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Shade gardens are of course gardens in the shade but there are other considerations too. Dry or moist soil and degree of shade being the primary differences. Then like all gardens, there are formal vs. informal (or woodland in the case of the shade garden) plans and decorative vs. functional.

Dry shade gardens are typically found in the shade of a large tree. Maples are notorious for creating such dry conditions that nothing else can grow under them.

Moist shade gardens are more likely to be created by the shade of some non living structure. An arbor, a wall, a tall building.

Degrees of shade can vary from dense (like under an thick and low growing cluster of evergreens or in a true and fully leafed out forest to moderate and mild or dappled shade. The fewer the trees the less the shade of course but less obvious to the novice gardener is the effect of low growing branches. If an isolated tree's lower branches are removed much more light can filter in from the sides. This means more morning and/or afternoon sun gets to the soil. Also, if the tree is deciduous it will not provide much shade in winter, early spring or late fall. This seasonally changing degree of shade under decidous trees makes it possible to grow colorful spring bulbs in areas where summer annuals would not thrive. The bulb do the majority of thei annual growth before the trees leaf out. In decidous forests spring ephemerals thrive for similar reasons.

Shade gardens can have all the components of sunny gardens. There are vines, perennials, annuals, bushes, and small under story trees that grow in the shade. Just remember to consider the degree of shade and the moisture needs of the plant as well. Deep, dry shade is the most limiting but even it can be beautified with non living structures, rocks, mulch, buildings, swings, water features, outdoor seating or statuary. Deep moist shade is an excellent place to grow moss, an under appreciated garden plant and ferns.

An example of a productive shade garden is the rain forest sparing shade grown coffee bean plantation. Coffee was traditionally grown in shade and the relatively recent cutting of forests to allow for increased production of coffee beans has caused many environmental problems. Many plants will grow and produce in shade, albeit at a lower volume of salable product per acre than in sun, but also with lower costs in terms of fertilizer, exogenious water, and enviroinmental destruction.

I currently am working on 2 shade gardens. One is in my back yard where a storm destroyed a mulberry tree, a persimmon tree and part of a maple tree, leaving large open areas of light to moderate shade from the remaining 2 maples and 3 black locusts plus shade from the neighbors willow oaks. This one has no structure yet, I'm at a loss what to do with it. I just know I want to fix it up. I've planted a climbing hydrangea which is thriving. Pokeweed and sweet violets are volunteering all over the place. The deeper shaded areas are getting mossed over. Forget-me-not, lamium, ajuga and wild ginger are spreading after an innitial bit of help from me. Hosta and daffodils are growing into bigger clumps. I'd like to add non living structures (fence, buildings, boulders) or an evergreen background to the area to give it a more closed in feeling. The soil is wonderful, thanks to several years' worth of composting in situ. The 2nd garden belongs to a friend and is deeply shaded by his house, deck and lattice walls closing in a large maple tree. It has the feel of a "secret garden". This one has a lot of structure already built in (paths, seating area, raised beds) but is covered mostly in ivy and has a dying scotch pine wasting space in the lovely raised beds. I'm looking to plant a wide variety of perenials in the raised beds. I want an overgrown tapistry of interwoven plants there with multiseason interest. I will probably rely on hanging baskets filled with shade loving annuals from the maple for increased color, plus take out the scotch pine and remove the lower maple branches to let in a bit more light.

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