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7 Expert Tips for Shade Garden Success

White flowering Annabelle Hydrangea and gold Hostas inject light & energy in a shaded north facing location.

Over the years of gardening, I have found shade gardening required less time and maintenance than my sunny perennial borders. It also became a tranquil place to relax and unwind after a hectic day.

Here are a few shade gardening tips that are quick and easy to do while making your shade retreat a place you want to spend time in.

1) Consider the Grand Design. You can create the illusion of space by installing a gently curved pathway. Create shade by installing a pergola or umbrellas if you have open sunny areas.

2) Most shade loving plants benefit from some sun (preferably morning which is less harsh)  Light colored foliage plants brighten up shaded areas and look colorful all season. Gold Hostas and moneywort gradually transition from gold to bright yellow. Black leaf plants such as Heuchera Obsidian really depend on some sunlight to bring out the deepest black leaves possible.

3)  How to add light to deep shade

Don’t hesitate to limb up lower branches of trees and shrubs. Those tired and overgrown shrubs will not only have a fresh new look but more oxygen circulates creating a healthier environment.

4 )  Plant Selection & Foliage

Hosta, Hellebore & Fern combine well with their different textures and shapes. The combination of blues & greens are calming in a shade garden

The less sun available, the less energy there is for plants to produce a lot of  flowers that you would normally get in a sunny perennial garden.  You can create a beautiful setting with the right mix of foliage color, shaped & textures.  Blue and green foliage create a calming and comforting feeling in a shade garden.

5 ) Tough Areas

If you are having a hard time getting anything to compete with tree roots, grow your favorite shade plants in containers.  Sink pots in the ground between roots or add height with taller pots.

6)  Berm or Terrace

For problematic areas, consider a berm or terrace. Make sure you don’t cover more than a third of tree roots.  A raised bed will be easier to maintain and bring in plants closer to you for your enjoyment.

7) Shade Garden Success

If you are just starting out, select plants that are more WIDELY ADAPTABLE to various degrees of light and soil conditions.

Enjoy season long bursts of foliage color in the shade

I once had a shade garden that included hundreds of shade plants, but there were a handful that were able to tough it out better than others.  It was an easy care shade border that was beautiful 3 seasons of the year and a terrific place to unwind after a hectic day.  As the plants got bigger, they filled in nicely covering bare spots and reducing maintenance.

For gardening inspiration, check out these shade garden collections.

Our next article will feature 12 Best Shade Loving Plants for Your Garden.

Bring On The Black

Black & black-like plants are finally getting the recognition they deserve.  Black plants are alluring as they create excitement while making other colors come alive in the garden.  If you select black foliage or flowering perennials, they will come back year after year.

Yellow Creepy Jenny Lysimachia adds the POP when combined with Black Scallop Ajuga

Yellow Creeping Jenny Lysimachia adds SIZZLE when combined with Black Scallop Ajuga

The problem with black  that left alone in the garden they can appear dull and uninteresting. Given the right companion can make all the difference in making this color explode with excitement.


Actaea Black Negligee – black lacy foliage all summer!

Helleborus London Fog – Deer & drought proof shade groundcover with black flowers

Ophiopogon (Black Mondo Grass) – Narrow black foliage. is used as a groundcover or in containers.

Ajuga Black Scallop (Bugleweed) – Low growing black foliage groundcover for sun or shade

Sambucus Black Lace – A  black foliage Japanese Maple Look-alike – Pair  this with Sunny Knock Out Roses!

Heuchera Obsidian – sun makes the foliage color shimmer just like the stone obsidian!

Here are a few tips to make this gothic color come alive!

Tip # 1

Two plants that do a Tango!

Two plants that do a Tango!

If you really want to add some crackle n’ pop with black foliage combine with Yellow/Gold foliage plants.

Here’s two combinations that really tango when paired together – Lysimachia Aurea and Ophiopogon Nigrescens or Black Mondo Grass

Need other ideas to add some POP?

Love Story - Helleborus London Fog & Hakonechloa All Gold

Love Story - Helleborus London Fog & Hakonechloa All Gold

Plant low growing Ajuga at the base of  gold/yellow Hostas such as Sum & Substance or June Fever.

A magical almost spring love story happens with drought proof Helleborus London Fog & Hakonechloa All Gold.

Try Rose Sunny Knock Out with Sambucus Black Lace for a oh-la-la effect.

Tip #2

To bring out the best color in black-foliage perennials give them some sun – morning sun or afternoon sun. Black foliaged plants that are grown in complete shade will appear dull and uninteresting.

Tip #3

Use black plants sparingly.  If planted in large groupings, they’ll create a large dark & dreary spot in the garden.

Tip #4

Use black plants in containers. Select a light color container to make the colors jump.  I’ve used a white container with black-foliage Heuchera Obsidian and boy did that bring out the color.  Or surround your black plants with lighter colors such as golds, or oranges.

Certainly there are other colors that will play well with black. The important thing  is that black plants need some play on color to make them stand out.

Bring on the black in your garden and have sun fun coming up with exciting combinations that you’ll love!

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