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4 Top Natives for a Chesapeake Shady Side Garden

Turning a narrow unused space into a soothing shady stroll

Last week, a good friend in Baltimore who is quite the DIYer asked whether there was a native hosta?  He plans to upgrade a “no man’s land” side yard with plants and a stepping stone path from the front to the back.  I was unaware of a native hosta but suggested a Heuchera ‘autumn bride’ instead.  It grows in deep shade and flowers in August but I knew, even as I said it, if you are thinking hosta shade garden, one plant, wasn’t going to cut it as a substitute for the incredible variety of hostas out there.  But which natives would make for something interesting and beautiful enough to match the serene creams, blues, greens and textures of hostas?

These plants would make for a lively, deer tolerant, side garden with interest in all seasons, I think.  These are selected for average soils, neither particularly dry nor moist.


The season long performer would be Heuchera ‘autumn bride’ (Heuchera villosa ‘autumn bride‘) above.  It spreads to 3 feet across. The fresh green color remains all season and it is semi-evergreen.  It blooms in August just as many gardens begin to wane.

native spring blooming phlox

This native phlox (Phlox divaricata) is dormant in winter but forms a low dense carpet of green in early in spring.  In spring, small purple blue flowers also emerge on 1′ high stems.

Or, if you are more interested in leaves and texture than flowers, what about the native ginger (Asarum canadense) below? These heart shaped leaves grow to be 5″ or so across and, like hostas, look good all summer.

christmas fern

The choice for winter interest could be Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides).  These sturdy ferns do well in deep shade and are also ‘semi-evergreen.’ Semi-evergreen is in quotes because the ferns don’t entirely disappear in the middle of winter but they are not upright ferns either!

Watching these unfurl in spring is very cool.

christmas fern fiddle heads

And if you don’t have deer, why not add a hosta or two?  One dose of reality here; this is a point where you have to decide if you want to make a commitment to using native plants.  The hostas are so widely available wherever your travels might take you – a big box store, your local garden center or even a local produce market.  The native substitutes are commonly available but you might have to call ahead or head to one of the native plant nurseries to get all these plants at once.

For more information:

For a list of native plant nurseries and mail order sources, please click here.

More about substituting Heuchera 'Autumn Bride'  for hostas.

More about christmas fern from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.


We want you to be as excited about planting Chesapeake natives as we are. “Plant This or That” gives you a native alternative to popular plants. Other posts highlight really fabulous fauna native to the Chesapeake.

Nuts for Natives, avid gardener, Baltimore City admirer, Chesapeake Bay Watershed restoration enthusiast, and public service fan.

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