The Q&A Archives: Beginning Shady Garden

Question: I have a small garden area that is in the shade. I don't know what to plant in it - I would like a layout of what plants to grow where - which go in the front and which go in the back. I would like plants, not seeds ( I have a very small house and no where to grow them indoors). Also, we have a lot of deer in the area. I have had luck with impatiens and ferns, but what about lily of the valley? If I planted them, would they go behind the impatiens? As you can tell I'm very confused (and a novice).

Answer: Since you are beginning, it might be a good idea to look at some basic gardening books to help give you a feel for what you are trying to accomplish. Two I particularly like are "Annuals for Dummies" by Bill Marken ISBN 0-7645-5056-X and "Perennials for Dummies" by Marcia Tatroe ISBN 0-7645-5030-6. Both of these down to earth and straightforward books include plans and have special sections about shady gardens.

In the meantime, deer can be extremely destructive to plantings and learn to eat more and more types of plants over time. If you have a deer problem, you will need to check with your neighbors and find out what plants they have not yet learned to eat in your local area. Unfortunately, in my sad experience, the only definite solution to a deer problem is a fence.

Finally, lily-of-the-valley is a shade lover and will spread quickly like an aggressive ground cover in a rich, moist soil. In a drier soil it will gorw more slowly and may turn brown and dry in the summer heat. Keep these characteristics in mind when you decide where to plant it. Although it is short, it blooms early before the impatiens would have any size so you could plant it behind the impatiens.

Gardening is an ongoing experiment of trial and error, so try some different shade plants and see how they do in your own garden and which ones you like. Pretty soon you will have a better sense of what looks good and what will grow best for you in the growing conditions you have. You might try some of these easy perennials: hosta (available in many foliage patterns), lungwort, bleeding heart, and in lighter shade, columbine. Many annuals will tolerate part shade, but for darker areas try impatiens, caladium and coleus along with the polka dot plant, hypoestes. Variegated and plain green English ivy, pachysandra and creeping myrtle are all nice groundcovers for shade, too. Enjoy your garden!

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