The Things That Grow In Shady Places: Creating a Shaded Bed on the North Side of the House

 Dear Henry,

The first gardening bed we created in the new garden was in the narrow space between the north side of the house and the fence. We decided to build this bed first, but the primary reason was that quite a bit of water was pooling on this side of the house, so we had to make installing a French drain our first project.

We ran into a bit of a snag with the drain installation. This side of the house contains all of our utility connections. After getting the utility lines marked, we realized that we would be unable to use any power driver equipment, and we (Fish) would be digging the entire trench (about 40 feet) for the drain by hand. 

The hand-digging turned into quite a job too. The soil in Oklahoma is very heavy and mostly clay. Also, because we were doing this during the early Spring, we (Fish) were digging in the rain, which was a serious, muddy mess. 

Fortunately, all the work worked. The drain made an immediate and notable difference, the water stopped pooling, and the area was no longer a swampy, muddy mess. We choose to use rock, rather than turf, to cover the area, given the heavy clay-like soil and the natural slope of the lot.

However, the rock left a pretty pronounced "dead" space in the garden. Although the gate to the front yard, the HVAC and utility connections,  and the cats' "catio" filled much of the area, the look was unappealing, very urban, and needed something green. 

This area gets morning sun only, although, during the summer months, the morning sun has turned into a lot more hours of sun than I realized. I built the bed using grey retaining wall stones, about 13' X 2 ', with a depth of about a foot. Initially, I had planted just the Fuschia and two of the Hostas. And the two Hellebores, but the space looked empty (the bleeding heart starts that I planted never emerged). So I tried to give everything time to fill in, but I am much too impatient, so I added the Heucheras and another couple of Hostas. Of course, when things really grow, I may need to move some of the plants, but everything seems to be getting along well right now.

The bed was planted to be relatively low-maintenance once everything gets established, and all the plants are expected to return next year. Even the Fuschia. I spoke to a few U.K. gardeners about growing the plant outside its "zone," and they have assured me that the plant will only go dormant and will remerge the following Spring.

Of course, all of these expectations of growth rest upon the assumption that Oklahoma will not have the same brutally cold winter it had this year. 

While there is quite a bit of growth that needs to happen to fill the space, I'm delighted with how it came together. And it was very nice to get the most challenging project (the drain) out of the way first and have the area look "neat" as we continued the yard transformation.

xoxo a.d. elliott


a.d. elliott is a wanderer, writer, and photographer currently living in Salem, Virginia. 

In addition to the travel writings at, you can also read her book reviews at and US military biographies at

Her online photography gallery can be found at