Plants Made for the Shade
My garden is about eighty percent shady. This despite the fact that my back yard has a southern exposure. Shade happens when you live in a neighborhood of huge mature oaks and beeches, and your neighbor to the rear has about 15 of them in her back yard. So when I became an avid gardener, I quickly learned to look for and use planting combinations that work well in non-sunny sites.
This combination caught my eye the other morning as I headed down my front steps to fetch the morning paper. The front yard faces north and slopes steeply. The Skimmia japonica I planted in 2001 has spread to act as a groundcover of sorts (the ONLY site where I have seen it be so successful!) and is encroaching on my Japanese painted ferns (Athyrium nipponicum ‘Pictum’). Every year I debate moving the ferns but I love their delicacy and the color and textural contrast they provide between the skimmia and the vinca.
This fern is versatile and sophisticated. Here it is in Sally Boasberg’s shade garden in DC, paired with astilbe underneath a dissected Japanese maple.
Another favorite combination from my own garden is variegated Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum odoratum ‘Variegatum’) with Northern maidenhair fern (Adiantum pedatum). They are both much tougher than they appear; the Solomon’s seal is a favorite choice of mine for dry shade. Although you need to be patient, over time a single quart-sized plant will made a sizeable clump, not unlike hellebores.
Speaking of hellebores, they are at the top of my go-to list for shade groundcovers. Drought-tolerant, deer-resistant, self seeding (but slowly), they provide flowers at a time of year when almost nothing else except the earliest bulbs are awake. Here is a clump from Brookside Gardens (in Wheaton, MD), combined with epimediums blooming in early spring. Pure magic.
I can hear the colorists whispering restlessly in the background. OK, here’s a shot of screaming color that will brighten any shade garden. Although I show it alone (and apologize for the quality of the photo, as the colors are hard to capture accurately), Spigelia marilandica (Indian pink) plays nicely with more boldy-foliaged plants and some of the larger ferns, such as Christmas fern. It will grow in sun OR shade. Mine are in filtered shade and have self-seeded a bit over the years. They are a little late to emerge in spring, so be patient and don’t give up on them if you don’t see the foliage emerging right away. Great for hummingbirds!
I’ll close with one of my absolutely favorite shade plants – variegated Hakone grass (Hackonechloa macra ‘Aurea’). It is slow to establish but once it’s happy, it will spread almost indefinitely. I like mine planted with a blue-hued hosta or two, comme ca.
I’ve only begun to scratch the shady surface of my yard (and others’). I could – and will – do posts solely on my favorite hostas and hydrangeas. In the meantime, I would love to hear from any of you about your experiences with these or other shady beauties.Explore posts in the same categories: landscape, Landscape design solutions comment below, or link to this permanent URL from your own site.