A Shade Garden for City-Dwellers

If you live in the city, with perhaps a ground-level paved terrace that sees a bit of watery sunshine on a clear day, you may only envision your tiny outdoor space as a place for napping on a chaise lounge, or sipping a glass of wine on a summer evening. I love both of these ideas, but what I love even more, is an opportunity for container gardening in full shade, where light levels are too low for flowers, but where sheltered conditions offer a place to create a bit of magic.

Sound daunting? Hardly. All you need are three containers, one large, somewhere between 24 and 30 inches in diameter, and two others which are smaller in scale (think large, medium, small). Clay pots are perfectly fine, and over time as they sit in shade, they will take on an aged patina, which I find pleasing. If you want to splurge, look at glazed containers in a color that will look good from the inside of your home.  This area will be an extension of your interior space, so this is an important consideration if you want to go with colorful containers, instead of clay.

For your largest container, choose a Japanese maple. This will be the tallest plant in your container garden, and the most important. There are many to choose from, but look for one that will be happy in shade, such as ‘Glowing Embers’, which is prized for its vibrant foliage in various shades of red. If you prefer delicate green foliage, ‘Osakazuki’ is one of the oldest cultivars of this type, with brilliant red foliage in fall. At the base of the tree, fill in remaining space with several four-inch pots of acorus grass ‘Ogon’, which will look attractive year-round in this sheltered area.

In the medium-sized container, plant one prostrate yew. The graceful weeping form of this evergreen shrub, with its soft, deep-green needles, is a perfect companion for the Japanese maple.

For your smallest container, choose a few pots of Euphorbia robbiae, which is well-suited for shady conditions. It has attractive evergreen foliage, and in spring, will send up airy, chartreuse green sprays of delicate flowers.

This simple container project can be tackled now, as most garden centers have these plants in stock for most of the year in the South. With a little work on a Sunday afternoon, you can create a shade garden that will look beautiful for years to come.

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