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Every year we encounter homeowners who have lost their lush green lawn due to shade from an ever expanding tree canopy overhead. They are usually left with unsightly areas of thin grass, weeds and dirt. From a landscape design perspective, one of the best ways to counter this shady problem is to simply work with it. Mother Nature gives you lemons, you make lemonade.

gardenShade gardening in Georgia can produce some of the most beautiful landscapes. We have a long growing season and a perfect climate to maximize the variety of choices for your shade garden. About 80 percent of all garden plants do best when given at least six hou of sunlight, leaving the remaining 20 percent for the shade garden. Although shade does limit the choice of plants we can grow, as you will see, it opens the door to some wonderful plants you would not otherwise be able to grow in full sun. The creative challenge is developing a shade garden by selecting an array of understory trees, shrubs, ground covers and
perennials that create an interesting, functional and beautiful display throughout the four seasons.

Understory trees can be a beautiful addition and accent piece to any shady spot. As a group, the Japanese Maples make some of the best understory trees for the shade garden. Their graceful form blends well with the more massive trunks of the canopy of trees. Most of the upright growing selections will reach 20 to 25 feet tall and effectively fill in the background spaces between the trees, creating lacy walls to break up the expanse. Japanese Maples are often the focal point of any garden with their bright red to chartreuse green leaf colors and textures ranging from course to feathery fine. Some of my other favorite understory trees include, Forest Pansy Redbud, Flowering Dogwood and Saucer Magnolia.

Azalea, Camellia and Rhododendron have traditionally made up the quintessential understory shrubs for the Georgia shade garden, and rightly so. These proven evergreens produce beautiful bright showy flowers and are relatively easy to grow. However there are many other wonderful shrub selections that will give your shade garden a unique look, some of our favorites include: Fatsia, Aucuba, Otto Luyken Laurel, Japanese Plum Yew, Anise, Leucothoe, Osmanthus, Pieris and finally hydrangea. Hydrangeas are among the best for providing big bold color and contrasting texture to a shade garden. ‘Endless Summer’ hydrangea is a favorite and somewhat of a breakthrough in the world of hydrangeas because it has an extended blooming period and blooms on new growth, making the job of pruning and maintenance much easier. Other great varieties include ‘Nikko Blue’, ‘Oakleaf’ and ‘Blushing Bride’.
There are also many ground covers and perennials that perform very well in shady gardens and a multitude of these plants produce beautiful, exciting flowers and foliage that seem to glow in the shadows. Hostas can’t be beat in the Georgia shade garden, they make even a mediocre gardener look like they know what they are doing. An assortment of selections scattered about your beds provides bold, colorful contrast to whatever surrounds it. As a designer we like to use big sweeps of hostas to create beautiful color and textural contrasts in the garden. Some of our favorites are: ‘Golden Tiara’, ‘Royal Standard’, ‘Patriot’ and the giant ‘Sum and Substance’. There are many other great shade selections beyond Hostas and some of the ones we like to integrate into our landscape designs are: autumn fern, acorus, liriope, mondo grass, ajuga, aspidistra, caladium, pachysandra, heuchera and vinca.

Some additional elements should be considered beyond plantings when designing a shade garden. Consider adding an informal sitting area in the cool comfort of your new garden. This may simply be setting in a stone or wood bench or it could be a natural stone terrace with ground cover planted between large stones that could accommodate a small table and chairs. This is a simple and low impact approach for integrating additional entertaining and gathering space into your landscape. Other elements that can add the finishing touches to your shade garden are a bubbling water feature with its extra cooling affects and that wonderful soothing sound.

Whatever your shade challenge may be there is always a great solution just around the corner. At Elements Landscape we can take that shady eye sore and design and install a beautiful, low maintenance shade garden that will brighten that dark spot with layers of color and creativity!