• Washington Post photos Jenny Rose Carey has released a book called “Glorious Shade,” with the intention to show others the benefits of planting in shade.

  • A shade garden is best layered to include bulbs, spring ephemerals and ground covers.

How to appreciate, create beautiful shade gardens

Shade gathers from year to year in the garden like the wrinkles on your face, growing more pronounced with time.

Small bushes develop into large shrubs, young patio trees shift from skinny to broad, newly planted trees rise to the rooftops and beyond. This is a direct consequence of our love of plants and is all good.

Or as horticulturist Jenny Rose Carey puts it: “I love planting little trees and watching them grow.” She has done this over the past 20 years in her 41/2-acre garden in the Philadelphia suburb of Ambler. “As you mature as a gardener, your trees grow along with you, and that’s a nice thing.”

So why are so many people down on shade?

First, because they can’t grow roses or zinnias in the gloom, and for many people a garden must have floral color to count. This is a limited view of the garden, where leaf forms, textures and plant architecture provide much more satisfaction, if only subconsciously. Another argument is that you can’t have a vegetable garden in the shade. This is true, and there is no way around that.

Shade gets the blame when the homeowner thinks the garden is overgrown and dank. This is a product of folks planting screening trees – especially evergreens – that were always destined to outgrow their allotted space.

But I’m with Carey in her belief that the shade garden is not just all right, and not just an asset now that the heat is upon us, but is actually the best part of the garden. Why?

Artfully planted and groomed, it is the most sheltered and cocooning place to be. The hallmark of the shade garden, she says, is its “intimacy.”

Carey, who is director of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society’s public garden and nursery, Meadowbrook Farm, has written a book addressing the practical aspects of making and keeping a shade garden. It has an appropriately upbeat title, “Glorious Shade.” “I hear so much negative stuff from people about shade, and I’m not a negative gardener. I’m positive.”

After reading her book and visiting her garden (and developing my own shade garden over more than two decades), I wrote a synthesis of Carey’s explorations and my own experiences.

Finding your shade. Shade occurs when sunlight is blocked – simple enough, except that shade is a moving target.

The sun moves across the sky daily, and seasonally it shifts its duration, height and strength. In March, a tree offers scant shade; in June, it is a large, living parasol. In the space of five years, an area that is in baking sun can become shaded.

In hot climates, many plants do better with a little shade, relieved of the heat and stress of the sun’s rays, but in areas of deep, unremitting shade, the range of plants that will be happy narrows dramatically, so it’s important to gauge the nature of your shade.