Creating a garden in the shade is, according to many, a fate only dealt to you if you have been bad in a previous life. I used to have this opinion when our backyard was shaded by a mature plum tree, a huge oak tree, two garages and a tall cedar fence. So when the plum tree came down in the famous ice storm of 1998, the prospect of having a sunny garden thrilled me.
But, over time, I had amassed a collection of shade loving perennials and now in a south-facing garden with no shade they were struggling. I quickly took a 180 degree turn and planted not one, not two, not three but six trees/shrubs – over time. One has succumbed to squirrel damage (my lovely Acer griseum, a paperbark maple that I had purchased through the mail) —
— so I decided to plant a golden clematis (Clematis tangutica) at its base. I couldn’t bring myself to chop it down (and yes, it is dead :c( ) but it does make a perfect support for this clambouring climber.
The other trees (two pyramidal cedars, a golden cedar, a serviceberry and a weeping purple birch) are going strong. I have learnt through this journey that incorporating plants with yellow foliage and flowers help brighten shady spaces. Here are a few that I’ve planted in my garden:
This is a close-up of a Kirengeshoma palmata (Golden waxbells), with Hosta ‘Sum and Substance’ to the left and a golden cedar (Thuja occidentalis ‘Sunkist’) in the background. Although the gold cedar keeps its colour best in the sun, I have found a spot where it does receive a fair amount of afternoon light, keeping it, so far, with good colour.
The gorgeous golden Japanese forest grass (Hakonechloa) is a must for a shady spot. I just planted this one and it is cascading through my Rusty Girl fencing (that, in theory, keeps Skye out of the garden) with some waxbells flower buds dangling above.
Yellow fumitory (Corydalis lutea) is an opportunist. A delicate texture but a non-stop performer, this perennial has lovely glaucous foliage and all-season yellow blooms. Give it a start in your shady garden and it will decide where it will spread. Easy to remove if it seeds where you don’t want it, this plant remains a staple in my garden.
Although my preference is for more subdued yellows in the garden, this rich golden colour of a dark-leafed Ligularia dentata is a stand-out in the late summer shade.
What yellow plant do you grow in your shade garden?