Gardens - Shade Gardens

A lush landscape on a shady lot

Bethany Lyttle
Photography by
Thomas Fricke

A couple overcomes a challenging climate to create a garden full of texture and tone

Remarkably, these gardens that now occupy the entire backyard and most of the front didn’t even exist 20 years ago. When Doris Mae and Cam moved in, the backyard was a mess, overgrown with vines. “But there was a lip there that at one time must have been a terrace,” says Doris Mae. With help from her mother, she transformed the spot with a garden wall, and expanded the backyard garden each year. “Cam and I would experiment, adding a small bed or filling in what had been our boys’ sandbox to create a rose bed,” she explains. Before long, there was more garden than grass. And then there was virtually no grass at all.

The foundation plantings here have long been hostas, ferns and sedums—hardy plants content to thrive in the shade. Doris Mae says there are about eight varieties of hostas, including ‘Big Daddy’, ‘Sum and Substance’ and ‘Patriot’. To offset the bold, graphic appearance of their leaves, she integrates the lacy texture of ferns and the three-dimensional interest of succulents, then adds vines and airy grasses for a vertical complement. It’s a garden that favours texture and tone over colour, punctuated with the purples and pinks of iris, clematis, monkshood and roses.

No garden is ever finished, and Doris Mae and Cam’s is certainly no exception. The front gardens continue to call out (only a small patch of grass remains), as does the herb garden Doris Mae planted on the boulevard. “My favourite part of gardening is the planning and the editing,” she says. “What plants work? What might be better? Where can I move this vine?” We suspect she’ll figure it out.

Doris Mae's favourites for shade
Mostly perennial, this garden emphasizes form and tone, enlivened with lots of shades of green.

  • Doris Mae loves hostas and has had great success with ‘Big Daddy’, ‘Sum and Substance’ and ‘Patriot’
  • Ferns
  • Oriental fountain grass (Pennisetum orientale) and Chinese fountain grass (P. alopecuroides).
  • Roses like Rosa ‘Morden Blush’ (AgCan Parkland Series)
  • Persian shield (Strobilanthes dyeriana)
  • Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia)
  • Trailing lobelia (Lobelia erinus)

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