10 steps to the perfect shade garden | Living the Country Life
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10 steps to the perfect shade garden

A creative gardener gives 10 tips for brightening up your shady yard.
  • Growing her gardens

     

    Billie Childress has extensive beds all over her 5-acre wooded property near Chicago. Over the years, she has learned that gardening in the shade is pretty much the same as gardening in the sun -- you just have to choose the right plants. Billie shares her top 10 tips for successful shade gardening on a large property.

    Date Published: July 6, 2012
    Date Updated: July 16, 2012
  • 1. Stick to tried and true

     

    Focus on using plants that are reliable and do not need a lot of care, like the "Big Daddy" hosta pictured here. When you have a large property and garden beds that are far out, you can't be constantly fussing with them. If you have a favorite plant that needs a little extra TLC, keep it close to the house where you can get to it easily. Native plants and reliably hardy varieties are good choices for easy care.

    Date Published: July 6, 2012
    Date Updated: July 16, 2012
  • 2. Go for texture, not bloom

     

    There are some blooming shade plants (hosta, actea, ligularia, and astilbe are a few), but most plants in the shade are chosen for their leaf color, shape, and texture. Combine different size leaves: large, small, and strappy, as well as different shades of green and variegated. Some leaves are shiny, and many have interested texture, such as corrugated hosta. Use a variety of these shade plants in your garden to get the most inviting vista. The tri-color beech pictured here is a great example of interesting texture.

    Date Published: July 6, 2012
    Date Updated: July 16, 2012
  • 3. Give them a drink

     

    How close is your water source? If you have watering stations on your property or a sprinkling system, that's great. But if you don't, you have to think about how far and how often you want to carry water to your gardens. Planting drought-tolerant plants in the farther beds eliminates watering except in the very driest of times for established plants. (Even drought-tolerant plants do usually need to be watered regularly when first planted, however.) This Solomon's seal is still wet from its morning drink.

    Date Published: July 6, 2012
    Date Updated: July 16, 2012
  • 4. Consider the view

     

    The farther away the bed is, the more you need to plant in large drifts of plants, not single varieties. Individual plants cannot be seen well from far away, they are better enjoyed in gardens close to the house. Think about putting in groupings of plants in odd-numbered batches of 5, 7, 9 and up to create a pleasing wave of interest that will be dramatic from a distance. 

    Date Published: July 6, 2012
    Date Updated: July 16, 2012
  • 5. Tidy up

     

    Keep beds neat and tidy, clearing out unwanted seedlings. If seedlings are left to grow, your gardens can soon become mumble jumble, says Billie.

    Date Published: July 6, 2012
    Date Updated: July 16, 2012
  • 6. Control your containers

     

    Cut back on your number of containers, Billie advises. She loves containers but disciplines herself to keep them only up near her house where she can water and fertilize them regularly. Also, consider size. Very large containers need to be watered less and can be seen better from a distance.

    Date Published: July 6, 2012
    Date Updated: July 16, 2012
  • 7. Make mulch your friend

     

    About 2 to 3 inches of mulch in the beds help to keep weeds down and moisture in the ground, thus, requiring less watering. Plus, it looks attractive and is great for filling bare spots in the garden, like around these allium plants. Using the same mulch on all the beds ties them together visually. Billie uses a hardwood mulch that she buys by the truckload, but if you have a chipper, you can also make your own. Shredded leaves and pine needles are another fine material. Just be sure to keep mulch pulled away from the base of trees and plants.

    Date Published: July 6, 2012
    Date Updated: July 16, 2012
  • 8. Be wary of ground cover

     

    Although many people love big beds filled in with ground covers, Billie finds that they can be a lot of trouble to weed. "I would rather have a bare spot covered with mulch. You don't need to have plants everywhere," she says.

    Date Published: July 6, 2012
    Date Updated: July 16, 2012
  • 9. Add seasonal interest

     

    Don't forget about spring and fall. Many plants have spring blooms and great color in autumn, and you can extend the enjoyment of your yard if you've planned for plants that offer multi-season looks. Many trees and shrubs give a great year-round display as do perennials such as hosta and perennial geranium. This clematis starts blooming in the spring and brings a pop of color to the garden until fall.

    Date Published: July 6, 2012
    Date Updated: July 16, 2012
  • 10. Don't go it alone

     

    Consider hiring some help if you need it. Billie's husband helps her when he can. But when he's not available, she gets help. Then jobs that need to be done get done when they should be. Creating a fabulous shade garden on a large property does not have to be a chore. Billie says her garden not only is beautiful to look at throughout the year but also is a peaceful and serene sanctuary for country living.

    Date Published: July 6, 2012
    Date Updated: July 16, 2012
  • Plant recommendations

     

    When you are shopping for shade plants, keep these varieties in mind.

    Perennials: Hosta, epidemium, brunnera, European & Canadian ginger, hakone grass, hellebores, perennial geranium, lady's mantle, Japanese anemones, columbines (pictured here), monkshood, ferns, and sedges.

    Wildflowers and natives: Aconites, toad lily, Solomon's seal, columbines, actea, Jack in the pulpit, shooting stars, and Virginia bluebells Shrubs: Hydrangea, dogwoods, viburnums, boxwood, fothergilla, and bottlebrush buckeye.

    Date Published: July 6, 2012
    Date Updated: July 16, 2012
  • More shade plants to try

     

    Understory trees: Redbuds, Japanese maple, dogwoods, ornamental crabs (on the edge of a woodland), and serviceberries.

    Keep a lookout, especially in the woods, for spring wildflowers. After Billie started clearing out mustard garlic and buckthorn, she started to see aconites, anemones, spring beauties, Jack in the pulpit, camassia, and shooting star. They were there all along, they just needed a little help to get reestablished.

    Date Published: July 6, 2012
    Date Updated: July 16, 2012
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