Shade Garden

Shade Garden

I have previously blogged about shady areas in the Landscape and some viable options for making them aesthetically pleasing. I have spent the past two years constructing a Shade Garden on my personal property, and would like to share some of the details with you. I hope you all find it inspiring. My family and friends enjoy it daily throughout the summer season! It’s a really great place to relax!
The western half of my “usable” yard is the area of topic. I have a space of about 1,000ft² that I fenced in for a vegetable garden as it gets a lot of full sun. This was part of Phase I as it were. Phase I ended up comprising of a complete renovation of the main portion of my property. In doing this project I added irrigation heads on 4’ risers for my entire vegetable garden.

Shade Garden 1
Bordering this portion of my landscape to the west was a space of about another 1,000ft² that seemed a nuisance to me, or at least for the better portion of the first summer I owned this property. This space had my vegetable garden to the east, my garage to the north, my neighbors’ fence to the south, and off to the west a steep decline in elevation and a primarily wooded space filling the remainder of my property. This provided me a 30” gate between my vegetable garden and garage wall as an access point. Due to the wooded area this space had little direct sunlight throughout the day, and I had not put irrigation in this area during Phase I. All of these conditions proved conducive to very mediocre turf, and an unattractive space in my yard. I already knew that I didn’t really want grass in this space even IF I could make it successfully grow with a little work. What do I do with this…?

Shade Garden 2 for Derek blog
After a couple of months of thoughts coming and going, an opportunistic solution presented itself. What if I just extended my vegetable garden to the edge of the hill? I can easily extend my irrigation system, as I would only need two additional heads to get 100% matched precipitation, and with about 40 linear feet of fence I would have it all contained. This solution did not attain my wife’s approval. The issue with this idea, according to her, was I already produced much more vegetables than we could use. I had to concede; she had a very valid point. Back to the drawing board I went.
I stewed about my property for another period of time paying closer attention to the photoperiods in this space. I quickly discovered that I had an intriguing sunlight spectrum in my little space of opportunity. Over approximately 30 linear feet (east to west) I had two, arguably three, distinct photoperiods. This left me excited and dismayed, but at least I knew what I was up against.

Shade Garden 3 for Derek blog
At last I had a solid idea. Why not just create a Shade Garden…? I presented this thought to my wife, and it met with her approval so long as it was over a period of time, thus not stressing our budget. I agreed and Phase II had begun.

Shade Garden 4 for Derek blog
The first step to this phase was to eliminate the mediocre turf. I sprayed this with a non-selective herbicide and began planning in the week I would have for the herbicide to run its’ course. I had a mostly sunny area, a mostly shady area, and a shady area in this space. Once the turf was dead, I added the two irrigation heads I would need to attain 100% coverage. After this was complete, I began to plant, literally one car-full of pots at a time. This route worked well for us as it proved inexpensive each time we added plants, and it bought us time to determine what we wanted to plant where. The volume of perennials available to suit our needs was almost incomprehensible. Over the course of the next twelve months or so I continued this process.

Shade Garden 5 for Derek blog
In July of 2014 I filled the last open space, and breathed a sigh of relief. Finally this nuisance space had a purpose. The end result offered a beautiful space with a walking path through it. The plants completely fill the space about the pathway as they mature. Thus, we only have to keep mulch on the walkway, rather than the entire 1,000ft². This design also proves successful in virtually eliminating weed growth. I planted literally dozens of different perennials, and a couple shrubs, in this area so I’m choosing to not even attempt mentioning them all here! I will add that I placed a few grasses in this area, and it worked, even though there isn’t a lot of direct sunlight to be found. This proves that sometimes it’s fun to experiment with the rules!

Shade Garden 6
In the end we now have a wide variety of elevation in this space, and no matter what the season is, we have an extensive color spectrum in our Shade Garden. This all worked together better than I could have hoped, and I found this staged process to be therapeutic. If there were benefits I had honestly not intended it would be the multitude of bees, birds, and butterflies that visit this space daily, and spending time with our young daughter in it. She is fascinated by all of the things going on in this little piece of nature inside the big city.

By Derek Tweten, Landscape Manager at Barrett Lawn Care

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