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Dry Shade Done Simply

Streamlining your plant palette and layering your design can transform an area of extreme root competition

Fine Gardening - Issue 193
The worst planting conditions imaginable didn’t stop this garden. A few simple strategies allowed this landscape, installed at the base of a fir, maple, and cedar forest, to take form without much hassle.

Is it possible to have a great garden in the least hospitable conditions imaginable? Many would say no. That was the challenge a pair of homeowners on Bainbridge Island, Washington, gave to me and my team: Build a stunning garden at the base of an established forest of maples, cedars, and firs. As a designer, I thought when I first saw the site, “Oh no—the dreaded dry shade.” But I also knew it provided a unique backdrop for what could be a gorgeous space. Through thoughtful preparation of the planting areas, simplification of the plant palette, and a focus on layering, we turned what could have been a nightmare into a lovely garden, against all odds.

The Plan: Tucked away under a forest

Illustration: Sally Lawrence/Botanica Atlanta

What once was a barren understory has become a fun, vibrant garden nestled at the base of a mature woodland.

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  1. Tami_Rice 03/26/2020

    This is a beautiful garden, gorgeous, but I feel the title is very misleading certainly for new gardeners . This is coastal Washington state-- a wet area and the garden is full of high moisture need plants--gunnera, hakone grass etc-- I would never consider this dry shade.

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