Although my business is growing and selling flowers for fresh cut bouquets for the lovely folks of Germantown and Westminster Maryland, my customers frequently ask me a wide variety of gardening questions. I guess it's our name, The Cutting Garden, that lets them know we do more than just buy and sell. One of the many questions I get asked is how to have a nice, low maintenance shade garden. Here's what works for me with my limited spare time.
First, pick out some nice healthy perennial plants at your local gardening center. When buying any plant stock - but especially perennials - don't buy just on price alone. Perennials will give you many years of enjoyment, so a few extra dollars spent on healthy stock is well worth it. Two of my favorite perennnials for shade are sweet woodruff and hostas. I've been fortunate enough to get the sweet woodruff from my friend, Becky, and the hostas from my sister, Sue. Both of these can be very invasive; on the other hand, they stand up well to all sorts of weed pressure and neglect! The hostas come in all sort of green and variegated varieties, and give you a nice big lush plant to frame in your spot. The sweet woodruff holds its own extremely well right up against the tree, where so many other things falter.
Next, get your bed ready! Many times, your shady spot will be right underneath large trees. Instead of trying to work the ground where all the roots are (which is also bad for the trees), a better solution is to make a raised bed. I put down old roofing tin for the root barrier, but there are many other types of specialty fabric you can use also. The root barrier is very important, as many trees' roots will grow to the surface. Maples are notoriously good at this!
After making your root barrier, simply make sides around it to hold your soil. I used the abundance of field stones we have on our farm, but again, there are many options. Your gardening center will have many choices for you. They should also have topsoil on hand as well.
Next step is the fun part: putting them in the ground! I've planted perennials in the spring and fall, either one. You can get away with it sometimes in mid-summer, but that's generally not recommended for the Mid-Atlantic region, where we are. After setting in the plants, water them in liberally; really give 'em a good soaking. Then keep an eye on them and water whenever they are looking wilty. After they get established, they'll survive (but not thrive) on "occasional" watering if rainfall is scarce.
Give your garden some zing with colorful impatiens. Sure, sure, they're everywhere... but there's a reason for that. They have loads of color for very little cost, they love the shade, and will survive (but not thrive) with just a little water. But as with most outside summertime plants, more is better in the water department! These are an annual, so you'll have to plant every spring, but they give you great color all summer long. My favorite is the Impatiens Walleriana (not the Hawkeri-New Guinea) in orange, hot pink, and violet. If you only want one color, consider the orange. It shows up great in moonlit or twilight conditions, which so often is the only time we get to sit and enjoy our gardens. I plant mine fairly thickly to get a full, opulent look. When planting multiple colors, I like to do bands of color instead of intermingling them for more of an impact.
Add some year-around interest with sculpture or ironwork, such as birdbaths or something similar. I have an iron candle-holder in mine, as well as some of my ceramic rabbit sculptures and some decorative water sprinklers. These are just little things, but in mid-winter, they hint at the springtime to come.
Naturally, there are many, many more options than these. But, these are what works for me with the emphasis on "easy!"