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Dear Friend and Gardener

Shade in the Garden

Shade. Green shade. With the recent 90 degree days I have been thinking that every garden has to have shade. I thought I had a very shady garden, but my husband and I did a shade study. We took photos of the back garden every couple of hours to see how shade moved across the space. It turns out that most of the garden gets six to seven hours of sun which counts as the full sun required by most vegetables and many flowers.

River birch

On a cloudy day you can’t tell where the shadow of the River Birch falls

Trees Make Shade

Now I am thinking about ways to add more shade to the central portion of our garden. We have already planted one multi-stemmed river birch, and a weeping cherry. Before the summer is over we will plant another fairly large (at least six foot) river birch. We think another small tree would be desirable, but can’t quite make up our minds which one. Should it be a redbud, with its purple/pink flowers in the spring? Should it be a dwarf crabapple with its spring blossoms and fruit for the birds? One advantage of a dwarf crabapple is that its size can be easily controlled by pruning. Maybe we should plant a pagoda dogwood which has distinctive tiered and layered branches and foliage.

Then there is the decision where to place the tree. We know the river birch will be towards the south side of the garden. Where would another tree go? Perhaps the better question is where do we want the shade to go? To be decided.

Yellow twig dogwood

Yellow twig dogwood in a center bed

Shrubs Make Shade

We have already planted several shrubs including red twig and yellow twig dogwoods which will reach six to nine feet tall. They will also throw shade.

Clethra alnifolia, also called sweet pepperbush or summersweet because of its fragrant upright flower panicles, will easily be six feet tall, again throwing shade. Highbush cranberry, Viburnam trilobum, is not a cranberry but the red berries that appear in the fall will attract some birds. It will grow to between eight to 15 feet and can be controlled by pruning. Aronia, chokeberry, can be classed as a small tree or a large shrub. Ours has really settled in and will increasingly throw more shade. As you can see, there are different ways to create shade in the garden.

Barren Strawberry

Waldsteinia – barren strawberry

Perennials for shade

Shade trees, and shrubs that create shade also create a need for low growing plants that enjoy shade. Deciduous trees and shrubs like the ones I have, or am thinking about, allow the sun to penetrate to the ground in the spring, and allow spring blooming bulbs from the small crocuses and daffodils to bloom. Some slightly more unusual bulbs include snowflakes (Leucojum) which look very much like a large snowdrop, and bloom after the snow drops have gone by. Iris reticulatas are small irises, often no more than six inches tall.

In addition, there are other low growing spring bloomers that welcome the dappled sunlight. Tiarella, or foam flower, not only produces foamy pink or white racemes of blossoms in the spring, the low-growing heart shaped leaves spread rapidly covering the ground. A related, more lush plant is the heucherella, a heuchera (coral bells) and tiarella hybrid. The foliage is similar but the blossoms are more substantial.

One of my favorite spring blooming groundcovers is barren strawberry or Waldsteinia. Its name refers to the strawberry like foliage, and habit of sending out runners. It also has brilliant yellow flowers that look like cousins to white strawberry blossoms.

A groundcover that I appreciated first for it delicate heart shaped foliage is the epimedium. I think that is because I never saw the early spring bloom. Epimediums, sometimes called fairy hats, are a large family and the dainty flowers on firm slender stems come in a whole range of colors. We have a famous epimedium nursery right here in Massachusetts, Garden Vision Epimediums in Templeton. The flowers range from pale whites, yellows, and pinks to plumy and deep purples. There is also a range of foliage color and form. I have several epimediums and realize now that I have to move them into the back garden where I can see them better and enjoy them more. One special benefit of epimediums is that they will thrive even in dry shade.

There are many shades of green in the shady garden, but a patch of light can be a stunning accent. I recently bought a Goldheart columbine with its brilliant foliage for what will be a shady bed.

Vignette of mixed green at the Bridge of Flowers, hostas, lamium, hakone grass and bloodroot foliage

Vignette of mixed green at the Bridge of Flowers, hostas, lamium, hakone grass and bloodroot foliage

Hostas come in various shades of green from the blue-green Wishing Well hosta to the creamy white of Dancing Queen. Both of these produce tall flower stalks, but for me, the tall blooms are unimportant. Another family of familiar plants are the lowgrowing lamiums like White Nancy which produce insignificant blooms, and a variety of foliage variegations. Always dependable and very pretty.

Of course, not every plant in a garden needs to bloom. The golden Hakonechloa aurea Aureola, Hakone grass, will supply that bit of sun in a shady spot. I also have a small patch of shiny green European ginger. Both prove that flowers are not a necessity in a garden. Patches of green give the eye time to rest before moving to a more colorful vignette.

What patches of green do your eyes rest on as you survey your garden?

Between the Rows  July 30, 2016

8 comments to Shade in the Garden

  • Oh my goodness: Your vignette of mixed greens is so lovely! I love my shade garden, especially during a hot summer like this one. I also like a touch of sun here and there. Great post!

  • There is a lot of green in my garden. Hellebores are one of my favorite greens. They are a strong green and of course those sweet flowers so early in the season makes them a must in my garden.

  • Helen Opie

    Another possibility is an arbour, grown over with clematis or other vining plants. Wisteria is very heavy, ditto northern kiwis, or grapes, but their beauty (and food) is worth it. That way you can plant sun-loving things to make your shade and at the base of it…or not. My courtesy aunt used t have a party each spring and fall celebrating the “opening” and the “closing” of her grape arbour, which meant nothing other than an excuse or name for a garden party.

  • Nan

    I just keep thinking how happy your neighbors are that you moved in making such a beautiful place for them to enjoy!

  • Pat

    I am happy my next door neighbor is happy. We do have a very pretty street. Lots of gardeners.

  • Pat

    Helen – We are right with you. An arbor is in our plans. Probably not grapes. To be decided. I love the idea of Opening and Closing garden parties.

  • Pat

    Beth – I wish you and I could sit together in the garden here – and in your garden, there.

  • Pat

    Lisa – Hellebores! I knew I was forgetting something!

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