Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Dreaming of Shade

I have an admission.  I went to another plant sale at the Experimental Farm in Charlottetown this past weekend.  In an effort to keep myself from purchasing completely inappropriate plants I tried to stick to ones I recognized.  The problem for me is that my previous gardening experience in British Columbia was in the shade.  With all those big trees you learn a thing or two about shade.  The picture on the right is a shady trail we used to walk on the Sunshine Coast.  Our property now is full of sun so I have a lot to learn.  But it got me dreaming of all my beloved plants that I left behind and thinking about where I could create a shady nook in our new home.  For those of you who are perhaps looking for a little shady inspiration I've listed some of my favourites below.

Hostas, to me, are the workhorse of a shade garden.  They don't have big flowers but they make up for it in foliage and shape.  Those giant leaves lend an air of tropical lushness even in a northern zone garden.  They come in a range of sizes from several feet across to miniature and in colours that range from bright lime green to dark blue green.  This one featured below is variegated.

Sweet woodruff or Galium odoratum.

This is a groundcover which spreads far and wide in moist part shady conditions.  Some people might consider it invasive but I have found that it's really easy to pull it out if it's getting out of hand.   The whorls of leaves and the tiny white flowers captivate me and brighten up dark spots like nothing else.

Toad Lily or Tricyrtis hirta.

These dainty little guys are best viewed up close.  Put them in a raised bed if possible so they don't get missed.  They will form beautiful clumps and amaze you with their tiny features.  They might look delicate but these plants are hardy to Zone 4 and can take part to full shade.

For those of you with a warm climate you might appreciate this wonderful shrub.

Sarcacocca confusa or Sweetbox ranges up to zone 6.  It's a wonderful evergreen shrub with glossy leaves that can survive full shade.  It may not look like much but don't let this shrub fool you.  It makes a good structural element in your shade garden and when it blooms in early early spring the flowers, while insignificant, smell outrageously wonderful.

This isn't the best picture but the following is Brunnera macrophylla "Jack Frost".

This plant produces tiny blue flowers like forget-me-nots in spring atop heart shaped silver lined leaves.  Once the flowers have stopped blooming the leaves continue to expand.  These plants expand quickly to fill in a space and the silver accents add a brightness to shady spots.

Also, Solomon's Seal or Polygonatum biflorum

These lovely plants get several feet tall and their funny bulb shaped flowers dangle like earrings overtop the other plants.

By now you can see a theme.  Lots of green and focus on using different shapes and sizes of foliage.  For colour find plants that are variegated.  Happy shade gardening.


  1. A beautiful selection. I love the woodruff and am dying to try the toad lily - they look so sweet.

    Love the water pic - there's nothing like the sound of rushing water. It's relaxing just to look at it. :)

  2. Thank you! The toad lily really is a great plant and entirely unexpected in a shade garden. The flower has all the complexity of an orchid but is incredibly easy to grow. Variegated leaves are available as well.

  3. I love the sunshine coast picture. Very 'BC rain forest'. It is hard changing the way we garden completely. Most struggle trying to understand what they can plant in shade. But moving to a sun garden has to have its difficulties as well. I'm sure you will find your sunny favorites too, but I love your shade list!