Native Plant Narratives: A Once Desolate Side Garden Zings

Narrow space, mostly full shade, below large trees: what to do?

Side yard before native plant make over

Never one to call the end of the DIY gardening season early, my good friend Robert wasn't ready to put away his shovel last fall. Although he had worked all season long to transform his front garden in 2020, he had one more project up his sleeve as November approached.


Take a look at the side garden above. I think many of us can relate. It looks rarely used and seen. It always seems to be the place the AC unit and other mechanical items reside. The fence line is planted with 5 very mature hollies on the neighbor's side. Robert had a vision, though, of what could be.

side yard after native plant makeover

The results are full of cheer. Originally, Robert was thinking of planting hostas, a good full shade choice indeed. Once he caught the native plant bug though, he amended those plans, and his side garden soil, to create a path that beckons you to explore!

Robert created the path by digging up 4" inches of soil and covering the bare ground with landscape fabric. He then positioned the stepping stones. Initially, he used mulch but later decided to add white stone to create contrast and a sturdier thoroughfare.

The plants are all native: Pennsylvania sedge (Carex pensylvanica), heuchera 'autumn bride' (Heuchera villosa 'autumn bride') green and gold (Chrysogonum virginianum) and oak leaf hydrangeas (Hydrangea quercifolia). The first three are excellent ground covers for full dry shade. The Pennsylvania sedge will grow over time into a graceful green carpet. Heuchera will bloom late July through September with white flower wands that sway in the summer breeze. The plants are also semi-evergreen in winter. The green and gold bloom in April and May and then sporadically for the rest of summer. They are also semi-evergreen in winter. The heuchera and Pennsylvania sedge were planted as plugs last fall.


The size of the ground covers, now in their first year in the gorund, is the reason I am such a big fan of plugs. For the same cost as quart sized perennials, you can get three or four times as many plug sized plants and, after a year or two, size wise you won't know the difference. Local nurseries such as Unity Church Hill Nursery sell flats of plugs and they are also available by mail order from places like Izel Plants and Prairie Nursery.

Oak leaf hydrangeas will add June flowers, brilliant fall color and the papery bark will stand out in winter. Oak leafs grow really well in full shade and will add height to the garden.

Thanks for the inspiration Robert. The transformation is stunning and that yellow bench adds the zing!


Happy Gardening.

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.

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