The Q&A Archives: How To Set Up A Shade Garden

Question: What is the best way in starting from scratch to plan a shade garden that will produce color during the spring, summer, and fall and become full. I see beautiful pictures of garden's where the plants are placed according to height, this seems like it would be hard to do, but there must be an easy way to do it. Please help! The area in my backyard that I need help with is pretty large, somewhere around 14' x 35'.

Answer: It's not hard to do at all (believe me, if I can do it - you can too!). The first requirement is of course, shade. Once you have your site chosen it is simply a matter of choosing plants that you like which are shade lovers and which are suitable to your USDA zone. Many nurseries and many, many mail order nurseries even offer planned shade gardens which simplify the matter even further...they come with appropriate plants and plans (Burpee offers an annual planned shade garden). Arranging for height isn't difficult at all, once you have chosen the flowers you simply look up their mature heights. This information is almost always included in the catalog you are ordering from, a nursery tag, or even better, an all purpose perennial guide such as Ortho's "All About Perennials". I feel confident there are even books with plans specifically geared toward shade gardening. Now, let's pretend you have the plants picked out, and have their mature all you do is draw a very simple plan for planting. For example, most astilbe is tall so they go in the back, a medium-tall plant like heuchera might come next, a variety of campanula would be in front of that, and next perhaps a short hosta, interplanted with a short shade lover like Saxifrage and/or a shade loving ground cover such as european ginger or ajuga. Of course before you plant, you will want to prepare the area by enhancing the soil with organic matter such as compost, leaf mould or composted cow manure. This helps improve the soil's composition and, gently nourishes the plants. It would also be a good idea to have a soil test performed, contact your County Extension Office for details about that. A good source for shade loving plants is Shady Oaks Gardensat 1-800-504-8006. If we can help you on this new project any further, please do not hesitate to revisit the website and post another question.

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