Here is a new garden bed I’ve started planting between some conifers. The area is very shady, so I chose some shade tolerant perennials, and included some plants with cream and silver foliage to lighten the area.
This bed gets less than an hour of light in the morning and an hour or so in the late afternoon. Then it gets the dappled light you see here off and on during the day. I picked perennials that thrive in shade like this.
I started by removing only the bottom branches that had no needles on them anymore from the conifers. This made a little room at the base, between the pine and the spruce. The front of the spruce gets more light, and still has branches to the ground, which I’ve left.
I then scraped the remaining grass off of this area, which was sparse anyways. I haven’t tried to maintain grass here for a couple of years, so the grass roots were shallow and easy to remove. Next I mixed in some organic material. There was plenty already here, since old deciduous leaves had accumulated under the bottom spruce branches, and were already breaking down. Also under the pine was a layer of very light, springy material. I think it is a mixture of old needles and perhaps long dead grass. There were lots of interesting textures, like a forest floor.
Under the pine there was a little midden (pile) of cone scales. They were left by a squirrel that used to like to sit on a pine branch and methodically work its way through each cone to get the seeds within. The scales fall to the ground and gradually make a little pile. They will make a nice mulch for the end section. They remind me of cocoa shell mulch.
In the centre at the back of the garden I planted Hosta ‘Francee’, which has a narrow cream margin on each leaf. The shading is reminiscent of the dappled effect of forest light on foliage. I’ve given it a little room, since it will expand.
On the left side I’ve included some Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’ (Siberian bugloss) in the garden. These do very well in shade. These will have blue flowers in the spring, and the lovely patterned leaves for the rest of the season. This area on the left gets a bit more late afternoon sun, so the Brunnera should grow big here, maybe 60 cm (2 feet) around. In deeper shade these plants grow about 30 cm (1 foot) around.
The Athyrium x ‘Ghost’ fern in the centre will add finely cut, lacy fronds, and a silver lightness to the centre of this shady garden area. They make a nice contrasting texture to the solid leaves of Hosta and Brunnera. They might need some extra water here, but I’ll see how they do.
The group of Epimedium ‘Lilafee’ (barrenwort) with the light green leaves on the right should do well here since this is a drier shade area. Their leaves have a nice contrasting shape to the other plants, and they will have pretty purple flowers above the foliage in the spring. They didn’t have the required cream or silver coloured leaves, but they do well in dry shade, which is even better. The light green coloured leaves match the Hosta at the back. This plant is rated for a warmer zone than 3, but the one I had survived a cold winter last year, so I’m planting more of this perennial. We’ll see next spring how they did on a larger scale.
Here is a before photo of the garden bed. You can see that there is just a few grass remnants, some tree roots, fallen needles and cone scales. On the other hand, there is little grass to remove and lots of decaying organic matter for humus. The tricky part in planting is to avoid the large tree roots when digging. I planted in pockets in between the roots, which meant the plant spacing is where the tree allows.
This photo was taken on the day I planted the area, Saturday. I haven’t finished planting the garden bed yet, but I already like this area in the middle. There is a section on each end still to go, but I haven’t made up my mind for sure. I might plant some dwarf goatsbeard to the left, maybe some Heuchera too, both do well in shade. I also might expand at the back and plant some solomon’s seal, perhaps the variegated ones. The garden section to the right is the shadiest and driest, and has overhead branches at less than a metre (about 2.5 to 3 feet), so I’d like to plant some more Epimedium, but I couldn’t find any more ‘Lilafee’, which has large purple flowers held well above the leaves. I might look for a white flowered Epimedium, to go with the blue and purple flower scheme.
I’m looking forward to seeing how this garden looks next year as the plants fill in to the space. I’ve tried not to squeeze plants too tight, as is tempting to do when you see lots of empty space in the bed, but I didn’t use my ruler either.
This garden bed is not only shady, but it’s under evergreens, so it doesn’t get the spring light that so many woodland plants like. There is lots of room to expand among the conifers, so I’ll be extending the garden this year and next on the same theme. It’s easy to do in manageable sections, in the gaps around the trees. Any particular shade loving plants you think would work on the same theme?
Here are some of the additional plantings for this shade bed, in this followup post.