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Creating a garden under a shade

By | Aug 27th 2009 | 3 min read
By | August 27th 2009

Woe unto anyone who has to deal with established tall trees that cast a great deal of shade on their compound; or worse, tall buildings that literally surround the plot and deny it any direct sunlight.

When this happens, a beautiful, colourful yard is out of the question. Right? Wrong! Nothing can be further from the truth.

A successful shade garden is just as brilliant as a full sun garden. Moreover, nothing can take the place of a tranquil, quiet yard with sweet scents, almost fluorescent colours and the cool retreat of a shade garden.

The key to working with elements casting lots of shade is in looking at the shade as an asset and not as a problem. In fact, garden styles such as the much loved oriental gardens traditionally have shades as part of their inherent qualities. Hence shade in the garden is a constraint that can easily be turned into an advantage.

Let me shed some light on the basics of shade gardening.


A successful shade garden is just as brilliant as a full sun garden.

Every landscape has its own unique shade patterns and qualities. By carefully observing these, you can easily deduce the best intervention for yours.

Shades can be classified as light, open, medium or deep. Start by identifying areas in your yard that fit into each of these categories and zone them out. After that, you will be able to group and locate your plants according to their light requirements.

Note that as much as some plants will actually appreciate some time out from the scorching sun, no plant will thrive in near-dark conditions. Where possible, reduce deep shades in the garden.

Trees with very dense foliage that cast deep shadows can be thinned out by removing some branches to create filtered shade underneath. You will seldom need to resort to cutting down entire trees. Where the shade is being cast by a wall or some other garden structure, try painting them white or another pale colour to help reflect available light onto the plants.

Shade tolerant plants

Contrary to popular belief, a shade garden can be host to an astounding number of flowering and foliage plants. There is a huge range of suitable shrubs, ground covers and understory trees that will do well even in fairly dense shade. The most important thing is to understand the light requirements and shade tolerance for each of the plants in your palette and then locate the plants accordingly.

Locate the plants that can withstand lots of shade in the deep and medium shade zones. Place the less tolerant ones in the open and light shade zones.

Begonia, for instance, is one of the most colourful annuals that grow very well in medium shade areas while petunias will look brilliant in open and light shade zones.

For deep shades, go for plants with bold leaf shapes and variegated foliage as flowers may not be possible. Visit your local nursery and find out which other plants can be applied to a shady site.


Shade gardens need additional tendering to ensure they thrive rather than survive. Shady conditions are always less than ideal for most plants to thrive so you often have to make up for the inadequacy through proper maintenance practices.

Prepare the soil well before planting and keep it nourished by incorporating generous amounts of compost or organic matter into it. Remember, plants will probably be competing with the established trees that are casting the shade.

Most importantly, water deeply once a week. Shade gardens may not wilt and dry up as fast as full sun gardens, but they still need plenty of water.

The writer is a landscape architect.

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