Bird-Friendly Shade Gardens

The shady spot in my garden is bordered by a garage wall to
the south, a camellia tree to the east, and a wild, overgrown wisteria to the
west. It would have been easy to ignore
this area and concentrate on the sunnier places in my garden, but the birds led
me to the shade and prompted me to set about creating a better habitat for
them. They perched along the garage
roof, built nests in the camellia, and twittered at me from the vines of the
wisteria. They were a small but
persuasive group. What could I do?

 First, I
tucked a few birdhouses under the eaves of the garage, near the camellia and
the wisteria vines so they could find them easily. I collected twine and lint and hung it in wire cages from the
tree in case they were in need of nesting material. I set a concrete birdbath in the center of my little shade
garden, and put up several birdfeeders nearby. Before I even began planting my shade garden, it had
architectural features and wildlife to enliven it.

 Finding the
right plant for a shady area is mostly a matter of trial and error. You may have damp shade or dry shade; you
may have a little dappled sunlight or none at all. It is best to choose just a few plants and let them have the run
of the place; this way, it will look wild without seeming chaotic. I wanted plants that would re-seed and take
care of themselves, so I started with a shade-loving wildflower mix to see what
came up. Columbines flourished in my little
shade garden, and I began to collect them, planting the bold “McKanna Giant”,
the frilly petticoat columbines, and the native western columbine. The hummingbirds darted in and out of them
all spring; the song sparrows and juncos relished their small black seeds. I added a groundcover of lamium (“White
Nancy” and “Chequers” have bright
flowers and silvery leaves) and variegated vinca to provide a habitat for
insects and worms and provide color when the columbine stopped blooming. 

 In the
fall, the wisteria drops its leaves, and in the spring, the camellia showers
rose-colored petals on the ground. I
dart in just long enough to clear the leaves from the birdbath, and make sure
the columbine and the groundcovers aren’t blanketed with debris, then I back
out and leave the birds to their shady home.