Advanced Shade Gardening

Recently, a colleague asked about Japanese Forest grass. Personally, I have never seen it used in a garden, except in pictures. Once I saw the plant, I knew I would have to have some in my shade garden. Our new house is full of large trees and most of the front area is shaded. I plan on incorporating all of my current shade plants as well as adding many new ones to this area. The previous owners had a few hostas and poor placement of shrubs, but that will change once I get into it.

Variegated Liriope
Variegated Liriope

People ask about my shade areas after learning about my native prairie plant collection. “How do you cope with all this shade?” Even a prairie enthusiast likes some relief from the afternoon heat. Plus, by using great masses of similar or the same species of plants, I can create the feel of the wide sweeping prairie under the shade. Large massings of shade tolerant grasses mimic the feel of windblown prairie. Japanese forest grass, black mondo grass, or northern sea oats ‘River Mist’ can be used for this scheme.

Gooseneck loosestrife in mass.
Gooseneck Loosestrife in mass.

When planning out the overall layout of a large shaded area, it is good to include focal areas, such as a specimen tree, a bench, a water feature, or a statue. You can have more than one focal point in a garden, just be sure they are hidden from sight of each other. I plan on using my Japanese maple ‘Orangeola’ as one, as well as my old Schwinn bike.

A focal point in a Japanese shade garden.
A focal point in a Japanese shade garden.

Another way to increase interest in the shade garden is to form a bend or curve in the landscape using taller shrubs that hide what is behind them.  When a visitor goes around the bend, they may discover that water feature or a cozy nook for reading.

The use of statuary, stones, or metal is encouraged in the shade garden due to the ability of moss to adhere to it, thus softening its look and leading to a sense of old world culture. There is a deep knowing associated with lush, old gardens and moss covered statues.  Maybe it goes all the way back to the Garden of Eden, and longing to return there.

Semi Shaded water feature at Botanica in Wichita, KS.
Semi Shaded water feature at Botanica in Wichita, KS.

After you have created your dream shadescape, add some final elements to make your garden more attractive to visitors, such as lighting.  Use rope lights that follow the curve of the beds to give soft light under your grasses and hostas.  Also use up lights, highlighting favorite trees and your hidden alcoves.  Be sure and add pathlights too, to keep your company from stumbling around.  A few wind chimes in large trees can increase the desire to be outside in the garden. Nothing soothes a person like music, from the songs of the birds to the gentle rushing of grasses.

Inspire!

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