At Details Landscape Art we love love love working in the shade. The plants that work in shade gardens in Sonoma County are among our favorites. Most lend themselves to an Asian style garden, especially when moss covered boulders are integrated into the planting scheme. Keep in mind, however, that when we talk about shade plants, most of the flowering shrubs and perennials we use do require a bit of morning sun in order to flower.

Asian shade garden featuring Japanese maples and Pieris japonica

Many of the plants listed below require fast drainage, especially in the heavy clay soils of Petaluma, Cotati, Penngrove, Santa Rosa and Windsor. At the same time, these plants are also acid loving. Many years ago we learned the technique of planting these plants directly in fir bark. Rather than dig a hole, we remove the plant from its container and set it on the ground. We then place the drip emitter at the base of the plant and mound fir bark around the root ball up to the crown, The roots take off in the acid based fir bark, and the water from the emitter moistens the root ball and the excess drains out through the bark. Plants in shade gardens planted directly in bark thrive from the combination of water and acid to the plant and fast drainage.

Full shade:

  • Sarcococca ruscifolia – lush dark green foliage. Extremely fragrant flowers in mid winter, followed by clusters of red berries.
  • Aucuba japonica – gold spot plant. Looks like somebody shook a paint brush with yellow paint on the leaves
  • Ferns – various types available, all do well as understory to redwoods in the forest

Morning sun/afternoon shade:

  • Japanese maples – there are dozens we regularly use, almost all do well in shade. Some, usually the green leafed varieties can also tolerate sun.
  • Azalea –  all do well in the shade. Southern indica varieties tolerate sun also.
  • Rhododendron – larger leafed rhodes tolerate more shade – smaller leafed take a little more sun
  • Pieris japonica – lily of the valley shrub, beautiful weeping flowers and bracts
  • Camellia sasanqua and japonica – sasanqua blooms in winter, while japonica more of a spring bloomer
  • Lorapetalum – we love the purple leafed varieties  – and with magenta flowers in March – gorgeous!
  • Hydrangea – many flower colors available – photo below is ‘Enchantress’. Most shade plants are spring bloomers, so some pretty hydrangeas add some summer color.
  • Choisya ternata – Mexican mock orange – fragrant white flowers in early spring
  • Nandina – versatile sun-shade plant. There are many varieties: ‘Compacta’, ‘Firepower’, ‘Gulf Stream’, ‘Moon Bay’
  • Dogwood – we love Cornus florida which comes in pink, red and white
  • Azara – nice small leafed shade tree

Perennials, groundcovers and accents:

  • Mondo grass – great clumping accent ground cover that spreads underground and resurfaces. Comes in dark green or black foliage.
  • Omphaloides – un usual shade perennial with blue flowers in early spring.
  • Vinca minor – low flat ground cover with periwinkle flowers. Takes sun and shade.
  • Hosta – so many hosts varieties, but they are a favorite of snails and need to be baited regularly

Planting shade gardens is so much fun. We usually mix and match along with boulders, rather than mass plant, just because there are so many beauties to pick from. We like to use them all!