Spring gardens feature shade landscaping

Story and Photos by Susan Albert

During April, May, and June, the Tulsa Garden Club, the Tulsa Audubon Society, and the Tulsa County Master Gardeners each present a tour of private gardens. From ultra-landscaped yards, to wildlife friendly, to the serious amateur, dedicated gardeners showcase their pride and joy.

Vibrant coleus varieties add nonstop color to a shady area all season. They are great in containers or planted in the ground.
A creative container of stacked pots holds geranium, impatiens, ‘Mojito’ taro, and English ivy (Hedera helix).

Some of the most challenging areas to design can be those shady spots in the yard. In this pictorial, Tulsa homeowners demonstrate a variety of ways they incorporate shade-loving plants into their landscape. Ranging from deep to dappled to partial, many perennial plants will tolerate some degree of shade, especially during the harsh summers of Oklahoma. While the perennial stalwarts, such as Hosta, ferns, Astilbe, Heuchera, cranesbill (Geranium), Helleborus, Vinca, Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum), and Pachysandra thrive in full shade, several of the homeowners also stocked dappled shade with sun-loving plants such as Iris, Petunia, Liriope, and Shasta daisy (Leucanthemum x superbum).  

Perennials, such as yellow-flowering daylily (Hemerocallis), and annuals, such as New Guinea impatiens, grow well in this part-shade location.
A woodland garden surrounding a koi pond features shade-tolerant Emerald Spreader Japanese yew (Taxus cuspidata ‘Monloo’) to the right of the pond. Against the fence are pink azaleas, one of the go-to shrubs for shade. Behind the pond, a striking Japanese maple draws the eye. At left is a corkscrew willow (Salix matsudana ‘Tortuosa’). Liriope and more needled evergreens fill in around the pond.

Favorite trees and shrubs for shady areas include Japanese maple (Acer palmatum), flowering dogwood (Cornus florida), Mahonia, Camellia, Hydrangea, Aucuba, and yew (Taxus spp.), the most shade tolerant of the needled evergreens. Japanese maples figured prominently in many of the landscapes as foundation or specimen plants, and the wide selection of sizes, colors, and shapes guarantees a win. 

A Japanese maple and pink azaleas welcome visitors to this home on the garden club tour. Pansies (Viola x wittrockiana) add a burst of color to the edging.
Variegated Solomon’s seal, center front, heavenly bamboo, left, and a Japanese maple, back, contrast nicely in this woodland garden.

With the popularity of hydrangeas that bloom on old and new wood, almost every yard sports at least one. Whether tucked into a corner, decorating a container, or lined up as a hedge, the impressive bounty of color is always a showstopper. Plant in part shade for best performance. 

Most of the homeowners found a shady place to showcase hosta, center, fern, front, and astilbe, left.
Hostas, front, hydrangeas, left, and peonies (Paeonia), right, fill in below a large tree canopy. Peonies generally need full sun.

The native oakleaf hydrangea (H. quercifolia), which features large leaves that resemble an oak tree, benefits from part shade and blooms with large white panicles in early summer that fade to dusty pink, then brown. Leaves turn shades of burgundy, gold, purple, and red in the fall. 

A large container for a shady area features a spectacular white mophead hydrangea, begonia, and trailing ivy.
This woodland garden on the Audubon tour features a variegated Fallopia shrub (considered invasive), top right, and native plants such as purple coneflower and yellow coreopsis. A purple barberry (Berberis), center front, adds color contrast to the grouping.

Most of the homeowners complement their perennial and woody plantings with annuals during the summer. They added bold color with shade-tolerant annuals such as Begonia, New Guinea impatiens (I. hawkeri), Caladium, wishbone flower (Torenia), and elephant’s ears (Alocasia, Colocasia, Xanthosoma). Whether planted among the perennials or filling out a container, the instant color lasts all season. 

Several hostas and autumn fern (Dryopteris erythrosora) are planted beneath a shade tree in this meticulous landscape.

The Audubon tour features wildlife-friendly gardens that incorporate shelter, water, and food to sustain local birds, pollinators, and other creatures. Plantings under trees often include native perennials such as purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) and coreopsis (C. grandiflora), which can tolerate part shade to dappled shade.

Homeowners on these tours show that no matter what the style of gardener, shady areas can still pack a punch.




Aucuba (A. japonica)
Azalea and rhododendron (Rhododendron spp.)
Flowering dogwood (Cornus florida)
Gardenia (G. jasminoides)
Heavenly bamboo (Nandina domestica)
Hellebores (Helleborus spp.)
Japanese aralia (Fatsia japonica)
Japanese kerria (Kerria japonica)



Tulsa Garden Club
Tulsa Audubon Society
Tulsa County Master Gardeners

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