Best Bets for Shade Gardens

I've heard many a renter lament — "If only I had a sunny spot to garden." But you don't need full sun to garden. At my last apartment I had a lush, beautiful green space that was deeply shaded by the patios above. It was actually my favorite apartment garden so far, a cool, peaceful retreat in the middle of the city. 


Here are a few tips for successful shade gardening, along with a few of the plants that I used.

Determine what kind of shade you have. Light open shade is much more forgiving than full deep shade. Plant the most tolerant plants in the darkest spaces.

Look to nature for inspiration. Plants that thrive in naturally shady environments, such at the forest floor or under a dense jungle canopy, are the most naturally suited to this kind of environment. Ferns come in all shapes and sizes, and you can fill a garden with varieties of only coleus to beautiful effect.

Use reflective surfaces to bounce light. A reflective mulch can help redirect sunlight to leaves, and hanging mirrors is an old trick to both visually open up the space and bounce light into dark corners.

Here are a few tried and true options:

1. Caladium
These delicate plants have beautiful, sheer leaves and come in a variety of shades of red, white and green. Mixed bulbs, $4 for 3 from Michigan Bulb.

2. Coleus
Vibrant leaves add color in lieu of flowers. Seeds, $5.25 from Burpee. 

3. Elephant Ear
A tropical plant with large leaves that thrives in partial to full shade. Bulb, $17.99 from Burpee.

4. Hostas
Hostas are perfect for filling in a shade garden. They grow rapidly and can be easily divided into new plants. They bloom when exposed to partial sun. Bulbs, $20 for 2 from Eden Brothers

5. Ferns
Naturally adept at growing on the forest floor, ferns are a natural in a shade garden. I'm partial to lacy versions. Ostrich Fern plant, $11 from Burpee.

(Images: as linked above)

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