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    Shade Gardening | Summer 2012 Out Here Magazine

    Combine texture and colors to beautify low-sun landscape

    plants in the garden
    When planning your shade garden, choose a simple design and then combine plants with leaves in varied shapes and textures.
    Out Here

    By Jodi Torpey

    Photography by iStock

    Just about every landscape has a shady spot that could use a little refreshing. Maybe it's a dusty area under towering trees, a narrow border next to the house, or a dimly-lit corner on the far side of the yard.

    Instead of avoiding these challenging areas, embrace them. Create your own welcoming woodland retreat by taking a page from nature's design book.


    If ever a gardener needs to focus on right plant, right place, it's when planning a shade garden. That's because every shaded spot has its own quirks and deserves its own group of plants.

    While planning your shade garden, take time to notice the quality of the light that falls on your landscape throughout the day. Does the garden get early-morning sun, late-afternoon sun, or no sun at all?

    Garden catalogs often describe plants by the amount of direct sun they receive. You can use the same categories:

    • Part sun plants receive 3-4 hours of morning sun and are shaded in the afternoon.
    • Part shade plants receive 3-4 hours of afternoon sun and are shaded in the morning. < li >Full shade plants receive no direct sunlight at all.
    • Shop for varieties that match the type of shade in your garden. For example, some varieties of begonia are often shown with sun symbols that classify them as "part sun to sun. "

    In addition to matching plants with similar light needs, pay attention to their moisture needs, too. Many shade gardens planted under trees will have dry soil, but others are naturally moist because they're located in low spots where water tends to collect.


    The beauty of a shade garden lies in the layers and combinations of plants, texture, and colors. If you're planting under a tall tree, consider adding a middle layer of shrubs to give the garden depth before adding foliage and flowers.

    Plant a mixture of bulbs, perennials, and annuals to assure several seasons of interest. Late-winter and early-spring blooming bulbs, such as snowdrops, crocus, and daffodils will brighten the landscape before tree leaves block their sun.

    Stick to a simple design and let the foliage do most of the work. Select plants with leaves in different shapes and textures, and then combine them. The broad leaves on hostas contrast nicely with a fern's frilly texture. It's also possible to create an eye-catching garden filled with nothing but hostas.

    The beauty of a shade garden lies in the layers and combinations of plants, texture, and colors.

    Other striking foliage plants include artemsia, lamb's ear, and santolina. Ornamental grasses, sedges, and daylilies also work well in shady places.

    Woodland flowers are especially well-suited to shade gardens. Monkshood, sweet woodruff, moneywort, and periwinkle are nice choices.

    To add color and form, mix in tall and upright flowering plants, such as astilbes and columbines. For a pleasing look, plant three or more of each variety near one another. Repeat the pattern of plants throughout the garden to create the feeling of flow.

    Blend in shade-loving flowers such as lily of the valley, bleeding heart, and cardinal flower. Coral bells offer stunning leaf patterns and sturdy stems of delicate flowers; corydalis has an especially long bloom time.

    Fill in empty spots with annuals such as impatiens, coleus, and lobelia.

    Denver-based garden writer Jodi Torpey's favorite shade plant is a red "Dragon Wing" begonia.


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