I Never Promised You a Shade Garden…

Everyone has that side of their home that they just hate to look at. The side with the A/C, the vents, the basement windows, the path to your backyard and, of course, your neighbor’s property line. This is where you will find the shade (well, what there is) at my house.

For those of you who know my property, know that I already have my hands full with two VERY large front beds, a backyard and a massive sloping hellstrip!  All four areas have something in common – sun, and lots of it.

That being said, the next time I get some bright idea to completely “reimagine” an area around my house, someone please slap some sense into me!


Not much to look at, for sure!

Until November of last year, I was completely content with this area being utilitarian. It’s my only real access to the backyard for anything so the lawnmower, wheelbarrow and bins had to go this way. In addition, as the backyard transformed and various trees and shrubs either were discarded or relocated, this is how they were taken out.

But, one day in November of last year, when I thought I had made my last purchase of the season and was at a loss as to where to place it, suddenly it dawned on me that I may have run out room (gasp!) and it was now time to start another project!

I’d been mulling over the idea of a shade garden for quite awhile. The space is not perfect- far from it. The area faces southeast with all deciduous trees but one so I’ll get dappled light once the trees leaf out and the far right corner gets some afternoon sun. Adding insult to injury, the soil is soaked during the winter and dry as a chip in the summer and the trees, which belong to the neighboring property, are not in the best condition.

But, if I had to be honest, my motivation for this project was simple – it’s just not fun to go to a nursery and have an entire area not accessible to you. And then, of course, there are the open gardens! I’m pretty sure it was at Laura and Charlie Heldreth’s when I snapped. I blame them. Talk about inspiration and aspiration! Check out the extraordinary world they have created!


I have this vision in my head of what the end result will be in several years. So, out came the rake and I started sketching out the “bones” of the garden. The space is long and narrow so I decided that a serpentine path would be more conducive to the “woodland” setting I was hoping to create. My goal is to create focal points with larger specimens that will move your eyes throughout the space and smaller ones that will cover and spill over the edging so it is not so noticeable. And, of course, color and lots of texture. I really have no idea what I’m doing, but I’ve learned a lot over the past 4 year, so we’ll see how things go!


Besides the four trees on the slope, a large portion of the shade comes from the trees (all deciduous) across the parking lot for the townhouses. Things really do transform once spring kicks into gear.

Part one of this blog focuses on the “journey” of the garden. In Part 2, the plants will be the stars but here are a few of my test subjects!


The best part of making a bad decision late in the season – stumbling onto Pomeris’ 60% off sale! These were my first additions to my shade garden (well, okay, I might have purchased a few other things, too!)


My first purchases of the season from the Portland Home and Garden Show. Trying bare root for the first time with some astilbe and hostas. Of course, I couldn’t help myself to some wonderful color for my sunny areas!


And, of course, my first trip of the season to Xera!

The hardest part of the project was getting the border in the ground. The good news was that the ground was soaked and easy to dig. The bad news was the edging, which came highly coiled, had a mind of it’s own! In hindsight, I should of asked for help but the crazy weather didn’t allow for planning, especially on a retail schedule. While I didn’t quite achieve the perfect curves I envisioned in my head, over time I’m hoping the “slightly imperfect” border won’t be as noticeable once everything grows in.


This was really a two part project due to severe procrastination. I put in the first two sections (right and left) last fall to see if I would like it. It was such a pain the butt that I put off the project as long as could but if I didn’t get it done, I couldn’t plant!


Several plants have been relocated after being fried in the sun last year. I’m hoping the persicaria will be happier here. Although the tag said it could handle full sun, I’m not quite sure it was ready for mine!


The “entrance” to the shade garden. Quite a few plants have been relocated here. My pittosporum Irene Patterson, looking rough from this winter, will hopefully be happy here with more room to grow.

To the right of the entrance are a few originals to the house.

I decided on bark mulch for a simple, natural look for the path.


Bark mulch makes everything better!


The neighbor’s property line is at the end of the fence


You may remember this area had it’s fair share of weeds! Not only did I have to deal with the weeds on my property, but, of course, my neighbor’s! And the weeds HAD to be on an incline!

A little backgound…I live kitty-corner to a fourplex townhouse. The manager lives on site and she is wonderful. She takes fantastic care of the property and is always looking out for my home and calls me in any type of emergency, etc. Other than the horrible butchering of the beautiful huge rhododendrons and wanting to cut down the not so healthy trees (I’ve talked her out of it) I could not ask for a better neighbor. So, it really didn’t take but a second for me to decide that I would not just weed her area, but “annex” the hillside into my shade garden. To be honest, who wants to put all that work into making their garden look good only to look across the property line and see a hot mess!

Several hours later, I had excavated the massive amount of weeds and debris from the area and was able to do a little planting.


Gardenpalooza to the rescue! 

Here’s where I’m rolling the dice. With a little advice from some experts at a favorite nursery, I’m going to see what I can do with ferns for the majority of the area. With most of my garden in full sun, I’ve had little to no experience with any shade so it’s a crap shoot. As you can see, at this point in the season, before the trees leaf out, the area gets late afternoon sun. Japanese Forest grass will take up a big portion and some large hostas will be featured right as it begins to slope. Most of the plants I’ve purchased are for dry shade but I know I’ll have to water more than I originally planned.


I found this ADORABLE shade peony this past weekend at Gardenpalooza along with several ferns!


Erosion, an issue in the entire area, is particularly problematic in this section


Most of this incline is not my property but the eye doesn’t differentiate

Below is my “vision” for this space and my overall look and feel for the area with some a little more variety and pops of color scattered throughout.


My current tiny shade garden! As you can see, I’m used to an incline! 

I think this blog entry has taken me as long to write as it did to create my shade garden! I’m hoping the warmer weather and sunshine will help shake off the cloud of procrastination that has been hanging over me for the last month.

Next up…I Never Promised You a Shade Garden Part 2 – the test subjects!




7 thoughts on “I Never Promised You a Shade Garden…

  1. I have a similar weed problem with a neighbor, but it’s not a chore I want to take on. You don’t actually say what everything is that you’ve planted, but i just wanted to put in a plug for Epimedium, they’re great for dry shade, and maybe something like black Scallop Ajuga, for some ground cover, to keep down the weeds. My Astilbes are water hogs, they get pretty crispy very quickly in summer without weekly watering.


  2. You might find if in the end, this lovely shade garden doesn’t become one of your favorite spaces. What a great adventure to undertake!


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