There are no textbook guidelines for maintaining the perfect garden. Like most things, no two spaces are exactly the same. Perhaps you are looking out from your window at your neighbor’s flourishing shrub while your shrub fails to thrive. Everything from drainage, to sun location, to soil properties can effect how your garden grows. The key is to understand your space and capitalize on the favorable features.
In this blog, we will look at planting a garden in a shady space. When planting a planter, the rule of thumb is adding a spiller, a thriller and filler. You can easily adapt the same principles when planning your shaded garden or focus on any one of these elements to suit your needs.
With big shaded spaces, finding the right filler is key. Look for a large, visually appealing plant or shrub with the idea in mind that it will become the backdrop to the space. The “go to” shade perennial, and the top seller in North America, is the hosta, but that is far from the only option. If you want to try something different, and add a hearty and interesting element to your garden, brunnera is a wonderful choice. Brunnera boasts beautiful silver and green heart-shaped leaves. This shade accepting plant is known to grow well under the awning of existing trees and shrubs making it a great filtered shade option. Solomon’s seal is another low maintenance choice that remains attractive all season with resilient green foliage. In the spring, it will pepper your garden with lovely bell shaped flowers. With an endless supply of options, ferns are a hardy filler selection. They add a lush green backdrop and grow beautifully in shaded areas. Ferns add a delicate look to a garden but are a very tolerant and resilient addition. There are many different fern options to choose from with the shape, size, and spread of the leaves all differing. Adding a few different variations will add depth and complexity to a space with very little effort.
Thrillers are what you will use to add that pop of colour or variation in height and shape in your shaded area. If you want to add height and movement to the area, ornamental grass can add a distinctive element. For something that is appealing season long, a great option is bergenia. Bergenia leaves are thick and glossy and provide variegated colour throughout the season. Once the flowers are in bloom, pops of colour emerge as thin spikes of pink flowers reach up from the leaves. Other popular plants that add colour to a shaded area are primrose, violets, bluebells and daffodils. When choosing a flower or bush that adds colour, be mindful of the season they will see full bloom. When done strategically, these types of plants can be placed in such a way as to stagger when they produce their blooms. The staggered blooms will keep consistent colour in the garden and camouflage the blooms that are maturing.
A low-lying groundcover can add the spiller effect to the garden. Or, perhaps this is the only option that you have because of shade cast by existing trees that are taking up most of the space. Pulmonaria, otherwise known as lungwort, provides a nice ground cover with clusters of emerald leaves veined in silver and white. This hardy plant, which is known to flower despite unappealing conditions, produces flowers in variations of blue, pink or white. Epimedium, or barrenwort, is another choice that seems to be made for shade gardening. Aside from its charming orchid like blooms, the foliage of barrenwort are stunning heart-shaped leaves that are rimmed in copper or red. This variation of colour is a striking addition to a shaded area. Some other ground cover plants that maintain well in a shaded area are Lily-of-the-valley, hens and chicks, periwinkle, ivy, and low-lying junipers.
With so much talk about containers, it must be noted that container gardening is another nice option for shaded areas. If you are mindful of what is put in the planter and stick to some of the shaded options listed above, your container will do well. Fuller sun options can be used but require diligence as the containers should be moved to a sunny area for some of the day to give the plants the exposure they need, and then returned to the more shaded position.
Understanding the area that you have to work with and the elements associated with the area will allow you to have a beautiful garden suited to the environment and your tastes.