Ever since I bought my house three and a half years ago, I’ve wanted to create a shade garden on the northeast side of my house. That side of the house gets morning sun, then no sun at all as the house itself shades the area most of the day. Because I’ve spent the past three years creating my “urban farm” with raised beds and fruit trees and edible landscaping (the latter is still ongoing), the shade garden was not a priority. Last year, I did start working on beautifying my landscape with flowers by planting tulips and more gladioli along the front of my house. However, this spring, I figured it was time to work on that shade garden I’ve been wanting.
I have to admit, I am not a landscape designer by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, I’m sure that someone with any kind of talent in that area would’ve been able to plan my small shade garden in an hour or two. Me? It took HOURS! Quite a few of them, actually. But, I finally settled on a plan and ordered the plants this week.
As I always do with things happening on my homestead, I’ll be sharing with you my progress with the shade garden. Today, it’s the plan. (Later, I’ll share the preparation and then the planting.) Now, if you have great talent for laying out flower beds and beautiful landscaping, please bear with my neophyte ways of doing things. I’m excited that I actually planned this myself – and hope it will actually look good when it’s done!
PLANNING A SHADE GARDEN
Analyzing the Area
The first thing I did was go outside to measure the area and take pictures of how it looks now. It was helpful to look at the pictures while working on the plan. It’s amazing how what you THINK you remember about the details of a place is not substantiated by what is actually there in the picture.
The area for my shade garden is on the side of my house where the chimney and electric meter are. The only thing growing there is a crepe myrtle tree – which will remain. The garden will continue to the front/side yard, which is on the other side of my fence. I already have a long bed along the fence with my two hydrangeas in it. I want to add more to that bed, but also extend the bed along the side of the house so the bed will be L-shaped.
Here is the back/side yard where the main shade garden will be. I want the garden to go from the gate post (the post and part of the gate are in the bottom left corner of the picture) to the corner of the house where my patio starts. It will be a triangle shape, but the edge will be undulating, rather than a straight line.
On the other side of that fence (left of the picture above) is the long bed that contains my two hydrangeas. I want to add plants there, as well as create a small bed on the opposite side of the fence gate – so I have the gate flanked with shade plants. (The gate is to the right of the bed in the picture below.)
To the left of the hydrangea bed will be the “L” extension, so the bed will continue along the house. This will connect it to the flower beds in the front (that run along the house on either side of my front door).
Creating the Plan
I drew my garden out on an Excel spreadsheet as I would on a piece of graph paper. Each square represented one foot. It was difficult to represent less than a foot, but I figured this would be close enough.
I then started searching online for different shade-loving perennial plants. I knew I wanted two or three hostas, some Japanese fern, coral bells, and astilbe. What took a while was finding the right varieties. I had no idea there are dozens and dozens of hostas and coral bells (heuchera) out there! Choosing the plants took up more time than anything else.
Once I chose the plants, I wrote down the specifics of the plant on a piece of paper – name, color, bloom time (color of flower), height, and width. I then “colored” the squares on my Excel spreadsheet to represent the plant size. Then, I filled in spaces with ideas for annual plants. I was ready to order.
Well, not quite. Something in my gut told me I should experiment on paper first – to be sure the plants would actually look good together. So, I copied photos from the internet of the plants I wanted and pasted them onto a Word document to see them next to each other. Good thing I did! The Japanese fern I wanted to put in the main shade garden did not look good among the other plants because they made the garden look “washed out.” Too much of one color and not enough contrast. They’ll look great in the L-garden among the white hydrangea, but not with the hostas and coral bells. Back to the drawing board I went.
With the Japanese ferns removed, I had to replan the entire space. I removed all my colored squares, researched plants again, then recreated my shade garden plan. And here is the final version.
The plan orientation is looking at the side of my house. The black squares represent where my electric meter is, and the indentation on the top is my chimney. You can see the gate in brown and follow the fence line.
Along the house, on both sides of the fence, I will plant White Gloria astilbe, which grows 2-3 feet tall. In front of and between them, I will plant pink Rheinland astilbe, which grow no more than 2 feet tall. I will also plant a pink astilbe on either side of the gate – like sentinels welcoming visitors. There will be a Red Beauty fern (like Japanese fern but with deeper burgandy veins) on either side of the gate, as well; and the ferns will alternate with the hydrangeas.
The L garden spaces will then be filled with purple pansies and dusty miller. On the corner, where the bed turns to meet the front bed (which has purple and white tulips in the spring and red and pink gladioli in the summer), I will plant two coral bells – one Autumn Leaves (various reds) and one Silver Scrolls (silver with pink tints).
The main shade garden will have a large Vulcan hosta (white leaves with green edges), flanked by two Patriot hostas (green leaves with white edges). The next “line” of plants will be Green Spice coral bells. They are green with white centers and burgandy veins; in the fall, they turn pumpkin orange. In the spring and summer, they will pick up the green and white of the hostas and the red and silver of the line of coral bells in front of them (alternating Silver Scrolls and Autumn Leaves). In the fall, the pumpkin color will contrast well with the deep red of Autumn Leaves and the silvery leaves of Silver Scrolls.
To the side of the Crepe Myrtle tree, I will plant a fern my friend Roxanne gave me. Then I will fill in the spaces with Polka Dot plant, an annual that has deep green leaves and fuschia pink spots. I have the seeds and will plant them in pots as soon as the danger of a last frost has passed. Once they’re big enough, I’ll transplant them in the shade garden.
I ordered the astilbe, hostas, fern, and coral bells a couple days ago, and they should arrive in the next week or two. Meanwhile, I have the dusty miller plants, and plan to get the pansies this weekend.
The task for this week is to prep those beds. The soil here has a lot of clay, which is not the kind of soil these plants do well in. I just had the yard marked for phone and electric lines, and my Garden Wilson will be digging the beds six inches deep. I will fill them with a mixture of top soil, cow manure compost, sand, my own compost, Azomite (rock dust), and fertilizer — all of which is sitting in my backyard, waiting.
Stay tuned for the next phase of creating my new shade garden – The Preparation!
What’s happening on your homestead? Do you have plans to carve out a new garden bed or add more landscaping?