By: Laura Miller
Whether you’re planting a shady island bed around a tree orcreating one in a shadowy section of the lawn, choosing the right plants canmake all the difference. Adding vibrant colors, textures, and shapes to dimlylit areas of the yard creates visual appeal. This can breathe life into thosedark corners and doing so will make the yard feel larger. It’s not magic.Creating this illusion centers around picking the bestshade plants for island beds.
Planning an Island Bed in the Shade
Before heading to your favorite nursery for a fun day ofplant shopping, take a few minutes to create a shady island bed plan. This is asimple drawing which reflects the size of the island bed as well as the numberand spacing of the plants.
If you’re having trouble translating how the sketch willactually look in the yard, try using white rope to outline the shape of the bedon the ground. You can place empty flowerpots where the plants will go. In lieuof a drawing, you can also use your cell phone to photograph your layout.
When making your islandbed plan, remember freestanding gardens are viewed from all sides. Placetaller plants in the center and shorter plants around the edges. If the bed islarge, adding a walkway will make weeding and mulching easier. Consider addinga dwarf tree, blooming shrub, or a gardendécor item as a focal point.
Tips for Planting a Shady Island Bed
Now the fun begins! It’s time to shop for those specialplants to brighten up your island bed. When selecting shade plants for islandbeds, keep the following suggestions in mind:
- Growing conditions: Even though your plants will be selected primarily for their shade loving attributes, also consider similar soil preferences, pH, and optimal moisture levels.
- Textures, colors and bloom times: Using a variety of plants adds texture and color to the island bed. Try choosing edging plants with interesting foliage as these plants are the most visible. Select flower colors that are harmonious, especially those which bloom simultaneously. For season wide color, choose plants with different bloom times.
- Plant in drifts: Arrange plants in groups of three or more and alternate the groups throughout the flowerbed. Avoid encircling the edge of the flowerbed with the same plant. Instead, use a mix of shorter and mid-sized edging plants or alternate colors and textures.
- Tie it together: Choose edging plants with shorter or finer foliage to visually transition the lawn to the flowerbed. Also, consider adding one or more species of plants from other flowerbeds. This establishes continuity between the island bed and the rest of the landscaping.
Selecting Shade Plants for Island Beds
Not sure which plants will flourish in your island bed inthe shade? Check the plant tag for light requirements. Partial shade refers toareas which receive less than six hours of direct light per day, while fullshade means no direct sunlight.
Here are some shade tolerant options when making your plantselections:
Partial Shade-Tolerant Annuals
- Flowering Tobacco
- Johnny Jump-Ups
Partial Shade-Tolerant Perennials
- Coral Bells
- Lady’s Mantle
- Sweet Woodruff
- African Violet
- Bleeding Heart
- Foam Flower
- Toad Lily
- Wild Ginger
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Read more about Shade Gardens
Island beds are a great solution for a garden that lacks a focal point, and an easy way to add color and texture to a large expanse of boring lawn. Because they are accessible from all sides, they are easier to plant and maintain. They provide an attractive feature from all different points of the yard, and can add depth and balance. They do, however, have to be designed in way that makes the most of their positive attributes without forgetting the nature of the island bed. Being able to view an island bed from all sides means you must keep in mind some basic points when creating your garden. Here is how to design an island bed!
An island bed is like placing a new sofa in the room… you don’t want to block traffic, you want it in a place you can enjoy it, (from all sides, remember!) and you want it to “balance’ the space. In other words, think before you dig. Do the kids play football every afternoon in June? Keep that in mind. If you have a large yard, don’t place it far away from where you spend the majority of your garden time. And seriously people…balance? If you have three large trees on one side of the yard, and nothing on the other…DO NOT put your island bed on the side of the yard with all the trees! Can’t visualize? Use a garden hose or twine (white is best and easier to see in lawn) to lay out the proposed placement ahead of time. Then step back and consider everything in this post before you even get the shovel out of the garage!
Consider shape, size and formality.
First things first…is your yard informal, or formal? Unless your yard is a formal one, squares and rectangles are not going to be the most natural feeling shape. Again, use the twine trick to create free flowing shapes for your island. I like a modified kidney shape for gardens.
One of the biggest mistakes I see people make with creating an island bed is making it too small. You have to take into account the total size of the yard, the distance from house to island bed, and how tall the plants in your island bed will be. When in doubt, go bigger. There are “rules” but you all know I hate those… :) Lay out your bed, step back to look, then make it a little bigger than your comfort zone and see if I’m not right.
Creating the bed itself.
Creating an island bed is pretty much like digging out any garden bed… use a shovel or a spade, and dig up that sod!You can actually use spray paint to mark the edges of the bed on the lawn… no worries, it will be gone soon anyway? And, if you miss some, the lawn mower will get it next time around. Add compost, and till in.
Remember, your island bed can be viewed from all sides, so plant the tallest plants or small trees near the center, and gradually work the heights down as you go toward the edges. Again, same design principles as any other bed. Form, contrast, texture, color… and try to make sure you have something blooming, or of interest, in every season on three sides of the island. It might help to divide the island into thirds. If something is always (or almost always, this is nature, after all!) in bloom in each of the thirds, your bed will feel full and balanced.
Edge this baby, ok? You’ll be thankful when you can actually mow around it, and it just may slow down your lawn’s insistence on taking the bed back from whence it came. Got all that? Good. Now be inspired!
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15 Shade-Loving Plants That Are Made for a Tree-Lined Garden
There's a reason impatiens are so popular.
Daydreaming of next year's garden? Even if yours is mostly shady, you still can fill it with color. Many pretty plants will do fine under a large shade tree or in flower beds, hanging baskets, and containers throughout your garden. But before planting, pay attention to how much shade you have. Full shade means three hours or less of direct sun, while part shade is three to six hours. Some shade lovers, such as flowering shrubs, bloom best with some sun (preferably in the morning because the hot afternoon sun isn't a friend to shade lovers). And if you're planting shrubs or perennials, which come back every year, make sure they're suited to your USDA Hardiness zone (find yours here). There's no sense investing in plants that won't have a fighting chance in your garden!
Try these shade lovers to brighten up any dark spot in your garden.
11 Best Flowering Perennials for Shady Gardens
Gardeners often lament that there are limited plant choices for the shade garden. It's true that hostas, the traditional shade plant, now come in a wonderful array of colors and textures, but there's no reason to limit yourself to this one type of plant. Shady gardens do not have to be limited to foliage plants. You have many other choices, and you may even find that some plants known as sun lovers, such as daylilies, actually enjoy the relief of partial shade, especially in hot areas. When choosing plants for shade, don't be afraid to expand the search box beyond "shade only" selections. While deep complete shade offers definite challenges, most garden areas receive at least some filtered light for portions of the day, and you probably have more options than you think.
Here are 11 recommended choices for plants that offer colorful blooms for your shade garden. They will all do fairly well in part shade locations, and some will thrive even in deep shade.