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101 Center Ridge Rd
Oxford, MS, 38655
United States

Made in the Shade

In the News

Made in the Shade

Ashley Frye

Often when people think of creating a garden, they think of a bright and sunny spot

where they can grow blooming plants that will give them pleasure for months.  However,

it’s also possible to have a varied and enchanting garden in the shade.  While it’s true that

shade gardening does present its own unique challenges, it also rewards the attentive

gardener with unique blooms and foliage.

Technically, a shade garden is defined as one that receives less than six hours a day

of direct sunlight.  When you think about it, that’s probably most of your garden if you live

in an area that’s been fully developed for a while or none of your garden if you live in a

newer subdivision.  But gardening is all about growth and change, so if you don’t currently

have a shade garden, you can grow one.  Shade can be created from installing plantings

such as large shrubs or evergreen and deciduous trees.  Shade can come from the side of

the house or out buildings or from constructed additions such as pergolas or lattices to

support growth, depending on their orientation.

“Shade changes the environment by affecting the temperature, the amount and

quality of light, and the soil moisture,” observes Gerald Klingamen, Ph.D, a noted

horticulturalist.  Gardening under trees, which are most often the major creators of shade

in the garden, requires that the gardener be very conscious about the light and water needs

of the selected plants.  Trees absorb the hot portion of the light spectrum, so the plants in

the shade garden experience—as we have all enjoyed on a hot summer day—the cooler

part of the light.  Trees also absorb water, especially shallow rooted trees such as maples.

And, there are different kinds of shade.  Deep, dry shade is the most challenging with

the least potential for successful gardening.  The ideal shade garden for our area gets a few

hours of morning sun and is in the shade for the rest of the day.  This is the kind of shade

that the plant tags usually indicate as “part shade.”  Many plants that grow in full sun in

cooler climate prefer partial shade in our hot Mississippi summers.  Partial shade with

moderate water opens up a variety of opportunities for the gardener.

I was fortunate with my property in that there was a corner of the back yard that

offered the perfect situation for a shade garden.  Some tall nut trees, a few understory

dogwoods, and an outbuilding provided relief from the blistering sun for hostas, ferns,

azaleas—and me.  Since this is an area of dappled shade with adequate water from the

sprinklers, I’ve been able to add a variety of shade plants for season-spanning interest and

color.  The early bloomers like delphinium, astilbe and bleeding heart bloom there and pass

much of the year showing off their interesting foliage.  The foliage of variagated Solomon’s

Seal and acuba offers nice contrast throughout the growing season.  Hellebores (Lenten

roses) provide blooms in late winter and pretty greenery the rest of the year.  A variety of

ferns including Korean painted fern, shield fern, Maiden Hair, and some others I call Taylor

ferns offer texture and interest for a great part of the year.  One of the stars of my shade

garden is the bottle brush buckeye that blooms in early summer with striking white

flowers providing a bright focal point in the shaded area.  Begonias, lambs ear, creeping

jenny and azaleas also add their special touches.

And, of course, there are hostas.  What’s any shade garden without hosta?  I have a

number of different varieties ranging from blues like ‘Elvis Lives’ , multi-toned ones like

‘Stained Glass’, some miniature ones in varying shades of green planted in a leaky bird bath

and several variegated ones that provide contrast all season.  

If you’re interested in learning more about shade gardening, the Oxford-Lafayette

County Library offers a wonderful collection of books on shade gardening that provide very

specific details and comprehensive lists of plants that do well in the shade along with their

light and moisture needs.  These books can help you design just the spot you and your

plants need for some relief from the hot Mississippi summer sun.  Start by planting trees.  

We can always use more trees.  And remember; shade gardening is no more difficult than

full sun gardening; it’s just more comfortable.