Container gardening in my Brooklyn backyard is complicated; much of my north-facing garden enjoys (I use the verb with gently gritted teeth) a lot of shade.
From fall through early spring the shade is complete. The pots receive no sun at all, as it dips below a tall townhouse which casts a long shadow. But, from mid spring through late summer, the amount of welcome sunlight increases from less than one tentative hour to a solid five at the sun’s zenith, before dwindling again as the year turns.
The good news is that my garden is lush, beautifully textured, and a rainbow of green hues. Here are 12 tried-and-tested shade-loving plants that thrive in my USDA zone 7b backyard:
Photography by Marie Viljoen.
Above: A surprisingly diverse range of shrubs, perennials, and annuals thrives under these conditions. Some of them have tricky little secrets and sulk unhappily if they are misunderstood, but once divined, the plants flourish. The key to successful shade gardening is observation.
Planted in a sturdy pot three feet tall by 20 inches wide, this dwarf cultivar stays relatively compact and is crowded with blooms from late spring. It receives the full five hours of direct sun by midsummer, but can handle less.
In two years of growing this hydrangea, I have propagated three additional shrubs. Free plants! And an excellent return on investment.
The shrub is useful in water-wise gardening, as it actively dislikes being moist, and is one I frequently pass over on my daily watering rounds in summer.
Aralia ‘Sun King’
It provides substance to the back of a row of pots, and practically glows in the dark. It receives a maximum of three hours of direct sun in summer.
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