I love shade gardening. Its my refuge to a garden full of wonderful foliage plants. You see after flowers finish, the foliage of plants remain. It’s wise to chose plants with either great leaves, bark or berries to have interest all year round. This week I am planning what I will plant in the front shade garden. This month the garden is getting lots of sun as the trees are bare of leaves, with signs that the leaves are not far away. In early spring this garden is full of colour.
Under deciduous trees is a good place to plant spring bulbs and early bloomers such as Primula. Primula like the shaded conditions the trees provide later in the season but enjoy the warmth of the early spring sun for its blooms. The moist soil in spring is what this plant loves. Once they finish blooming they put their energy into the leaves which remain green all summer long.
Hostas are one of the most used plants for shade. Although many Hostas like part sun they do well in shade as well. This is one tough plant and can be used in containers or in the ground. Hostas come in a huge range of foliage colours. The Hosta above is one of my earliest to open with its golden leaves. Look for leaves with variegation and different colours to fill your shade garden. Hostas send up spikes of tubular flowers in summer in shades of white, pink or purple.
Hostas are herbaceous which means they don’t have woody stems so they die back to the ground in the fall. Be sure when planning your shade garden to add evergreen shrubs as the bones of the garden. One of my favourite shrubs is Skimmia. Not only does it have glossy green leaves, it has tiny red buds in late winter followed by pretty white flowers in spring. It’s a low growing shrub but almost as wide as it is tall.
Another easy evergreen shrub is Aucuba japonica with its gold speckled leaves. In winter it produces red berries which last until late spring. I bought this plant several years ago when it was just a foot high. It now stands at eight feet high so it needs room in the garden. It is quite happy in front of a large cedar hedge and its variegation breaks up the monotony of the green hedge.
What would a shade garden be without Helleborus? These favourites of the shade garden can bloom as early as December with other varieties carrying on until late March. Even once the blooms are past they tend to fade like the one above but still hold their petals.
Brunnera ‘Jack Frost’ is a fabulous performer in the shade garden. This perennial has tiny blue flowers in early spring but the best is yet to come.
This is how the leaves look after the flowers die off. Combine this plant with narrow leaved plants for added contrast. I have now added its cousins Brunnera ‘Looking Glass’ and ‘Alexander’s Great’ to the front shade garden.
So what else am I planting this year in the shade garden? I decided to grow Impatiens and Nicotiana from seed this year. Are they ever easy to grow from seed! This is a big money saver for me as the garden would normally take four flats of plants to fill it. I think I spent the equivalent of one flats price on three packages of seed. I hesitated about growing Impatiens due to the issues with downy mildew over the last few years but on a walk last summer I saw lots of Impatiens in perfect health. I haven’t tried Nicotiana in the shade garden and will have to make sure it gets some dappled light. It needs more sun than Impatiens do.
This year I am planting Impatiens omeiana in the shade garden. I received a plant from the volunteers at Abkhazi garden in Victoria last year and it needs to get in the ground. I was warned it could travel so it may go in near the hedge as a background plant. This hardy Impatien has lovely yellow blooms above variegated leaves. It flowers in the summer until late September. This plant will die back to the ground each year.
There are many more annual shade plants such as Browallia , Coleus and Begonias to go with an even longer list of perennial shade lovers. Begin by planting your shade garden with evergreens to carry you throughout the year. Next add perennials and fill in gaps with annual flowers. Combine wide leaved plants with narrow leaved ones like I have above. It adds interest to the shade garden.