Shade gardens that shine

Beautiful ways to use shade plants in mountain or woodland settings

Jim McCausland

Like their counterparts in the sun, gardens made for the shade can take on formal or informal personalities. In Boulder, Colorado, for example, landscape designer Robert Howard created a shade border (shown at left) with the formal look of an English garden. In Bellevue, Washington, Nita and Johnny Therrell planted a woodland garden  that retains the informal look of the wild forest from which it sprang. Shade plants need little extra fertilizer if they're grown in good soil (nitrogen only makes them leggy), but competition for water can be intense when ground covers are planted over tree roots. Water whenever soil dries out.


Howard created this shady oasis beneath a pair of apple and pear trees. First he built a retaining wall of dry-stacked stone wall, then dug compost into the top foot of soil, avoiding the tree roots. He set the plants close together to keep weeds down.

Here, a mile above sea level, the light is so intense that it spurs strong growth, even in shade. This light made it possible to combine true shade-loving plants--including dead nettle, hosta, and meadow rue--with perennials that tolerate bright shade at higher elevations, such as catmint, 'Berggarten' sage, and veronica.

 Next: A Washington Woodland

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