however arid, bare or ugly,
that cannot be tamed into such a state
as may give an impression of beauty
― Gertrude Jekyll
A year ago, when I moved to a place in town with a decidedly empty yard, Gertrude Jekyll's famous words became my mantra.
I definitely had bare ground. I also had shade, which was novel after gardening for many years with a southern exposure.
A modest shade bed became an essential first job in my 'Garden 2.0'.
A landscaper friend helped me define the bed shape and lift the soil. I needed a support person to actually cut into healthy sod! We used a garden hose to outline the curves; a spade to cut and lift the sod in sections. It's nice to have help for this step.
I added peat moss, sheep manure and black earth to create a healthy medium for my transplants. Never skimp at this stage! After all, you are sending out an invitation to earthworms and plant roots.
A hypertufa birdbath – a prized garden feature – was set in place to help define the design. A collection of mature shade plants from my country garden were transplanted into the bed. These plants look rather discouraged, but it was late in the season; they were no longer actively growing. August is a time when plants can be moved, provided they have three or more frost-free weeks to settle in. They need care too, especially watering.
Mulch and wait for spring. I layered this bed heavily with leaves to protect – in particular – the crowns of the hostas and astilbe (shown right). Leaves give plants the best protection against winter cold and the freeze-thaw cycle that claims perennials so easily in the northern garden.
Astilbe – such as Astilbe chinensis 'Visions in Pink' (top left) offers a soft look in the shade garden. The rich red of Astilbe japonica 'Red Sentinel' lends more drama.
Hosta – there are dozens of cultivars to consider. I have not tracked the names of my hosta other than the cultivar 'Fire and Ice' (bottom left). The leaves of this slower-growing hosta are predominantly and irregularly white with a green margin; the reverse is seen in the more common Hosta marginata.
Hardy geranium – such as Geranium pratense 'Dark Reiter' (top right) which I have found grows best in partial shade, rather than full sun. The foliage is wonderfully dark.
Lamuim – such as Lamium maculatum 'White Nancy' (bottom right). This tough plant will spread readily, filling in the front of a shade border in no time.
What is your favorite plant for shade? Share in a comment.