We all have places in our landscape that greet us with certain challenges. One of the challenges I have recently faced while creating new designs for the Conservation Garden Park are dry shade areas. We’re re-designing areas that used to be full sun but as the landscape has grown, the beds are now shaded by mature trees and shrubs. Those same plants have also created a lot of root competition which makes it difficult for smaller plants to thrive. Luckily, there are some wonderful plants that do well in shade-- even when water is somewhat limited.
Another key consideration for shade is using foliage to create a mix of color and texture. In shade, dark foliage (burgundy or very dark green) will visually recede, sometimes even seeming to disappear. Plants with yellow, white or silver leaves will "pop" making shady places feel brighter. When bright leaf colors are planted next to dark leaves, both become more noticeable. Beauty is created through contrast. It's not just about the individual plant but how it looks as compared to its neighbors. Leaf color is one way to accomplish this but contrasting textures is also important. Big leaves next to small leaves. Thick, fleshy leaves next to soft, ferny leaves. It's through the contrast of shape, color and form that each plant remains unique while being planted close together which avoids the undesirable "green jungle" messy look.
Whenever I am planning for dry shade, my go-to plant palette typically starts with native plants. Here in Utah we have many beautiful native plant species that are proven successful in our climate. Below are some of my favorite plant selections for the dry shade garden.
1. Mountain Snowberry (Symphoricampos utahensis)
Mountain Snowberry is a small shrub that can thrive in quite a bit of shade. It has petite bell shaped flowers and white berries which are especially showy in the fall. There are several desirable cultivars of Snowberry that bring even more impact. ‘Blade of Sun’ Snowberry offers additional interest in the form of striking chartreuse colored foliage; it is low growing, so it can be used more as a groundcover rather than a shrub. Another cultivar, ‘Amethyst’ offers pink-purple berries instead of the traditional white.