Get ideas for your own shady oasis from these stunning gardens that don’t miss ample sunlight
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Landscape designer Beth Mullins gave this tiny San Francisco garden a lush look by planting tiers of greenery. Wispy Pittosporum tenuifolium ‘Silver Sheen’ mixes with fountains of palm grass (Setaria palmifolia) and screens of feathery Podocarpus gracilior. Succulents (Aeonium ‘Jolly Green’ and Agave attenuata), mounding blue Festuca glauca ‘Elijah Blue’, and tufted green mondo grass fill in the understory.
A shady front door can still be an inviting welcome area. Use bold colors of pottery to brighten up any space in an instant. Add lush shade-loving plants, like the Boston and maidenhair ferns, seen here. Tuck succulents—most of which actually prefer dappled light to blasting sun—as eye candy up the steps, and voilà: A friendly entrance.
Under the canopy of a fig tree, this shady L.A. garden grows shade-loving plants, including a maidenhair fern (front right), a Boston fern (back left), a cylindrical Sanseveria(rear), and a cluster of Echeveria in the in-bench planter. Bright containers and a chartreuse chair further lighten up an otherwise dark nook.
Soft shield ferns (Polystichum setiferum) flank the pathway leading to a flagstone patio. Across the seating area, a tiered planting of Brunnera 'Looking Glass', limey Dryopteris erythrosora (Autumn Fern), hellebores, a Japanese maple, and a Stewartia pseudocamellia give a lush, layered feel.
A trio of evergreens brightens up a patio or a corner of the garden during the winter. Mix a variety of colors, shapes, and textures, planting them in matching pots to tie the look together. Here, a weeping plum-colored Loropetalum chinense ‘Purple Pixie’ (left) is paired with a tall, conical lemon cypress (Cupressus macrocarpa ‘Wilma Goldcrest’). At right, a lily-of-the-valley shrub (Pieris japonica ‘Mountain Snow’) echoes the cypress’s lime green foliage; its hanging clusters of buds will unfurl into white flowers by midwinter. All three plants thrive with moderate water in a spot that gets partial shade.
Design: Lauren Dunec Hoang and Johanna Silver
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Cut flowers for shade
A shady spot can even boast a cut-flower garden! Here, Hydrangea paniculata ‘Fire Light’ boasts large white summer flowers that turn magenta in fall. In bouquets, the pale blooms mix well with pastel-colored flowers while the deeper petal color late in the season transitions well to fall. The middle tier is comprised of Chinese foxglove (Rehmannia elata ‘Rose Glow’), a deciduous perennial that sends up 3 foot tall flower spikes with bell-shaped pink flowers with golden throats from mid-spring to fall. At ground level is a selection of Heuchera, including the frilly chartreuse foliage of ‘Lime Ruffles’, which brightens the shady border and the bright pink blooms of ‘Paris.’
Design: Lauren Dunec Hoang and Johanna Silver
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Native shade garden
“I’ve taken this typical urban lot, filled with shade and clay soil, and put together a group of natives that works,” says Tom Rau of Mar Vista in Los Angeles. In the front yard, Rau mixes native ferns, grasses, and pink-flowered Heuchera maxima for a hiking trail that leads right to the front door. The garden needs barely any supplemental water. “The ongoing drought’s been building for many years and it’s not going away. This is indicative of a long-term climate situation, and we need to be prepared.”
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A shady understory
This unthirsty, silvery-green border is great to brighten up a shady spot. Large Agaveattenuata offer stunning architecture without any spines. Smaller Aeonium ‘Jolly Green’ and a hybrid Echeveria echo the rosette shape in different colors. Clumps of Festuca glauca ‘Elijah Blue’ add softness to the scene, while a bright pebble mulch gives the illusion of light.
The best way to prevent a hillside from eroding is to plant it and let the roots take hold. This Eugene, OR backyard, bisected by a path leading to the neighbor’ yard, accomplishes this by creating a rich tapestry of colors and shapes. Shade-loving plants, including deep purple coral bells (Heuchera ‘Plum Pudding’) toward the top of the steps, fountains of golden carex, and dark green hellebores at the bottom, on both sides of the path unify the garden. Three focal points on the right—green, weeping Tsuga canadensis ‘Pendula’, pale orange leaves of a native vine maple (Acer circinatum ‘Monroe’), and a rich burgundy smoke bush (Cotinus ‘Royal Purple’) even out the visual weight of the large maple trunks on the left.
A great foliage border gives a garden a rich, layered look that doesn’t depend on flowers for dramatic effect. The key to success: Pick the right blend of shrubs and small trees whose leaves and branches create contrasts in color, texture, shape, and size. To make each plant stand out, set big-leafed plants beside fine-leafed ones, and spice up a mostly green palette with variegated plants that provide hits of gold, bronze, and purple. This moisture-loving Seattle shade border hits all those notes—plus it looks good even in winter, when the woody stems of deciduous elements combine with evergreens to give it structure. Plants, arranged low to tall, grow up an incline, adding extra depth and drama. Shade-loving plants include dark purple Heuchera ‘Velvet Night’, variegated plantain lily (Hosta sieboldiana ‘Frances Williams’) red and green Rodgersia podophylla ‘Rotlaub’, and a feathery Japanese maple.