Adding Definition to a Shade Garden.

It’s funny how things work out. I was just getting ready to write a series of articles about shade gardens when Lisa and Dick Landry asked me to come over and work on the yard at their new house which sits on the top of a big hill within the city limits. It may even be a mountain. The location is not listed as one of Rome, Georgia’s seven hills, but it looks down on a couple of them.

The yard is rather large and well shaded by numerous old, large trees. I entered through the back garden gate.

Shade garden entrance, "before"
Shade garden entrance, “before”

I found it interesting to walk through a shade garden that had been there for a number of years. I was looking to see what plants thrived in the environment. A lot of plants will live in the shade but few will actually “perform.” It appeared that someone had put a bit of thought into the original planting of the garden but then the landscaper seems to have changed to someone who just stuck things in the ground with very little thought. There are several Arizona cypress, for instance, which perform well in full sun but exhibit puny and straggly growth in the shade.

There are a lot of rocks in the yard which could be moved around. This delighted me. I grinned as I noticed one thing that thrives in the shade—moss.

no problem growing moss on rocks in the shade
no problem growing moss on rocks in the shade

Mulch and groundcovers are important in a garden of this size. I haven’t decided how to handle that yet, but I was happy to see a large expanse of vinca minor (periwinkle). Vinca is a wonderful ground cover for shady areas—but be sure to use the smaller v. minor and not the larger leaved v.major which will take over an area and become unmanageable.

Vinca minor--a wonderful groundcover for shady places.
Vinca minor–a wonderful groundcover for shady places.

I noticed a holly fern performing well in an alcove by the back patio.

Holly fern in medium bright shade
Holly fern in medium bright shade

The oak leaf hydrangea was doing well in one part of the yard. It was placed to get some late afternoon sun. I don’t think that this plant would perform in the deeper shade.

Oak leaf hydrangea in shade garden
Oak leaf hydrangea in shade garden

This gardenia seemed to be performing well. There weren’t any blooms on it but I could see evidence of flowers from a few weeks ago.

broad leafed gardenia in the shade garden
broad leafed gardenia in the shade garden

I decided that we would spend a day cleaning, pruning, and generally shaping up the yard. Something just wasn’t right about the plantings and I wanted time to think about it so as we pruned and cleaned, I had time to look at the garden from a lot of different viewpoints. I’ve always thought of gardening as a four dimensional art form—there are the ubiquitous dimensions of height, width, and depth—but the art of the garden adds the dimension of being inside the creation and looking out. I suppose that the changes of time would also give us a fifth dimension. It depends on one’s viewpoint.

As we were cleaning and pruning I had occasion to sit in a chair on the back patio. I noticed a place in what I would call the back “wall” of the plantings that looked interesting. I studied it a while and then did some careful pruning, returning to the patio periodically to check the progress. The pruning opened up an interesting window in the “wall” which looked way out over a house across the street and into a pasture in the valley. Here’s what I saw

A window in the garden wall
A window in the garden wall

A window in the back of your garden—how cool is that? I zoomed in on the window for another shot.

A rooftop view from the rear patio
A rooftop view from the rear patio

I had looked around enough to decide that the garden needed what I call “definition.” I really didn’t want to start moving those large plants on a hot summer day, so I decided to build the definition around them by using a garden path. Lisa told me about how much the grandchildren loved the hammock in the lower part of the back garden and I decided that this area should be a focal point.

The hammock area needed to be turned into a special place
The hammock area needed to be turned into a special place

There are a lot of rocks in the yard and a great number of them are in the wrong place. When I told Lisa that there were several thousand dollars worth of rocks, she told me that the lady who owned the house previously was 90% blind and that she had a chauffer. Almost every day, the lady would take the chauffer out Horseleg Creek Road and pick up a few rocks. That must have been before all of the development out there.

I appreciated the lady’s work, though, as we were easily able to move enough rocks around to form a double border for a meandering pathway which will provide logical places for meditative garden plantings. Dick and I talked about using pea gravel for the pathway but decided that the area wasn’t quite flat enough to keep the gravel from moving. We decided on ground cypress mulch. I like the way it looks. The mulch will fade out into a grayish brown as time goes by. Since this job will be done in stages, we included turnouts for extending the pathway or for adding benches or statuary.

well-designed pathways add definition to a shade garden
well-designed pathways add definition to a shade garden

The hammock area became the destination for the first pathway. We shaped the area to give space for a garden bench or maybe for a small table and a couple of comfortable chairs. The grandchildren will love it.

The hammock area is turned into a "special place"
The hammock area is turned into a “special place”

Everyone was delighted with the change in the yard. You may compare the following picture to the “before” picture of the entrance that I started this article with.

The garden entrance "after"  we added an ikebana effect with flower pots and St. Francis for a welcome sign
The garden entrance “after” we added an ikebana effect with flower pots and St. Francis for a welcome sign

This is going to be a fun project and will probably take several years to complete—one step at a time. If you want to keep up with all of the projects on johntheplantman, go up to the upper right hand corner of this page and subscribe. You will get a nice gardening article in your inbox almost every week.

Lisa Landry is the owner and operator of Living and Giving which is a wonderful shop in downtown Rome, Georgia. I did an article about the shop a while back which you may see if you Click Here. I probably need to update the article but you’ll get the concept.

And a Word from Our Sponsor:

As usual, I would just love for you click here to go to Amazon and purchase the ebook edition of my wonderful book, Requiem for a Redneck to go on your Kindle. I have also noticed that Amazon now has a free Kindle app for iphones and tablets. Is that cool or what?

If you want a consultation in your yard in N.W. Georgia, send me an email at

Published by John P.Schulz

I lost my vocal cords a while back due to throat cancer. The laryngectomy sent me on a quest to find and learn to use my new, altered voice. I am able to talk now with a really small and neat new prosthesis. My writing reflects what I have learned in my search for a voice. My site publishes a daily motivational quote and a personal comment. I write an article a week for my blog, which deals with a lot of the things that I do in the garden. I am also the author of Requiem for a Redneck and the new Redemption for a Redneck--novels portraying the lives and doings of folks around the north Georgia hills. I have an English Education degree from the University of Georgia and very happily married to the lovely Dekie Hicks. You may enjoy my daily Quotes and Notes at

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