How to Landscape a Shady Yard

See how a landscape designer helps the owners of a large yard solve the problem of too much shade and an unsightly view of the neighbor's utilities.
By: June Mays

Landscape Problems

Upon arriving at the entrance of this residence, you are met with the unsightly view of electrical controls of the next-door neighbor’s gate. On the opposite side of the driveway, a woodland, although promising, was filled with briars and poison ivy. In the shaded front-yard bed, sun-loving plants had died and those left were not thriving in soil that had become worn and thin. The owners want a design using shade-loving plants to give a fresh look to a shade bed in the front yard. They craved a woodland wildflower walk that would provide nectar for the bees they keep. And they had to do SOMETHING about the neighbor’s exposed electrical controls at their entrance.

Design Plan Solution: Driveway

To mask the next-door neighbor’s electrical controls, five Ilex x ‘Nellie R. Stevens’ (zones 6-9) were planted to form an effective hedge, flanked on each end by Illicium floridanum, (zones 6-9).

On both ends of the hedge, curving toward the driveway, drifts of six red stemmed dogwood, Cornus sericea ‘Arctic Fire’ (zones 2-7), were planted for winter interest. To provide color during the summer and to provide nectar for bees, five butterfly bushes (Buddleia davidii ‘Black Knight’ zones 5-9) were spaced five feet apart, in front of the holly hedge. For foliage color, a skirt of 13 Abelia ‘Kaleidoscope’ (zones 5-9), a compact variegated shrub whose colors change through the seasons, completed the bee-friendly planting. Now guests feel welcomed when entering this landscape.





©June Mays Garden Design

June Mays Garden Design

Design Plan Solution: Backyard

Tucked back 25’ from the path, Cornus kousa (zones 5-8) and Cornus florida (zones 6-9) dogwoods have been staggered along its length for texture and color. Shrubs that will tolerate some shade — like oak leaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia zones 5-9), willowleaf cotoneaster (Cotoneaster salicifolius zones 6-7), leatherleaf mahonia (Mahonia bealii zones 4-8), and various rhodendron cultivars(zones 4-8) — have been planted in drifts of five to seven along the path.

To provide color and nectar for bees through the spring and summer, drifts of 21 different wildflowers and perennials will be planted along the path in pockets of shade or sun, moist or dry soil, as appropriate, including: Black Cohosh (Actea racemosa zones 3-8); Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa zones 3-9); Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata zones 3-6); Fleabane daisy (Erigeron pulchellus zones 3-10); Geranium ‘Roseanne’ (zones 5-8); Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis zones 3-8); purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea zones 3-8); Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium fistulosum zones 3-9); gray headed coneflower (Ratibida pinnata zones 3-8); foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia zones 4-9); dwarf iris (Iris cristata zones 3-9); cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis zones 3-9); Blue Cardinal Flower (Lobelia siphilitica zones 4-9); Black & Blue salvia (Salvia guaranitica ‘Black & Blue’ zones 8-10); Heliopsis ‘Golden Glow’ zones 3-9; Cabbage leaf rudbeckia (Rudbeckia maxima zones 4-9); Amsonia zones 4-9; Indian Pink (Spigelia marilandica zones 5-9); Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica zones 3-8); Beard’s Tongue (Penstemon tenuifolius and Penstemon laevigatus zones 3-8); white wood aster (Aster longifolius zones 3-10 ); and blue wood phlox (Phlox divaricata zones 3-8). These plants were chosen for bee-friendliness and beauty. From spring to fall, there will be color along this woodland walk.



Design Plan Solution: Front Yard

The tired bed in shade in the front yard was rejuvenated with four inches of composted leaves, manure and topsoil mixed with existing soil. A lovely upright Japanese maple was kept in place. Existing lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis zones 3-8) was repositioned around the maple. A line of boxwood (Buxus sempervirens zones 6-8), filled empty space along the carport wall. Otto Lukyen laurel (Prunus laurocerasus zones 6-8) now curves around one side of the bed. Swirls of holly fern (Cyrtomium falcatum zones 6-10); ginger (Asarum europeum zones 4-7); Ajuga reptans zones 3-9; autumn fern (Dryopteris erythrosora ‘Brilliance’ zones 5-8); Lenten rose (Helleborus orientalis zones 4-9); Rhodea japonica zones 7-9; Solomon’s Seal (Polygonatum odoratum zones 3-8); and chartreuse, blue and variegated hostas were added around the tree filling the bed. Since the design, the owners have added more plants to make it look fuller in its early life. As they mature, plants will be removed to avoid crowding.

Now the owners can walk along their revitalized shade bed, out onto the woodland walk, past their beehives, and up to the newly planted entrance with expectations of gardening pleasure for many years to come.





©June Mays Garden Design

June Mays Garden Design

Next Up

How to Design a Great Yard with Landscape Plants

Make sure you put the right plant in the right place. Learn how to choose and where to place your plants so you can create a low-maintenance landscape that will thrive for years to come.

How to Landscape a Sloping Backyard

See how the owners of a large townhome have a landscape designer solve the problem of a sloped backyard and a dull front yard.

Mulch Your Way to Better Landscape Design

Mulch your way to prettier, healthier plantings. Learn which type of mulch to use, when to use it and where to use it.

Shade-Tolerant Plants

Check out 11 shade-tolerant plants and the planting information for each zone.

Perennials That Love Shade

These 10 plants will add color to your shade garden and return year after year.

Soil Specifics

Learn how to check soil conditions and what kinds of characteristics "good" soil should have.

Shade-Loving Herbs

Consider growing these herbs that can make do on four or fewer hours of sun each day.

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.

Shade Gardening Tips

Tips on how to cultivate a shade garden.

Lawn Watering Basics

Follow these tips for a crash course in watering a lawn.

Get Social With Us

We love to DIY. You love to DIY. Let's get together.

Consult Our A-Z Guide

Everything You Need to Know

Browse a full list of topics found on the site, from accessories to mudrooms to wreaths.  

How-To Advice and Videos

Get video instructions about kitchens, bathrooms, remodeling, flooring, painting and more.

Watch DIY Downloads Now

Watch DIY Network LIVE

Don't miss your favorite shows in real time online.