Shade Gardening forum: I have access to a flower bed for the first time ever, not sure where to start!

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Jul 1, 2018 3:24 PM CST
Hello fellow gardeners!

I have only been an apartment gardener in New England until today- I just moved into an apartment with a small flower bed! And if I make the garden beautiful, the landlord will reimburse me for the garden expenses. So let's make it beautiful at no expense to myself Smiling

I am in Washington DC, so I think we are in zone 7.
The garden gets part sun all day, and temps have been in the 90s all week.
The garden is mulched. I don't think the soil has been turned for ages, it's packed down and very dry.

I don't know where to start. The garden has been neglected, but weeded and mulched regularly. I can't make big changes like making raised beds- I just have to work with what I have.
I don't have a car for bringing loads of soil, but I can buy one or two bags and transport them with an Uber.

What can I do with what I have, and my limited abilities?
Right now this garden has day lillies, leggy hydrangeas I will prune in the fall, some moldy tiny peony plants, and one big hosta.

I got books from the library about container gardening, so I can plant in pots for variety!
And I am watching various youtube videos on what plants are recommended for shade. Perennial plants are preferred, because then the garden will look nice even if it is neglected in the future.

Thank you!
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Name: Virginia
Charleston, SC (Zone 8b)
Jul 2, 2018 5:48 PM CST
It looks like a nice spot for a beginner garden, and it's great that you're researching it ahead of time.

Because the dirt is dried out, one thing I think I'd do is add a few bags composted cow manure (no, it doesn't smell) such as Black Kow, which is the brand I usually see for sale. It will add moisture and low levels of nutrients- not enough that it will burn your plants. Others with more experience with urban gardening might have other suggestions for conditioning your depleted, dry soil.

Hostas, caladiums, coleus (let them flower- the pollinators love coleus), daphnes, wood hyacinths, hellebores, camellias (if you have room, you could grow a cold-hardy camellia in a pot, and take it with you if you move), ferns, etc. are justifiably recommended for shade, but also keep an eye out for woodland natives. There are some beautiful wildflowers that do well in your dappled shade.

I like the look of grasses in shade gardens; Inland River Oats (Chasmanthium latifolium) and Pink Muhly (Muhlenbergia) are native to your area, and I think they're beautiful. A non-native that should be hardy there is Japanese Forest Grass (Hakonechloa macra).

Have fun deciding, and feel free to share progress reports.

Name: Virginia
Charleston, SC (Zone 8b)
Jul 2, 2018 5:56 PM CST
PS I forgot to mention that all of the plants I've mentioned- and many more- are listed in the Plants Database (look at the top of your screen, above the NGA logo) with photos and growing info, so if you're curious about a plant, that's a good place to look for info.

For example, have a look at this plant record, admire the plant photos, then scroll down for garden photos that feature the plant in gardens:
Japanese Forest Grass (Hakonechloa macra 'Aureola')

Name: stone
near Macon Georgia (USA) (Zone 8a)
Plant Identifier Garden Sages Million Pollinator Garden Challenge
Jul 3, 2018 4:26 PM CST
Doesn't look like a lot is going to be happy there... there's more going on than just shade... there's not going to be any air movement there, and that is kind of a problem.

If it was me, I think I'd look at native ferns.... and plan on planting them pretty far apart.
Name: Cheryl
Texas (Zone 9a)
Region: Texas Greenhouse Plant Identifier Plant Lover: Loves 'em all! Plumerias Ponds
Foliage Fan Enjoys or suffers hot summers Tropicals Garden Ideas: Master Level Garden Sages Million Pollinator Garden Challenge
Jul 3, 2018 4:34 PM CST
Welcome! What a lovely area!! I would get a long-handled shovel and start turning that soil over. Getting some of that good mulch down into the soil will help it. Is there a faucet near by? Buy a hose and add some moisture to the dry soil as well. Preparing the soil will help whatever you decide to plant later on. I am specifically talking about the bed beneath the raised bed. The raised bed seems to have a good start on an assortment of plants.
Life is short, Break the rules, Forgive quickly, Kiss slowly, Love Truly, Laugh
uncontrollably, And never regret anything that made you Smile.
Name: Bea Kimball
Little Rock, Arkansas; (Zone 7b)
Hellebores Hummingbirder Butterflies Irises Echinacea Native Plants and Wildflowers
Million Pollinator Garden Challenge
Jul 29, 2018 4:53 PM CST
I've had to do a lot of soil improvement without building raised beds. I agree with the idea of manure or compost to improve the soil. I might use a good gardening fork instead of a shovel, but that is just my personal taste. It can be easier to dig into hard soil sometimes. Hellebores might do well in that space. I tried those when I was desperate for something to grow where nothing ever had.

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