Shade-Loving Plants

If you’ve lived with your garden for more than a year, you
know that the shady areas around your house shift constantly. My open, sunny backyard is on the north side
of the house, which means that it may get sun all summer, when the sun is high
in the sky, but in the winter, when the sun travels on a lower trajectory
across the sky, the house casts a long shadow that keeps the area dark and damp
for months.


shade is just an illusion. A long, narrow
strip along the east side of my house feels shady because it’s so small, and
because it’s confined by the house on one side and a tall fence on the
other. But in fact, the area gets light
from dawn until well after noon, which is plenty of sun for all kinds of

 Even the
intensity of the shade matters. Are we
talking about an area that the sun never reaches, or one that gets dappled
light under a tree canopy? Is it very
hot, so that shade-loving plants wilt even with shelter from the sun? Is it perpetually damp? Does the sun hit a wall just a few feet up,
so that a vine or tree could climb into a warmer, brighter climate than the one
its roots live in?

Observing your garden throughout the year is the only way to
really understand the kind of shade you’ve got. And once you know that, you’re in a better position to decide
whether you truly need to fill the garden with traditional shade-loving
plants—hostas, ferns, Japanese maple—or whether you can stretch a little. An area that gets eight hours of sun, or
even six hours, can accommodate almost any plant you’d like to grow.

This is particularly important if
you’ve designed your garden to have a consistent look or theme. It’s a shame to end a sunny cottage garden
abruptly, for instance, just because the house casts a shadow. So don’t be afraid to push a sun-loving
plant and see if it can tolerate a little shade. I’ve seen enormous salvias
growing in shade, and I’ve nursed a euphorbia along in shade for years. It might grow slower, or it might bloom
later, as is the case with some roses I’ve planted in dappled shade, but it
allows the garden to continue around the house, regardless of the changing

California gardeners might try
native shrubs like redtwig dogwood (Cornus stolonifera) or Western
azalea (Rhodedendron occidentale) in the shade, and perennials like the
charming inside-out flower (Vancouveria planipetala), or the Western
columbine (Aquilegia formosa).