Tips For a Beautiful Shade Garden
Shade gardens are a beautiful way to add interest to areas of deep or partial shade, where grass and other sun-loving plants may be unable to grow.Shade gardens may require a little more research and planning than gardens grown in full sunlight, but the results are well worth the extra effort.
Here are some tips to make the most of the shady spots in your yard:
Look at Shade as an Opportunity
Deep, or even partial, shade in your yard may prevent you from growing a few of your favorite plants, but it presents a wonderful opportunity to find new favorites. There are many beautiful and underappreciated plants that grow happily in shade, from old favorites such as columbines to more recent fads like hosta.
Mulch, Mulch, Mulch
Shady areas often have poor soil, and plants competing for root space can cause the soil to dry out even faster than sunny areas during dry periods. Mulch not only protects the soil, it also adds organic matter, which improves the soil's water holding capacity and nutrient level.
Be careful not to pile mulch too thickly against the base of tree trunks (volcano mulching), as this can cause rot and disease.
Think in Layers
When you think about a forest, the first thing you probably think of is trees. If you enjoy hiking, maybe you'll add a few shrubs and ground covers or woodland wildflowers such as ferns or Jack-in-the-Pulpit, but chances are, you'll mostly think of trees.
In fact, natural woodland ecosystems have not one, two, or three, but seven distinct layers. These are:
- The Canopy - the large, mature trees, such as oaks and maples
- The Low Tree Layer - young trees and smaller understory trees, such as redbud and dogwood
- The Shrub Layer - shrubs and bushes, such as viburnums or blackberries
- The Herbaceous Layer - wildflowers, ferns, and other smaller plants, such as bleeding hearts and hosta
- The Soil Surface Layer - mulch and low-growing ground covers, such as vinca or creeping jenny
- The Rhizosphere - roots
- The Vertical Layer - vines, such as Virginia creeper
By considering each of the seven layers of the natural woodland when designing your shade garden, you will not only create a beautiful, naturalistic landscape, you will also reduce the amount of work you will need to do to maintain the garden once it is established. Dense, multilayered plantings conserve water by keeping the soil cool and moist, and shade out weeds before they can become a problem.
Look Beyond Flowers
Although there are many beautiful flowering plants that thrive in shade, one of the great pleasures of shade is its ability to draw beauty from foliage, bark, berries, and other often-overlooked sources of beauty.
Hosta is the most famous of the many lovely foliage plants that thrive in shade. Other lovely choices include Coralbells (also produces attractive flowers), Ajuga, ferns, and many variegated shrubs and groundcovers.
Extraordinary bark is another great way to enliven shady spots. Beeches, birches, poplars, sycamores, shagbark hickory, and red twig dogwood are among the world's most beautiful and unique barks.
Berries are not only beautiful, many also attract birds, whose lovely colors and songs enliven the shade like nothing else. Many woodland berries are also edible for humans and a British gardener Robert Hart developed a system of landscape design he called "edible forest gardening," which emphasized the use of plants that were both beautiful and productive, for humans, wildlife, or both.