The Shade Garden

Much talk here about our new garden focuses on dry, full-sun plants. I have a secret, a secret indulgence -- the shade garden. While I realize that it's not entirely practical to add more maintenance to our already overwhelming amount of chores, the idea of not having a shade garden left me depressed enough to put in the extra effort.

There was absolutely no shade garden here to speak of when we moved in so we had to start from scratch.

This is what it looks like today shining in its one hour of sunshine or so in the evening. But before we cover this "small" corner of the property, let us go back in time to last September.

Back then, in September, as shown here, the bramble in the background runs north/south along the western edge of our property. There is a berm in there with fir trees planted in a row. The soil was awful and full of weeds, the bramble was all blackberry.

The situation deteriorated after we had our fence installed in early January. The equipment made a muddy mess and compacted the soil. We realized that would happen and were ready to deal with it.

Oh, the mud and blackberries. The fence crew did a great job of initially clearing the blackberries but David really took it upon himself to seriously take charge and tackle the berries. It will be a long, ongoing process as we are not spraying. He is cutting them back, digging them out and covering the "berm" with landscape fabric temporarily to deny them light and rain. So far it seems to be working.

In January I started playing with placement of plants, imagining a soft woodland carpet of Oxalis oregana, our native woodland groundcover.

When our first load of compost was delivered I spread several loads of it and laid out the basic shape of the bed. This is in the northwest corner of the property.

I then began planting. Many of these plants are treasures from the old garden, dug up and hauled out here. A few were rescues from the nursery, dormant hostas and what-not destined for the compost bin.

This Chamaecyparis lawsoniana 'Barry's Silver' came from the old garden, originally purchased at Xera Plants. It's about three years old.

Difficult to make out, I have about a dozen small azaleas that I dug up from a full sun area on the property. They were nearly dead when I moved them, fried from full sun and bad drainage.

Things are starting to fill in. You can see the landscape fabric in the upper corner held down by branches. Azaleas just visible on the left.

I laid out areas where I wanted a path or two, nothing complicated, just a small area for some shade plants to shine.

A couple of weeks ago David hauled up several loads of gravel to define the paths. It looks so much better to my eyes. I am considering edging and whether I'll need it in the long run after plants fill in.

Paths to nowhere at least give access to see the plants up close. The path may continue on eventually but for now this is about all I can take care of. I hope to have a naturalistic carpet of groundcovers and small perennials and spring ephemerals continuing out past the end of the path into the rows of trees someday. I have planted a few plants that will hopefully self-sow such as thalictrum or meadow rue and astrantia or masterwort.

The Podophyllum pleianthum survived the move (the large plant near center with the roundish leaves). I am very surprised because it was just a 40 lb. lump of clay when I placed it in the ground, no sign of life at all. I also planted a couple native viburnums - Viburnum trilobum from Bosky Dell Natives in West Linn, in an area that gets a bit more sun for they have such amazing fall color and berries for the birds. The flowers are gorgeous, too:

This is a flower of Viburnum trilobum from my former tree at the old garden.

An Aruncus dioicus or goatsbeard, another native favorite also survived the move. I would really like to see a whole colony of these in the farther reaches of the property. When they are in bloom at seven or so feet high they are spectacular.

Detail of Chamaecyparis lawsoniana 'Barry's Silver'.

Our native columbine, Aquilegia formosa, another one I hope self-sows around the area.

Trachelospermum jasminoides 'Tricolor' growing along the ground. Another transplant from the old garden.

Hardy Begonia sutherlandii, a transplant, too.

Pittosporum tenuifolium 'Irene Patterson' also a transplant that I am very happy survived the move. It simply glows from a distance, really lighting up the shade garden. So far it's been a wonderful and hardy evergreen shrub for me.

Although I have native Oxalis oregana planted in clumps in many places in shade, I also added this - Oxalis oregana 'Klamath Beauty' for it has purple undersides to its leaves.

Underside of Oxalis oregana 'Klamath Beauty'.

Saxifraga dentata from Xera Plants, another transplant.

My very favorite rhodie, Rhododendron pachysanthum. It looks a little chewed up but beyond that, survived being transplanted. Originally from Gossler Farms Nursery.

I dug up three of my seven or so Hakonechola macra 'Aureola' - Japanese forest grasses - and am so glad I did. They are thriving here.

A new addition, Begonia grandia ssp. evansiana 'Alba' from Drake's where I worked last year. It seeds around and I'm fine with that.

Corydalis ochroleuca from the old garden.

Rhododendron occidentale, our native deciduous azalea with amazingly fragrant lily-like flowers. I dug up three of these from the old garden.

A wider shot in the evening sunshine, facing east.

Many ferns and grasses sprinkled throughout. I only highlighted a few plants, there are so many tucked in there, it's a little crazy. The thing is I don't know what will survive and what won't, what will reseed and what won't (of the intended reseeders), so I have crammed everything in there to be able to manage it for now. As things spread out and generally fill in, I will certainly move things to other locales to open up room. But for now the less dirt I have showing for weeds to fill in the better. It doesn't really photograph well, all its faults show up on camera much more than in my mind's eye. Perhaps it is my "gardenvision" kicking in with a special filter to rid my panorama of weeds and unsightly miscellany. Whatever the case I know what it could become so I overlook the scars and clumps of weeds in the surrounding "lawn" if you can call it that.

A parting shot.

The shade garden means something emotional to me. It is cool, it is woodland, it evokes memories of childhood. It calms me and brings me great pleasure, especially on very hot days. There is nothing more rewarding than visiting this twinkling woodland area, however small it is, after a long day of working in the sun at the nursery or at home. Seeing the setting sunbeams hit translucent foliage strikes a chord with my inner-Pacific Northwest girl. 

I am really looking forward to seeing it fill in, change, adapt and spread over the years. This is just the first step, getting it in the ground, so to speak.

That's it for this week at Chickadee Gardens. As always, thank you for reading and until next time, happy gardening!


  1. You're right, there is something so very calming about shade gardens. Have you ever been to Far Reaches Farm? Their shade pavilion is so inspiring! Right now my plans to redo the shade area in my Northeast corner are on hold till the fall/winter rains return. I have lots of ladies-in-waiting sitting around.

    1. I have not been, Alison but hope to someday. Waiting for the fall and winter is ideal, really - I'm waiting until then to move a bunch of plants (already...can you believe it?) and learn.

  2. It may be young but it looks fantastic already! That Chamaecyparis is amazing, and I love that path! Can't wait to see how this area matures.

    1. Thank you Alan. That Camaecyparis is one of the best purchases I ever made. It's so lovely in person. Do you have one?

  3. I'm glad you found a spot for your shade garden treasures. It's already looking good. After gardening in a mostly shade space for years, I wanted space for shade plants in my mostly sunny new garden and carved small areas out in 2 locations. However, since we've thinned so many trees to accommodate a difficult neighbor those areas have too much sun and, with the additional concerns about drought here, I've been forced to reconsider my planting scheme. I'm still tenuously hanging on the dream of a viable partial shade bed in one area but much of what I originally planted (ferns, Heuchera) fried.

    1. Oh, that sounds challenging...going from some shade to too much sun - I hope you find your shade someday soon!

  4. I guess I must have my rose-colored garden glasses on too, cuz it all looks perfectly marvelous to me already.

    1. Well, aren't you sweet...thank you Ricki.

  5. Wait, the northwest corner of the property? I would have put down money on that being the southeast corner! Such a city girl, I always get turned around when I'm out in the "country."

    This area was magical when you shared it last spring, it's looking even better now!

    1. Yes, directions are challenging here. I think we live in a vortex, it's not you, Danger!

  6. Having recently seen the garden in person, I can say it really is filling in nicely. The weeds will gradually become less of a problem as you encourage the desirable plants and eliminate the ones you don't want. I think the native Viola sempervirens would do well there. I can bring some for you sometime!

    1. Thank you Evan. Your suggestion of weeds becoming less is what I am hopeful for. Viola sempervirens...sign me up! Sounds perfect.

  7. I love all the different microclimates and zones you have! Also, I like your idea of making gravel paths with no edging. Do you think edging is really necessary? Or will the gravel eventually wash off the sides?

    Thanks for your blog, always.

    1. I don't think it's necessary, Fifi - but it does make a garden much neater. So often things get away and are too blowsy - no structure - but it's not necessary. The gravel will wash away some over time and will likely need to be refreshed. That's one advantage of edging, it keeps gravel in place.


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