Then came the best part: choosing the plants. We looked for shade-tolerant, perennial groundcovers that wouldn't get too unruly, and concentrated on interesting leaf shapes and textures. Dark, glossy, bold bergenia and bugleweed contrast with ferns, feathery sea oats and lacy dwarf goatsbeard. Golden-leaved buttercup adds another hit of gold to tie in with the creeping Jenny. Like plants were grouped together for more definition and to make the plantings look established.
Adding a tidy layer of shredded cedar bark over exposed soil was the finishing touch. Not only will the mulch reduce evaporation and discourage weeds from germinating, it will also help keep soil in place when rainwater runs down the slope.
How to be narrow-minded
• Because plants suffer a double-whammy—tight quarters for root growth and restricted sunlight-use good topsoil or compost and keep the area well mulched to ensure high nutrient levels and soil moisture. The upside of shade is that plants usually grow more slowly, an advantage when planting space is limited.
• Break up a long, straight path that runs the length of a narrow space to avoid emphasizing the space's narrow dimensions. Curve it, stagger it or create a landing partway down.
• Use bold foliage, contrasting textures and glossy leaves that reflect light. Dainty, small-leaved plants emphasize scant dimensions. Choose plants with leaves that look fresh year-round, or at least most of the growing season. Too much variegated foliage looks busy and chaotic; gold or bronze foliage is a better accent. Include a few upright plants to draw the eye up another level.
• Avoid using mildew- and fungus-prone plants, which are even more susceptible to disease when air circulation is compromised.