Too often, gardeners give up on the shady spaces in their landscapes–the dark corner of a deck, the area under a stand of trees, or a border garden against the house. So many of the most popular colorful plants and flowers seem to need full sun that it’s tempting to throw a few impatience in the shady bed and call it a day. Don’t do it!
With little effort, you can plant your own shade garden that’s full of color and–an added bonus–sweet fragrance. Here’s how:
First you’ll need to select a combination of some, or all, of the following shade-loving, fragrant perennials:
Skimmia japonica subsp. reevesiana
An evergreen shrub growing 18-36″ (46-91 cm), reeves skimmia
sports white flowers in spring, red fruits through summer and fall, and glossy green leaves all year round.
Easy-care sweet woodruff
, which grows to between 12″ and 18″ (30-46 cm), has fragrant leaves as well as fragrant white flowers, which bloom from late spring to summer.
The drought-tolerant hardy geranium’s
masses of pink or white blooms on 9-12″ (23-30 cm) plants make this sweet-smelling stunner perfect for groundcover in shady spots.
Along with the attractive, large oval leaves you’d expect in a hosta, the fragrant hosta
, which can grow up to 24″ tall (60 cm), throws up trumpet-shaped white blossoms on 30″ (75 cm) scapes in late summer and early fall.
Fast growing and hardy, the 6-9″ (15-23 cm) lily-of-the-valley’s
bell-shaped and perfumed flowers are one of the most welcome signs of spring.
The 8-16″ (20-40 cm) English bluebells
thrives under trees and in woods, where just a few bulbs will transform into a landscape of abundant blue flowers.
For a basic 4′ x 10′ (1.2 x 3 m) border garden with one side against a fence or structure:
1. Evaluate Your Shady Space
Make sure your border or bed has decent soil enriched with a high-quality compost (read more here on how to test your soil
). And though you don’t have to worry about sunlight, do place your shade garden near a source of water if possible so you can keep it well hydrated.
2. Make a Shopping List
How many of each plant you’ll want to buy will depend on how much space you have. Sketch your bed and note the dimensions.
3. Arranging the Plants for a 4′ x 10′ Bed
- 2 Reeves skimmia: back row, centered with 36” (91 cm) between the two bushes.
- 6-8 Fragrant hosta: left and right ends, staggered.
- 6-8 Hardy geranium: staggered in the center of the bed, 15″ (38 cm) between the plants.
- 8 Lily-of-the-valley: In front of hardy geranium, 12″ (30 cm) between the plants.
- Alternate masses of sweet woodruff and English bluebells on the left and right interior, between the fragrant hosta and the hardy geranium.
Variation: Container Shade Garden
Any of these plants can thrive in containers. Arrange them in that shady corner of your deck, using different sized pots and stands to achieve a pleasing mix of heights and textures. Check out Fragrant Plants for Containers
for some ideas for other plants that might enhance your display. Or put the containers directly in your shade garden beds, which allows you to prop up some of the shorter plants. And finally, place containers of blooming annuals
in your perennial bed to add additional color through the summer.
Pro Tip: Lilies-of-the-valley and English bluebells may spread beyond where you would like them in your garden and placing them in containers helps keep them in their place.
Variation: Planting Under Tree
A classic woodland look is a carpet of lilies-of-the-valley and English bluebells spreading out from under your favorite shade tree. For a more formal design, build a raised bed around the tree and plant up to all six of the featured shade plants above. If roots of the tree keep you from digging the soil around it, then arrange your fragrant shade-lovers in containers.
Don’t let a shady spot keep you from planting a garden that smells as good as it looks. Mix and match these fragrant shade-loving perennials for an easy-to-make, easy-to-maintain garden feature.