Shade Garden

A shady backyard doesn't have to be considered a problem area. A shade garden can add interest and color to an uninspired all-green canvas.

Nearby honeysuckle will act as a shade canopy over the bed. The shade garden will be on the south side of the back yard, near a fence. The design is determined by forming the edge of the bed's perimeter with a garden hose.

Next, the bed's edge is cut. A sharp, flat edit shovel works fine, but Walter prefers a sharp half-moon hoe that easily cuts hard soil with pressure and a rocking motion.

It's important to consider soil improvement prior to planting. Some plants need organic matter, some do fine without it. In this demonstration, the soil sample was good, so the ground didn't require amending. Later, the bed will be finished with hardwood mulch, which will add nutrients and keep the soil from hardening.

This is a full-shade area. Full shade is a term used to describe an area receiving less than five hours of sunlight a day. In the spring, this area will get full sun, but after April -- when the trees have full green foliage -- this area becomes a full shade area.

When planting, the taller plants are positioned at the back of the garden. Because Walter is working in Zone 6, he'll have limited plant choices to work with. He starts at the back and works forward.

Here, Walter shares his choices:


  • Flower in a wide variety of colors and provide fragrance.
  • May be evergreen or deciduous shrubs growing from 2'-12' tall.

Vibernum and Kerria

  • Vibernum is also available as a broad-leaved evergreen or deciduous shrub, but will need to be trimmed each season if located in a tight area.
  • Kerria stays green in winter, requires no special attention and produces yellow pompon flowers.

Chocolate Veil and Hydrangea

  • Chocolate veil has pointed chocolate-bronze leaves with purple highlights. It flowers and grows to 24".
  • Walter uses a hydrangea called "big smile" that features a long blooming season with either pink or blue flowering clusters and dark, glossy foliage.

Ferns and Hostas

  • The award-winning Japanese painted fern is used for the front of the garden. Although most people think of ferns as shade plants, some are actually suited to sunny areas.
  • Hostas are wonderful shade plants and available varieties increase each year. In this shade garden, Walter selects August Moon Hosta (a vigorous grower with yellow leaves and white flowers in mid-summer); Fried Green Tomatoes (for rich green color that is bluish early in the season and produces pale lavender flowers); and Sum and Substance (a fast grower with large leaves and lavender flowers).

After all the plants are added -- including some Astilbe for color -- a 3" layer of hardwood mulch surrounds the flowers.

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