2016 / Solving problems

Shade (Take two)


First of all, an apology! Only a portion of last week’s blog made it out into cyberspace, for reasons unknown. So here is the unabridged version, with 5 shade garden tips, as promised!

Shady sites can be challenging for gardeners for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the many types of shade that there are. There is dense shade, dappled shade, part shade, part sun (yes, there’s a difference), moderate shade… The shade from a building can be different from the shade from a tree. Some mid day sun is different from some afternoon sun, etc, etc. But the one common factor is that plants that need 6 hours or more of direct sunlight every day won’t thrive there.

Although there is no way to change this fact, that doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy a beautiful garden in the shade. There are things that you can do not only to increase light levels for the plants, but also to lighten the visual deadness of a shady area. What follows is a list of 5 things that you can do to make your shady garden spectacular!

Prune or “limb up” trees that are causing shade. By removing the bottom set of branches, the area under the tree can get more reflected light. By pruning out deadwood and thinning out the branches (a process called “lacing”, see a short video), more light can get through from the top to help plants grow underneath.


Choose natives. Plants  that grow in shade that are native to your area are an easy choice. They have been growing in those conditions for centuries, so the success rate is high. In New England, plants like  The White Wood Aster (Eurybia divaricata/Aster divaricatus), Woodland Phlox (Phlox divaricata), Wreath Goldenrod (Solidago caesia) and Threadleaf Tickseed (Coreopsis verticillata) will brighten up a shady patch with ease. And there are plenty of others to choose from. For more ideas, visit the website of the New England Wildflower Society.

phlox divaricata


Plant bulbs or spring ephemerals under deciduous trees. An ephemeral is a plant that grows, flowers, sets seed, and goes dormant in a very short time, like Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis), Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica, or Dutchman’s Breeches (Dicentra cucullaria). Bulbs aren’t considered ephemerals, but many of the early spring bulbs such as Grape Hyacinths (Muscari), Scilla, Snowdrops (Galanthus), etc. have grown and flowered by the time the deciduous trees (trees that lose their leaves in winter) have grown their new leaves and blocked out the sun. Thus,  you can take advantage of the early spring light while you have it.  Timing is everything…


Use plants with white or light colored flowers to brighten up the shade. You would be amazed by how much light a grouping of Brunnera ‘Jack Frost’, or Pulmonaria ‘Diane Clare’ will bring to a shady garden. Likewise, Azalea ‘Delaware Valley White’ will bring light colored flowers by the bushel into the garden. You will be amazed by the transformation.


Build light colored seating areas in the shade. If you have been wanting a patio, why not put it in a shady area? Use light colored stones or pavers that will reflect light and build yourself a cool retreat that will brighten your day and the shade. Add some light colored plants and some ephemerals, and you will have it made in the shade!


A shady spot needn’t be a liability; in fact, it can be one of the best parts of your garden if you want it to be. To quote John French Sloan, “Light and shade is one of the great qualities of art.”

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