The best way to plan for a shade garden is to visualize what plants grow in the forested areas near you. Here in western Oregon we have fir stands, and growing below the treetops are rhododendrons, ferns, Oregon grape, mushrooms, huckleberries, bleeding hearts and Dutchman's britches (common names for the different colored flowers of the Dicentra genus), and columbine. In shady cultivated gardens you can spot acanthus, begonia, hellebore, impatiens, fuschia, and hosta. Some blend of the wild-growing and cultivated, the foliage and the flowering can offer the best contrasts for a shade garden.
If you have the room put in a rhododendron, surround it with a few types of fern, and fill in the small spaces around these with lower growing hosta, then tuck flowers like begonia, impatiens, bleeding hearts and columbine in around each. The bonus of a shade garden is that you don't have to water nearly as much, in some cases not at all. Many shade plants are also perennial, like hosta and fern, columbine and bleeding heart. One year spent putting together your shade garden and an annual trimming of dead branches and leaves and pruning of shrubs can be all it takes to have a beautiful space where previously there was a muddy pit, or a tangle of weeds.
When choosing plants look carefully at the tags or the descriptions in catalogs, watch for a little half-black sun symbol, or completely black sun. These mean partial or full shade.
|Catalog entry for shade or partial shade plant.|
If you are truly at a loss on how best to plant in a shady space, you can always resort to a rock garden, or a water feature (which will benefit from the lack of sun and grow less algae).