Deepest Shade – The Trickiest Spot In The Garden

By Mary Ellen Ellis | August 1, 2021
Image by Mike Worley
by Mary Ellen Ellis
August 1, 2021

The one area of the garden where I have had the most trouble keeping plants alive is a deep, dark corner. In the back corner of the back yard, trees and wild, overgrown shrubs from the neighbor’s yard have created a pocket of almost total shade. I’ve tried various plants, but only one thrives here. 

The Trouble with Shade

Shade is tricky for obvious reasons. Plants need sunlight. Without it, they can’t achieve photosynthesis, they have no energy, and they will eventually die. Some plants, of course, can tolerate less sun than others. And I’ve tried several of them.

I really wanted color and flowers, so I put in impatiens. These shade-tolerant summer annuals have always done well on my back patio, which is pretty shady. In the back corner, they survived but were spindly and never filled out. 

I tried astilbe. This perennial with colorful flower spikes grows in another shady bed in my garden. It simply wouldn’t take in the dreaded, full-shade back corner. 

I put in a hydrangea, one of my favorite flowers. I thought it was a little risky and that it might not tolerate so much shade. I may have been right, but I didn’t have enough time to find out before my local deer herd ate it. 

Here’s What Actually Grows in Deepest Shade

My shady corner has killed a lot of plants. I have accepted that I just can’t keep certain plants alive back there and that my options are limited. It’s turned out well, though, because now I have a lush, green corner with a plant I love that thrives in it: ferns

I finally gave up on color and flowers and embraced green. A few years ago, I put in three or four ostrich ferns. Now, they have not only thrived but spread. The entire shady corner is full of lush, tall, green ferns. 

This little bed in the back garden where grass and flowers won’t grow is moist and shady, just right for these elegant ferns. They get a little dappled sunshine throughout the day, but ultimately they’re happy in so much shade. 

My shady corner taught me an important lesson: you can’t force some things. If a plant won’t grow, despite your best efforts, move on. I love my shady corner now. 

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