Designing a Shady Garden Bed

After shady bed east side
After shady bed east side

Here is a before and after comparison of one of my shady garden beds, and how it has been changed from eight years ago. The above picture was taken this June, so the plants are not quite their full summer size. I like the mixture of textures in this bed, from all the different foliage colours and shapes.

At the back is a mockorange shrub, Philadelphus virginalis. It gives a shady green backdrop for the garden bed. In front of the mockorange are a group of Athyrium filix-femina ‘Lady in Red’ (lady fern). These are a fresh green colour with dark red stems. In front of them on the right are some Brunnera macrophylla ‘Mr. Morse’ (Siberian bugloss), with their silver and green leaves. In front of the Brunnera, to the left and right, are some Asarum europaeum (European ginger), with extra shiny leaves. To the left are some Pulmonaria ‘Samourai’ (Samourai lungwort), with long silver white leaves. On the far right edge of the picture are some Trillium grandiflorum.

Ugly before picture
Ugly before picture

The before photo of this same area was taken when I first moved into the house 8 years ago. I think it makes a classic before picture, because it’s so bad and decrepit that anything you do to the area has to be an improvement. The before is actually just a bad grassy area in front of a rundown fence. The new bed is near the fence, between the maple tree on the right and the sidewalk on the left.

after east shady bed sideways
after east shady bed sideways

This is a sideways view of the area now, with the fence on the right. This shows the plants in spring, so they are still a little small here. I like the combination of leaves in the bed, and I think it looks interesting , even when the flowers are gone. There are delicate, finely cut fern fronds, large heart shaped leaves, round shiny leaves, and long matte finished silver leaves. This year the Trilliums are adding their groups of three too.

After east bed showing pulmonaria
After east bed showing pulmonaria

This view is farther back, to show a bit of the Pulmonaria on the left. There is a new fence behind the Philadelphus virginalis, although  it’s mostly covered here when the shrub leafs out. This mockorange has never bloomed for me, but I’m excited this year, as it appears to have buds. I thought perhaps it was too shady a location for it, but if anything, it is even more shady now. We even had a cold winter, and quite a few late spring frosts, which I thought would have decreased the bud count. I’m looking forward to seeing the flowers for the first time. This mockorange has never performed as well as my Philadelphus lewisii ‘Blizzard’.

Here are two previous posts showing before and after pictures for other garden areas that were changed, a corner shade garden redesign and a narrow side garden remake.

There is a great sense of satisfaction in creating or renovating a garden bed, and watching it develop. It is fun to see how the plants work together, whether the plant shapes, flowers and leaves look good collectively, and fit their space. Have you been redoing any beds? How do you plan a new area?

14 thoughts on “Designing a Shady Garden Bed”

  1. I’m really just starting (altho some of my beds are 2 yr old). I have almost entirely shade & a large woodland area. I try to plan my garden, but I find with a shaded woodland area, the garden dictates where it’s to go. Most of my plants come from friends &/or yard & garden sales. So, after 3 yr of research, I rely on my memory to help me decide what to buy. Then I come home & look up the plants I’ve purchased, and try to plant according to their size and color. It’s always exciting, as you say, to see what will come up, what will bloom, and what will need to be moved in the fall. I’ve even had a little luck with plants that like sun. Check me out on my blog to see what I’ve been doing!

    1. Sandy B, some of my areas tend to be fit around trees and their roots, and some groupings have some odd spaces where the tree roots are. It sounds like you have a large area to plant. It certainly makes it easier to get more beds planted if you get some plants from friends or other gardeners. It is fun to research,and figure out where plants will flourish. Then to watch and see how it looks from year to year.

      Joanne, thanks. It’s fun to see how an area changes over time.

  2. Amazing changes. I followed through on your links to other sites in the garden and, really, I can’t imagine how people live without planting. What a difference.

    Excellent combinations of foliage, colours and texture – which really is what lasts all season.

    1. The Garden Ms. S, they create a whole different atmosphere in the garden, a calm peaceful feeling. Plus, the more plants, the more the interaction with other living creatures. I especially enjoy watching and listening to the wildlife they bring.

  3. That is an amazing transformation! I live in Colorado, I have to replant just about every year because the snow/freezing during the winter pretty much kills off my delicate flowers and plants. I haven’t really found any hearty plants that can other than perennials that can survive the harsh winters here. :-(

    1. Jeremy, gardening at higher elevations must have its challenges. My gardening season is short, and winters cold too, so it restricts the type of perennials I can grow. I try to plant a number of hardy spring perennials to get things started with a bang, as well as perennials that last through the fall frosts with interesting flowers or leaves, to extend the gardening season as long as possible. Do the hardy bulbs grow for you? Many of them are from alpine areas. Are there native shrubs and trees where you are, or are you at the treeline?

      How cold are your winters? If your winters go to -35 C (-31 F) or -40 C (-40 F) then many of the plants on my site might work for you. Good luck finding plants that can adapt.

    1. Bangchik, I admire the lush abundance of tropical areas. All I need now is to find a palm that does well in -35 C. :)

      Helen, yes, ‘Mr. Morse’ has very similar foliage to ‘Jack Frost’, but it has white flowers. It shows up well, twinkling in the darker areas of shade. A healthy variety of plants looks so much more interesting than grass, eh?

  4. Northern_Shade, everything in your “after” pictures looks lush and healthy — quite the difference from “before”, where even the grass looks sad.

    Is ‘Mr. Morse’ a brunnera with white flowers? That looks very fresh.

    1. Easygardener, I like the fern and Brunnera foliage together too. In summer the Brunnera leaves get much larger, and they really show up the delicate lace appearance of the ferns. The flowers of Mr. Morse stand out against the darker background.

  5. It is extremely rewarding redesigning garden beds. I like your before and after pictures and also enjoyed the other redesign posts. I am slowly, begrudgingly switching to shade plants. You make them look most lovely.

    1. Tina, the shady garden makes a cool retreat on a hot day. My shadiest areas have fewer weeds than the sunny areas too. The trees create most of the shade, but the fence and house create the other shady pockets.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.