Good Shade Gardening Books

Do you love reading good gardening books? Some books focus on the specifics of plants, giving detailed cultural information that help you choose your next plants and be better prepared to keep them alive. Others are full of inspiring design ideas, focusing on the overall picture. Here are two good shade gardening books I own, one of each type.Making the Most of Shade

The first book is called Making the Most of Shade, by Larry Hodgson. This book is particularly valuable for the great detailed information on a wide variety of shade plants. The book is well organized, concentrating on perennials, including separate sections for grasses, bulbs, ferns and climbing plants. Each one gets its own 2 pages of comprehensive facts and a coloured picture. The information about the length of bloom time is particularly useful and often missing from other books. If you knew that a blossom is only around for 1 week, you might not plan an elaborate colour scheme around it. There are also top lists of plants for various conditions, discussions of the factors specific to shade and a general outline of design considerations. Another benefit is his honest appraisal of many plants. Many gardening magazines rave about all new introductions, but I appreciate knowing potential drawbacks in advance. This is an informative book that lends itself to repeated browsing.

The Natural Shade GardenMy other favourite book on this topic is called The Natural Shade Garden and is written by Ken Druse. It focuses on designing the shade garden and is full of large inspiring pictures of garden beds, woodland scenes, terrific foliage texture combinations and beautiful plant details. This book also includes helpful lists of suggestions for different situations. The book captures that wonderful complex yet serene woodland environment that I would love to bring to my own yard. The author encourages you to think of the natural structure of the woodland, with the forest floor, middle layer and overhead canopy. There are detailed discussions of special shade gardens such as water gardening, rock gardening and container gardening. Photo collections of different gardens bring the ideas to life. This book helps you envision the type of garden you would like to develop in the shade.

These shade gardening books will inspire you, as well as giving practical advice for planning, planting and caring for your shade garden. I’ll be writing about other garden book categories in the future. I have some good books for gardening in northern/cold climates and some inspirational garden style books.

10 thoughts on “Good Shade Gardening Books”

  1. They have good practical information, as well as inspiring ideas if you are dealing with shade in your garden. When you see some of the pictures, you’ll wish you had more shady areas.

  2. Hi Northern Shade,

    Like you, I really like Larry Hodgson’s Shade book. The Plant Profile is easy to scan and has all the critical information one might need when weighing several choices. The rest of the two page spread for each genus is usually excellent, with the binomial of the relevant species, varieties, and their varying needs, qualities, and flaws. I also like the fact that he gives the USDA Zones. Books that don’t really annoy me, although the Zones are only a rough guide for herbaceous perennials, they are worth considering (and probably critical for any woody plant that would protrude above the snowpack). It’s also nice that he has gardened in a cold zone.

    In contrast, “The Complete Shade Gardener” by George Schenk, which I’m reading now in spare moments, has no zones, but replaces them with his own regional codes. I find Part II of the book (“The Plants”) useless – we would be in his GN (“interior regions of coldest winter, including Alaska”), and many of the plants he claims would do well here I’ve never seen growing here or know they are unlikely to survive (he must mean coastal Alaska). The plant listings are not easy to use and pulling out the critical information is a chore. On the other hand, Part I of the book (“The Art, Science, and Delight of It”) is full of useful information, written with wit and style, and quite a fun read.

    Larry Hodgson has two other books produced in the same style as “Making the Most of Shade”: “Perennials for Every Purpose” and “Annuals for Every Purpose”. The latter is out of print, but available through Amazon links to used book stores. I have both sitting on the bookshelf (winter doldrum splurges) waiting for the time and energy to give them a read, but quick scanning indicates they are as useful as the Shade book.

    Now, if only those negative numbers would leave the Environment Canada website, I could actually start planting out. Edmonton is about as different a gardening experience from Brisbane as one could imagine, and this Spring the slowest and coldest yet (in my 6 years). But then, I remember Lois Hole mentioning a ‘frost in the first week of June’ in one of her books, so I guess it could get worse.

    1. Dave, I do like the way it is quick to access specific, reliable information from his shade book, as well as it being a good read. I’ve read his Perennials for Every Purpose book, borrowed from the library a number of times. I’ll probably pick up a copy for myself, as it is a handy reference book.

      The lingering freezing weather is a good test of plant hardiness, but I think that I have failed the test, as I am not nearly as cheery about it as the early bulbs and perennials. My Helleborus, Galanthus, Puschkinia, Pulmonaria and Brunnera are carrying through with their flowering regardless of the temperatures. We’ll see how everything handles the white stuff that’s predicted for tomorrow.

  3. Hi Northern Shade,

    Yes, I think I’m failing the hardiness test too. I just took a walk around the yard and, although I appreciate the couple of millimetres of rain that have fallen, the red Frost Warning banner on Environment Canada is depressing. Let’s hope they are being too pessimistic (they certainly are volatile – the forecast seems to change every few hours).

    Hit Hole’s this morning just as they opened and managed to keep a bloodroot in the cart all the way to the checkout. It’s sitting in the ‘sunroom’ at the moment with the rest of the haul waiting for warmer weather. The wait is probably good, since I can’t decide where to place it. The backyard has the best shade/moisture, but is too full already. The front (southern exposure) has dappled shade, tends to be too dry, and, as with both sides, sits on a foot of black clay soil over a white clay pan. I think I may be doing a lot of digging before I put it in the ground.

    1. Dave, I have some plants still waiting for planting too. I have to move some already planted perennials around, when I put the new ones in, and I don’t want to dig them up and move them with the current forecast.

      The bloodroot will enjoy your shade, if you find them room, and should certainly appreciate the custom soil renovation, “We’ll take some extra humus, please.”

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