How To Handle A Shady Garden – No Problem!

The shady garden, lots of questions on plants, flowers, designs, ideas and layouts. Why all the sadness and bitter complaining about the shady gardens?
It seems to be the pessimist’s big moment when they can get the ear of a fellow gardener and say: “Of course, you can’t expect flowers here. You have a shady yard.”

Many Plants Thrive in Shade

A great many plants will thrive with little or no sun, if they have light. Few spots are too dark to grow anything.

Most of the material discussed grows in many gardens, so I’m certain it stands various degrees of shade.

Shrubs that grow and bloom freely in part shade include laurel, azalea, rhododendron and the dogwoods in spring; blue hydrangea and sweet pepperbush (clethra) in summer.
Azalea blooming in shade


For fall color, there’s beautyberry (callicarps), the several types of bush and vine euonymus and some of the cotoneasters. They will even grow under fairly heavy tree leafage, except under dense evergreens or maples.

Out from under the trees but still where the shadows fall on them, they do beautifully.

Plants for Shady Gardens – One Hour Sunshine Per Day?

Forsythia and spires bloom very well where a house or tree cuts off the sun, and laburnum trees open fine yellow flowers with one hour’s sunshine a day. This also applies to kerria.

If you’re more interested in foliage than in blossoms, you can grow mahonia, several kinds of privets and barberries, leucothoe and andromeda.

A large beech tree darkens a friends garden until 10 am, when a glance of sun comes in for about an hour. From then until 5:00 o’clock, the neighbor’s house and his own keeps the ground in shadow, with part of the tree getting just slanting rays of the sun from the west in late afternoon.

Still, he has flowers from April to frost.

Where You Want To Cover The Ground

Narcissus and many small spring bulbs bloom under the beech and along the drive. These do wonderfully well in a shade landscaping. Edging the bed is a line of tulips. Parrots and some of the species kinds.

Virginia bluebells flourish, and the sweet violets do beautifully in the dells and hideaway places. The violets require little care and give a bountiful harvest.


Plant only the choicer named varieties and have something really good. In a corner, where you want to cover the ground and still have spring flowers to pick, put a patch of undemanding lily-of-the-valley.

Anemone hupehensis goes to 14 inches, and gives quantities of mauve blooms. At least three other varieties of anemone prove satisfactory.

Then if there’s a damp spot, forget-me-nots are fine, especially Myosolls palustris with its large, yellow-eyed blossoms.

In the cracks of the walk or in a rock garden try Arenaria verna, which thrives in either sun or shade, and has pretty white flowers.

Also at home among rocks are lewisia, with beautiful rosettes of leaves like saxifrage and soft pink flower, on 8-inch stems, and sweet woodruff, a fine scented fern that reminds one of new-mown hay.

This sweet woodruff makes a good ground-cover, as do Vinca minor (Bowles variety with blue flowers) and the extremely hardy Euonymus kewensis, with neat growth and rich dark green foliage.

June Come Columbine

In June, columbine blooms. I have never seen better columbine than in a shady garden. Especially, Aquilegia coerulea, but all do well without full sun. Iris is not supposed to be a shade plant, but I have fourteen kinds.

While they may not do as well as in a sunny garden, I give them the highest, brightest spot I can, and they do not disappoint me.

Throughout the summer, the garden has plenty of flowers. Down the center of the same bed where the bulbs appear in spring is a collection of lilies.

Not in a row, but in clumps spaced at intervals, are the regals. speciosum, formosanum, umbellatum, tigrinum (both single and double), the red mongol, and last but by far the finest of all. hybrid auratum.

Eupatorium. the hardy ageratum, is a robust plant, good in the wild garden but usable any place. The purplish blue flowers look much like the annual ageratum. And don’t forget to put in a few ferns.

Two flowers of the field, meadowrue and meadowsweet, grow well and combine gracefully with other shady garden subjects.

The first (thalictrum) has fine foliage and rosy purple blooms, and the second (Spiraea alba; the double ones are best) have tall, fluffy white panicles.

The spiderworts (tradeneantia) range from white through rose to purple. Persistent bloomers, they survive even bad neglect.

If you want a tall plant, use lythrum – not the old purple, but the pink that blooms most of the summer.

Aconite or monkshood, will make up for the absence of sunloving delphiniums. Another spike plant, liatris performs beautifully with almost no sun.

Beebalm or bergamot in white, pink or red, the brilliant blue plumbago and paler blue pulmonaria are all well worth trying. If you want a daisy-shaped flower, purple coneflower (rudbeckia) stands shade and blooms profusely.

If the soil is damp, the yellow trollius will bloom, as will brilliant red Lobelia cardinalis and the plumy white snakeroot (cimicifuga). So will the black hellebore or Christmas rose.

Just one more suggestion will complete the list. Fuchsia magellanica, an out-of-the-ordinary plant, grows best in shade and blooms the summer through. The purple variety and the white one make excellent foils for each other. Not too hardy, Fuchsia magellanica can be trusted with protection in the New York latitude.

Don’t be afraid of the shady garden. Just make one and go right on enjoying it, to the shame of those poor misguided mortals who will no doubt go on saying it can’t be done.


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