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Cathy’s Beautiful Shade Garden

Every flower garden is beautiful in its own way, but there’s something special about gardens blooming in the shade. A beautiful shade garden will become one of your favorite places to relax and enjoy nature. So, if you have a shady backyard, don’t despair.

Today, we’ll look at Cathy’s shade garden and learn from her journey to a beautiful garden under her oak trees.

adoarable fairy house

Design Tips For a Shady Garden

To turn the cool, shady spots in your yard into your own garden retreat, you’ll want as many of these features as possible:

rock pathway under oak trees in Cathy's beautiful shade garden

  • add a walkhway to give you a structure amongst the plants you’ll add, and a way to enjoy meandering through
  • use plants with different textures and heights and make a statement without even trying by mixing plants with different characteristics
  • include plants with bright blooms: the splashes of color will make things exciting
  • don’t forget to add shade-loving groundcovers to both add interest and keep the weeds down
  • you need some annual flowers for color: coleus, begonias, impatiens, caladiums, and more
  • use native plants with perennial blooms to make it easier to maintain your garden
  • create a nice quiet oasis by adding a bench and surrounding it with brightly colored flowers
  • add a water feature: this can be a water fountain, a small waterfall, or a little pond
  • include some garden art that will add interest and surprise
  • plant in groups, rather than one-offs, especially flowering plants, which will look much better in a mass of color!
  • if possible, add a few lights: they’ll create magic in your garden (you can use solar-powered lights and place the battery unit in a spot that gets some sun)

Making the Most of Shade: How to Plan, Plant, and Grow a Fabulous Garden that Lightens up the Shadows

What kind of shade do you have?

  • light shade
  • deep shade
  • partial shade
  • dappled shade with a few hours of sun

Depending on the amount of shade, you’ll need to choose the types of plants that can handle that shade.

Here’s a collection of plant ideas to inspire you:

red and white impatiens on top of a tree stump

  • Siberian Bugloss (Brunnera macrophylla): a beautiful shade perennial with oval leaves and blue flowers that resemble forget-me-not
  • Lush foliage plants, such as hostas (which includes a wide variety of foliage colors, including lime greens, variegated leaves and ), ninebark, coral bells, hardy hibiscus, elephant ears, and more 
  • Shade tolerant trees, such as Japanese maples with their gorgeous red foliage
  • Add some plants with evergreen foliage, such as rhododendrons, azalea (you could create an entire azaleas garden: so pretty!), camellias, gardenias, spotted laurel (I love its bright red berries!), and anise
  • Plant some fruit trees that tolerate light shade, such as plums, pears, and sherries
  • There are also fruiting shrubs that will tolerate partial shade:  elderberries. gooseberries, blueberries, mulberries, raspberries. etc.
  • If your garden has a few hours of sun, you can also plant some vegetables that grow in the shade, such as rhubarb, peas, green beans, root vegetables, and brassicas.
  • I hope you got inspired to look for plants that will create an eye-catching garden for you, filled with lush foliage textures, colorful leaves, and shade-loving perennial flowers.

jack in the pulpit flower

Cathy’s Beautiful Shade Garden

chainsaw aert- owl, surrounded by red impatiens

A few days ago, I came across some gorgeous shade garden pictures in a Facebook group I visit daily for inspiration. I reached out to Cathy, the owner of those pictures, and she agreed to share her journey to a beautiful shade garden with me and my readers.

To make it easier, I asked her a few questions, and here they are.

When did you start working on your current garden?

We bought our small farm in 2012 because we wanted to move from the urban lifestyle into the country. We knew we wanted gardens and animals.

The farm was lovely: just over 13 acres with pasture, woods, and a pond.

cast iron kettle planter with white impatiens

A beautiful cast iron kettle planter with white impatiens sits at Cathy’s garden entrance

There were several interesting areas to make gardens, but the shady area of the front yard was my favorite because, living in Arkansas, we value our cool retreats.

A dozen large oaks shaded almost the entire front. The previous owners just treated it as ‘lawn’ and mowed the assorted grasses and weeds around the trees.

mowing grass under the trees

Cathy’s garden started out as just plain grass under the trees

I probably need to start off by saying that neither of us is a ‘lawn people’. We’d prefer to see gardens and hardscapes as opposed to lawns. So our first thought when seeing the big grouping of oaks was to clean out all the grass, install pathways and then fill areas with shade plants.

shaded front yard

Cathy’s shaded front yard today 🙂

What sources did you use to decide what plants to use?

there are plenty of colors and textures in this shade garden

Check out those gorgeous hostas!

We both knew that hostas are reliable shade plants from our parents and grandparents having them. Everybody has them. So after we put local stone pathways in, we decided to get a bunch of hostas.

We happened to be vacationing for a few days in Michigan and came across an amazing nursery: it sold only hostas! How could this be possible? I wondered.

Did you KNOW that there are over 3,000 varieties of hosta?!? Tiny, huge, smooth, rippled, fringed, variegated, solid, blues, yellows, white flowers, purple flowers….my mind was blown! This started my love of hostas and seeing how many types we could incorporate into our shade garden.

I’ve got 42 different varieties currently.

fairy house nestled in front of a hosta plant

Cute fairy house nestled against a beautiful “Guacamole” hosta!

What plants did you use in your garden?

hosta and calladium in differnt colors

What a stunning mix of colors!

Our main focus was hostas, mostly because we’d just discovered how many there were and we were intrigued.

We then added several varieties of ferns and astilbe.

puppy hiding in the shade

There are also coral bells and ‘foamy’ bells.

There is a lot of hellebore for early spring flowers.

To get plenty of summer color, I like to add coleus and impatiens as annuals. We both like non-fussy plants that are easy to care for.

annuals I add for color: coleus, impatiens and daylilies

Did you grow them from seed or buy plants from a nursery?

Our perennials were purchased at various nurseries over the years. The annuals we often start ourselves.

Where did you find your yard art?

stained glass garden stake

A very creative garden stake: stained glass, a slice of agate, a shell and a marble all welded with metal onto a frame/stake.

I LOVE to attend garden shows and find a lot of our garden art at those. Flea markets, too, are a good source for something unusual.

metal rooster nestled in between red impatiens

Our frog was a cracked resin piece at a flea market. I loved his look and covered him in glass tiles and marbles for his new life in our garden.

frog yard art

How has this garden changed your life?

cute fairy house

It’s more of a ‘stabilizer’ than a changer. I like to begin my days walking through the shade garden with a cup of coffee, just to see what’s new, what flowers have opened, etc. It’s always quiet and peaceful and a great way to start my day.

In the evenings, I walk through again, often pulling random weeds from the walkway to keep them clear. It’s just a simple practice that not only keeps the space tidy but keeps me connected to it.

What would you tell someone dealing with shade in their backyard?

Don’t fight it….go with it. If something absolutely won’t grow in a certain spot, a large stone grouping might look nice there. Try groundcovers in tough areas. Add shade plants in pots to create levels in your garden. And by all means, add seating areas. It’ll encourage you to spend time out there, both admiring AND working.

sitting retreat in the shade garden: a stone bench, surrounded by creeping Jenny groundcover and other shade plants

What a beautiful, secluded sitting retreat in the shade garden: a stone bench, surrounded by creeping Jenny ground-cover, coleus, hostas, and many other shade plants

I hope you enjoyed this virtual stroll through Cathy’s beautiful shade garden, and have been inspired to create a beautiful garden of your own. If you’d ie to share your garden with us, and get featured on this blog, leave a message below, or contact me here.

Would you like more information about growing plants in the shade? Here’s some help:

 

Cathy's beautiful shade garden

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Adriana Copaceanu is a passionate nature lover living in the country on her dream property where she grows vegetables, lavender, and wildflowers that she shares with the wildlife they attract. When she's not in the garden, she loves spending time with her chickens and planning her next nature project. Check your her books below:

How to Grow Lavender for Fun and Profit: Lessons Learned from Planting Three Hundred Lavender Plants

How to Raise Chickens for Eggs: A Guide to Raising Happy, Healthy Chickens for Nutritious, Organic Eggs at Home

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