which plants will do best in your shade garden.
  4. When choosing your plants, also bear in mind their shape, the texture of the foliage, the types of flowers or other interesting features like berries or cones, and the time of year during which these appear.  The ideal is to have plants that look interesting at various times of the year.Size is important as well. You don’t want to obscure some plants by having them hidden by taller ones.  Place taller, bushier plants so that they create a backdrop for your feature item as well as for smaller plants. Create movement and interest by combining different textures or colors in proximity to each other.
  5. Popular shade plants include: Skimmia, Ferns and Hosta which do well in heavier shade. Rhododendrons and Hydrangeas do well in lighter shade.Shade GardenShade Garden Skimmia in bloom

    Skimmia
    provides interest with flowers and berries following during winter.They’re pretty hardy and are both drought and pollution resilient.Skimmia is an evergreen shrub from the Rue family.
    Shade Garden HostaHostas are herbaceous perennial plants that grow from rhizomes.  They have broad leaves, some varieties are variegated, and delicate flowers on long stems during the warmer months. They spread over time, so a single hosta can end up becoming a group.shade garden fernsFerns are another popular addition to the B.C. shade garden. We have some native varieties in B.C. that are perfect to pair with both Hostas and Skimia.  The advantage of choosing native plants is that they’re perfectly adapted to our climate.

    Shade Garden RhododendronsRhododendrons are large, woody, deciduous  shrubs from the Heath family.  The blooms, which appear in early spring come in a variety of shades of pink, purple and everything inbetween.  They do well in lighter shade and as you can see from the image, they complement Hostas perfectly!

    Hydrangea Blue Jangles Fall ColorHydrangeas are another favorite in this region. With their large, showy and long lasting blooms from early summer through to fall, these shrubs also work well with both Hostas and ferns.

There are many other plants that also do very well in shady conditions.  The best idea is to take some photos of the shady area in your garden, getting the surroundings in the photo as well as the immediate area.  Bring these in to us with the approximate dimensions of the area you want to plant. Our experienced horticulturalists will be very happy to help you plan a beautiful shade garden and advise you about the specific plants that will work best for you.

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