Garden Photo of the Day

The story of Daniela’s shady garden path in Ohio (8 photos)

Photo/Illustration: All photos courtesy of Daniela Baloi

There seems to be no end to Daniela’s garden stories, and that makes me very, very happy… If you’ll recall, we spent several days with Daniela back in October (refresh your memory HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE). Today she’s back to share yet another part of her garden.

This first picture shows a spot in my back border by the woods line that I always found very challenging. The native clay soil, lots of large roots of the nearby trees, and a very dry area in the summers due to afternon sun was killing everything but weeds there.

She says, “This story of my shade path design all started last winter when I was critically looking at my garden pictures of every border and deciding on what projects to tackle in the spring.”

The second picture shows this challenging spot circled in white in a broad view showing no interest in that spot. Just boring! The front of the spot near the grass gets 3-4 hours of afternoon sun and the back of the bed gets almost none. So I said to myself, This is a shade to part shade area..What is new? I have that almost everywhere in that long border!”

Want to know more? Read on in the captions. Thanks, Daniela! Super interesting, as usual. I think your path is WAY nicer than the one in the book!

The third picture shows a page in a garden book that I bought 20 years ago and shows you how to build various gardens, as in this case of this page, a shade pathway. I fell in love with this picture many many years ago and I had it memorized… Why didn’t I think of this earlier? So spring came (too late for me) and in early May I went shopping for the perfect red impatiens with the perfect matching red caladiums. Apparently there was a shortage of impatiens early this year, so I settled with New Guinea impatiens (which hate dryness by the way). Caladium on the other hand was available in abundance at the local home improvement garden store and I grabbed five caladiums with gorgeous red foliage.On May 7, 2013 (a day before the last frost in my area according to me) I eagerly transformed the troublesome area by using uneven pavers from other areas of the border, the above plants, some splits of Brunnera ‘Jack Frost’ and a lot of patches of blue carpet stonecrop that expanded very fast in other areas of my yard.

**** The push is still on–get outside and take some last minute shots, or compile a few you took earlier in the season. I’ll be eternally grateful…. Email them to [email protected]. Thanks! ****

Picture four shows the shade path at the end of the planting day.
Picture five shows the path after 5 weeks, in June. But where is the caladium? Oh, did I mentioned that we had a couple of frost nights after May 8? Yes we did! I planted caladium too early and it died! So the impatiens are on their own to carry the color all by themselves! I also added a couple of hostas, ferns, divided the large daylily clump from the right and moved a piece to the left and also planted Lady’s mantle (Alchemilla mollis) splits to create more lushness around the path.
Picture six shows a closer look at the path with the blooming spiderwort or Tradescantia (‘Little Doll’ variety to the left and ‘Sweet Kate’ variety to the right) at the front of the path where it gets enough sun to thrive.
Picture seven shows my path on the left with the book’s path on the right, side by side. What do you think?      In my opinion, the path design with the old water fountain as focal point made the area a lot more interesting than it was before.  Because the path is part of a continuous large border, when it has nothing in bloom it still works because the eye goes to a nearby section that is at peak color.
Picture 8. August. The new shade path blended with the garden from the distance. The New Guinea impatiens kind of dried-up and disappeared.  As self criticism, this path needs colorful annuals that tolerate drought and some structural perennial plants that will make it interesting in the late season and winter. I have to think about this some more! It is a challenging area to plant and grow in so any suggestions you have are welcomed!

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  1. user-1020932 11/27/2013

    daniela, i always enjoy your garden and writing and happy to see your solutions for a trouble spot here today. another great job. in fact, i have a few spots here at home that need attention so put on your thinking cap and help me out.
    light dusting of snow here, i'm NOT ready for this

  2. user-1020932 11/27/2013

    daniela, my coffee is kicking in now. you might want to check out (you probably already grow this) Hypericum inodorum,,,,,,,,it's been a good one for me. there is a whole series of varieties. even though it is described as full sun,,, i have used them successfully in high open shade along just such an environment as yours and they are Zone 5 hardy. just a thought. they might get larger than you want though.
    have a FUN thanksgiving!

  3. flowerladydi 11/27/2013

    Daniela,,,,, just charming,, again! You did create a lovely pathway!,,,,I hope you don't mind, but just as Jeff suggested the hypericum,,,, I would also suggest, if you want to try something else,,,, epimedium,,,, various cultivars, and it does well in dry open shade/part sun.,,, but what you have looks great!!!!

    Thank you for sending,,, It is such a pleasure to get up with a cup of coffee and view your, as well as everyones gardens!

  4. deeinde 11/27/2013

    Your new garden is beautiful, Daniela!
    I am creating a woodland garden and some of the plants I have put in are:
    Virginia bluebells, trillium, Jack in the pulpit, and bloodroot, and cyclamen. Most of these are ephemeral, bloom early spring and disappear under the growing leaves of hosta or other plants.
    Try Hellobores! They are wonderful. Some of the new ones are exquisite and they bloom very early. They have evergreen leaves.
    Little Joe (Joe Pye weed) is great for summer blooms and grows 3 feet tall.
    Tiarellas are great ground covers that bloom in shade and so are some of the woodland phlox's.
    Fern's add beautiful textural contrast with the hosta.
    Anemone may also do well.
    Guess I haven't given you much in the way of structure.

  5. deeinde 11/27/2013

    Oh! For more ideas, explore the blog and website 'Carolyn's Shade Gardens'. You will get lots of ideas there!

  6. User avater
    meander_michaele 11/27/2013

    Great job, Daniela! I think doing a shade path is one of the most satisfying of garden projects. This will be an area that you will have endless fun tweaking...those hot July afternoons...hmmm, I think I'll go walk the shade path and see what inspiration hits. I'm a huge fan of hellebores and the different varieties of Japanese painted fen. They seem fairly un-needy.
    Did you do any soil improvement on either side of your stone walk way? By the way, I like the irregularity of your stones over the concrete circles from the garden book picture.
    I'll bet, at some point, a seating area will pop up to go along with the very alluring destination point of the old water fountain now in place.

  7. Quiltingmamma 11/27/2013

    Love the addition of the path, and the final photo does show an improved garden balance. I see you like hot colours, but might be harder to get back there.
    BTW, love the little fairy house you have back there.

  8. GardenersWK 11/27/2013

    Good morning everyone and thank you for your comments and likes! We have two inch of snow on the ground and it is still snowing! That will make for a white Thanksgiving this year! By the way Happy Thanksgiving for all of you reading this!

    I do encourage your ideas and opinions for this spot! I think that I already got a couple that I like a lot!
    Jeff, Hypericum inodorum is a new fall addition to this border already. I placed one plant for trial, one foot to the right of the chartreuse tradescantia. I love the seed pods late fall interest, reason why I also bought some for my Thanksgiving centerpiece arrangement.
    I also like the Hellebores idea a lot. I have a very large clump in a different shade border I never get to see it. I will split it and try it here! Also the Japanese Painted Fern is a huge favorite with us! I could add some here too!

  9. User avater
    Tim_Zone_Denial_Vojt 11/27/2013

    Your exuberance, skill, and planning make me tired! I think I'll go to bed and dream about having your energy levels......what a great transformation.

  10. bee1nine 11/27/2013

    Daniela, Loved the story and photos of how you are tackling
    your problem shade path area. Smart idea to divide existing
    plant clumps to fill in this space to carry out the theme along the border. Though sorry about the caladiums freezing
    and the new guinea impatiens crashing. I'm somewhat surprised
    they did! (Yet they can tolerate more sun and can be thirsty
    -- I so agree with yardmom and meander1 for trying the Hellebores, with interesting evergreen shaped leaves and either white or pink/mauve blossoms blooming in early winter-
    The 'Gold Collection' is marvelous for this!
    Then you have the heucherus(coral bells) with so many new
    color foliage varieties for added fall color.
    I could go on but space may not allow..and I'm sure others
    will have more great ideas.
    To me, All is looking so lovely thus far, as always!!

  11. user-1020932 11/27/2013

    daniela, i kinda KNEW you already had the hypericum! it's a very cool plant to have. Ilex verticillata is another favorite for fall interest and it doesn't have to have a wet/boggy soil to put on a show,,, just be sure to plant a boyfriend somewhere nearby for the girls. snow here too, not a lot, but enough to keep me inside

  12. tractor1 11/27/2013

    Daniela, your forest path looks great as is. And since you asked, I'd suggest adding some interesting chachkas; woodland critter statues, frogs are always happy. As to which plants to suggest there are too many shade plants to choose from and since you don't appear to have deer the plant world is your oyster. I prefer small understory trees and shrubs, perhaps sink in a couple of clay chimney flues and plant them with lily of the valley, the flues will keep them from taking over. To overcome the dryness I suggest a soaker hose on each side of your path; has very high quality soaker hoses. Daniela, you did good! Thank you for sharing.

    Today I'll cook a huge quantity of kasha varnishkas (we don't like bread stuffing). Yesterday I baked a chocolate devils food cake in my Nordicware daisy pan (a gardening theme) and dusted it heavily with cocoa.

  13. GardenersWK 11/27/2013

    flowerladydi: Thanks for all your suggestions. Epimediums is a great idea for structure and dry shade! but I used it a lot in different dry shade area of the same back border around a large evergreen tree. It worked wonderful together with Hakonechloa Aureola for accent.
    Yardmom: I use all the ephemeral plants you mentioned in adjacent sections of the same long back border. I will check-out Carolyn's shade garden blog again for ideas
    Michaele: I added a few wheelbarrows of leaf-compost to that clay to improve the moisture retention and mulched as well. But dripping hoses may be what I need to do next for July-August time when it gets really dry under the large canopy of the trees

  14. quinquek 11/27/2013

    Wonderful, as always, and I love having the play by play photos. Exactly what I need to tackle a similar area. I've had luck with Carex "Ice Dance" in a similar environment. No colors, but the variegated leaves stand out nicely, and I agree with the Hellebores. (I just wish I had collected the pink/rose family instead of the chartreuse-y/white ones that tend to be less noticeable.)

  15. ozgoode 11/27/2013

    A real joy to see this lovely garden develop! I've been making notes. Outside we have winter wonderland- 12 inches of snow and more falling (not bad for a first snowfall!)but I've retreated to wistful garden planning! Thank you for sharing!

  16. sheila_schultz 11/27/2013

    Good morning Daniela, your garden path is lovely. Isn't it cool when you are pondering what to do with a difficult space, then you come across a photo you put away long before and the plan becomes so obvious? I love those moments, and I'm with Michelle, your path trumps the one in the book!
    A couple of thoughts... one of my favorite plants that does well in dry shade is Variegated Solomon's Seal. I love the height and arching stems. Another plant variety that plays well in the shade and can handle a bit of dry is Pulmonaria. There are many varieties and leaf sizes, and like the Jack Frost Brunnera their cool colors will pull the eye throughout the path.
    Happy Thanksgiving everyone! Hope your turkey is thawed Michelle ;)

  17. user-1020932 11/27/2013

    one more thought then i'm gonna shut up.
    have you considered some of the Mahonia varieties? mine are in flower right now
    european wild ginger
    Danae racemosa? not sure it's hardy there
    Syneilesis aconitifolia is another favorite and nobody ever knows what it is, especially cool when emerging in spring, fun plant
    Rohdea japonica is another one i like to use . ok, i'm done or else i'll rattle on all day while watching it snow

  18. user-7006902 11/27/2013

    Beautiful! I like your path better than the book's - more interesting. I would recommend some native plantings for your difficult site. Prairie Moon Nursery and Prairie Nursery both have "plant finding" tools. Just plug in your conditions for a list of native plants that will grow in them.

  19. pattyspencer 11/27/2013

    Your garden pather is enchanting!! What is the ground cover in front (and along the path) of the spiderwort? Is that a moss of somekind?

  20. GrannyMay 11/27/2013

    How nice it is to read about the process of creating a new garden area from a difficult patch! You show how hard it can be, even for those people, such as yourself, who are experienced and who know exactly the look they are trying to get! I love your interpretation better than that original photo.

    As for suggestions, what about dwarf or small shrubs (e.g. Japanese Maple)or taller grasses?

  21. GrannyCC 11/27/2013


    I love your shady path over the one in the book. I have several areas of dry shade and it is difficult. I liked the pop of colours from the impatiens. I wondered about grasses too as there are so many different varieties and colours. Keep on planting and designing you have a wonderful eye.

  22. wildthyme 11/27/2013

    Daniela, I love seeing the progression of this shady garden. I have a spot that I'm thinking of converting to a shade garden (one of very few shady spots I have here), and I'm going to try for some photodocumentation of the process. I can't think of any other plants to those already suggested, but they all sound like good ideas. What a wonderful transformation you've done of a spot that really benefitted from your vision!

  23. GardenersWK 11/27/2013

    Lots of great ideas from you all! Jeff: great suggestions! Now I have to expand my re-design to nearby areas to include all the plants that sound good right!
    I will definitely try Hellebores, Solomon's Seal that need split anyway, some native early spring ephemerals, some evergreen bushes and some grasses! Planning and creating is the only way to get me thru the long winter after the holidays!
    Tim Vojt: I make YOU tired?! The guy who moved boulders up-hill to make a rock garden and replaced grass with gravel to make the alpine garden!!! LOL!

  24. GardenersWK 11/27/2013

    Lots of great ideas from you all! Jeff: great suggestions! Now I have to expand my re-design to nearby areas to include all the plants that sound good right!
    I will definitely try Hellebores, Solomon's Seal that need split anyway, some native early spring ephemerals, some evergreen bushes and some grasses! Planning and creating is the only way to get me thru the long winter after the holidays!
    Tim Vojt: I make YOU tired?! The guy who moved boulders up-hill to make a rock garden and replaced grass with gravel to make the alpine garden!!! LOL!

  25. GrannyMay 11/27/2013

    Two more suggestions. (BTW, it is FUN to think of things that you'll never have to try to implement yourself!) How about something showy, like Jeff's wonderful cultivator disks, hanging from the trees. And, add a couple of large containers if the soil is not right or the tree roots interfere too much.

  26. user-1020932 11/27/2013

    may, my cultivator disks today are big rusty snowflakes, i'm trapped inside and spending way too much time online here and you're right,,, it's much less physical work to suggest things, i kinda like it. one caution for the disks, i have bashed my head SO many times when working under that tree and standing up without thinking. i have battlescars

  27. GardenersWK 11/27/2013

    PattySpencer: the moss like ground cover is Blue Carpet Stonecrop ( Sedum hispanicum minus "Purple Form") which spreads as fast as the Yellow moss Stonecrop (Sedum acre) but has a better shape and has shades of purplish to blue in early spring.

  28. User avater
    meander_michaele 11/27/2013

    Daniela, I love that stonecrop groundcover you just gave the name for. Hopefully, I will remember about it next spring because it looks wonderful and seems like a desirable over achiever!


  29. tractor1 11/27/2013

    Michelle: I hope your humongous turkey is thawed.

    I think a forest pansey redbud would do justice to that shaded path... I'd plant one just to the left of that fountain thingie.

    It's snowing here in the Catskills, I'm hoping I won't need to plow tomorrow, gotta roast that turkey, etc.

    Everyone who celebrates have a Wonderful Thanksgiving.

  30. pattyspencer 11/28/2013

    Thanks GardenersWK - it's really cool looking - I'll have to see if that's something I can grow here

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