Make Your Shade Garden Sparkle with Light and Texture

By Kim Reiss, Sugar Creek Gardens

Just because your garden is cloaked in shade doesn’t mean you can’t have a dazzling display. When you’re gardening in low-light, it’s true you won’t have the bright fireworks of blooms that you get in full sun, but you can still use leaf variegation, texture, and flowers to create sparkle and interest.
Here’s a list of my top 5 favorite plants that are stellar performers in the shade (that is, a garden that receives morning light only, dappled sun, or less than 4 hours of light throughout the day).
Hosta – Many people don’t know that hostas come in all sizes, from only 6” tall, on up to monsters like ‘Empress Wu’ that are the size of a Volkswagen Beetle. Talk about making a statement in your garden! You can also experiment with white-leaf variegation, such as the perennial favorite ‘Patriot’ hosta, which truly sparkles in the shade. Many of the chartreuse-leaved varieties, like ‘Stained Glass,’ (my favorite) act as a spotlight in a dark corner.

Hydrangea – The oakleaf hydrangea is truly a four-season performer, with showy leaves in the spring, beautiful panicle-shaped white flowers in the summer that age to pink, great fall foliage, and appealing cinnamon-colored bark in the winter. I’m also partial to the oldie-but-goodie ‘Pia,’ (sometimes called ‘Pink Elf’) that is a dwarf pink mophead hydrangea that provides a shocking show of color for literally months.

Ferns – If you’re looking for texture, then ferns are the solution. The ‘Ghost’ fern has silver foliage that provides lots of interest, and the ‘Christmas’ fern is a Missouri native that has the added benefit of being evergreen, so it holds its place in the garden throughout the winter.
Boxwood – The classic boxwood performs beautifully in the shade garden, and with newer varieties coming on the market all the time, you have a wonderful choice of sizes and maintenance requirements, with some never needing pruning. I love the idea of using boxwood as the backbone of any garden.

Clematis – What a great way to add height to your garden with a shade-loving clematis. Some of our favorites include ‘Sugar Candy,’ ‘Silver Moon,’ and ‘Alabast.’
Also, consider using architectural features like colorful birdbaths, obelisks, and statuary to add further interest to your shade garden. It’s hard to beat a lush, green shade garden on a hot summer day to soothe the soul.

Kim is a manager at Sugar Creek Gardens in Kirkwood and is president of the St. Louis Hydrangea Society. She thinks everyone should have at least one hydrangea in their yard. To learn more visit their web site at www.sugarcreekgardens.com, give them a call at 314-965-3070 or stop in at 1011 N. Woodlawn, Kirkwood, MO 63122.

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