Northern Shade Gardening

Shade Garden Design Change

Thursday, February 19, 2009 Category: Garden Design
corner garden before

shady corner garden before

It’s immensely satisfying to plan and change your garden beds, making improvements, and adapting to the site. When I first moved in, this shady corner under the trees was very scraggly, as you can see above. I’ve gradually added shrubs and perennials, and now it is a much more lush garden area, even under the shade trees with a northern exposure. It’s fun to see the difference in your garden, and watch the progress from year to year as you make changes.

Although the before picture at the top was taken in April, it looked almost the same in the summer. There was a narrow 30 cm (1 foot) strip of garden, squeezed against the fence. It was partly planted with a weedy type of Achillea that flopped and spread rampantly. I removed all of the yarrow, since it spread into everything. There were tall trees in the garden, and grass in this corner, but nothing for a middle layer to bridge the two.

I’ve added shade tolerant plants to the garden bed, and enlarged it greatly. The area in the photo below, taken in July 2008, is about 6 m (20 feet) long and 1.5 m to 2.5 m (5 to 8 feet) wide. This section of the garden bed has mostly green and silver foliage, with blue and white flowers.

corner garden design 2008

shady corner garden design 2008

Adding some shrubs has helped to make it a more interesting view at all levels. The shrubs have been slow growing, but each year they fill in that middle layer, linking the tree canopy to the ground level plants. Because of the shady exposure, I’ve added a Hydrangea paniculata ‘grandiflora’ (PG hydrangea), and a Hydrangea paniculata ‘Little Lamb’ (little lamb hydrangea). These shrubs bloom for an extended period in late summer, with large white flower panicles that brighten the garden bed, and don’t mind the shade. This photo was taken back in July, so the buds on the Hydrangeas were just starting.

On either side of the Hydrangea are groups of Matteuccia struthiopteris (ostrich ferns), which thrive in the site, and grow 1.2 m (4 feet) tall. They make a green backdrop to the bed. I especially respect the way these unfurl so quickly in the spring, producing their elongated fronds so soon after the snow has melted. After six months of snow, fast greening is an excellent trait. The far group of ostrich ferns grew so well, I had to move them away from the fence this summer. They resented the move, and sulked for the rest of the summer, gradually losing one small section of leaflet at a time. I hope when they come back in spring that all is forgiven, and they grow tall and green again.

Campanula poscharskyana 'Camgood' closeup stars

Campanula poscharskyana 'Camgood' closeup stars

The largest Hydrangea is underplanted with Campanula poscharskyana ‘Camgood’ (blue waterfall bellflower). These Serbian bellflowers tolerate the shade well under shrubs. As a groundcover, they fill in and suppress the weed growth underneath, while creating a nice green floor for the shrub. The pretty blue flowers of the Campanula compliment the white hydrangea blooms.

The birdbath in the centre of this shade garden is one of my favourites. It has a hexagonal shape, with a small carved frog perches on waterlily leaves in the bowl. It is a favourite of the birds too.

Heuchera 'Mint Frost' Pulmonaria Campanula

Heuchera 'Mint Frost', Pulmonaria, Campanula

On the other side of the birdbath are  shade plants I picked for foliage or flowers. The silver foliage of Pulmonaria ‘Samourai’ (lungwort)  is just visible under the edge of the birdbath in this shot. Just beyond the Pulmonaria are some Heuchera ‘Mint Frost’ (coral bells). Their green and silver leaves look good next to the Pulmonaria. Beyond that, at the front of the bed, are a variety of small Campanula, with blue and white flowers, including the Campanula cochlearifolia (fairy thimble bellflower) shown below. At the far end on the left side, you can see the double flowering Campanula cochlearifolia ‘Elizabeth Oliver’. Even though they are at quite a distance, and the plants are very small, the many double flowers show up well. There are groups of Campanula rotundifolia (harebells) and Campanula carpatica (Carpathian bellflowers) at the front edge of the bed. All of these shade plants have adapted very well to the site.

Campanula cochlearifolia, Heuchera

Campanula cochlearifolia, Heuchera

At the far end are an unknown iris that is fairly shade tolerant. This iris was in another part of the garden when I moved in, and I have divided it and moved it around to a number of spots because it is so easy going. Behind the iris are some ferns, some more Matteuccia struthiopteris, and Athyrium ‘Ghost’  (ghost fern).

The garden bed has been expanded and changed many times, including last summer and fall. Since this photo, I’ve added some Cimicifuga ramosa ‘Atropurpurea’ (bugbane) to the back of the bed. This tall growing perennial has foliage with a slight purple tinge, and will get spires of white wands. Cimicifuga are great shade plant for the back of the border.

The shape of the bed has also changed since the July 2008 photo. Here it has a curving border, but now it comes out wider and the front edge is straight across, until it curves behind the pine. I cut the front edge of the bed with an edger, actually an ice breaker that gets summer use in the garden. I usually re-cut the edge about twice a year to keep the grass and garden separate. There is a small trench inside the edge that is filled with mulch, to keep the grass out of the bed. I couldn’t put a permanent edging around my beds, because their shape and size change continually.

Here is an earlier post I wrote about  changing a side garden bed.

Does the design of your  garden beds constantly change, either their shape or plants? Do you make a plan and keep it the same for years, or do your garden beds evolve over time?