Brightening Up a Dark Garden

Recent I shared my Mom’s garden corner makeover, where she transformed a tangle of overgrown shrubs into a seamless part of her lush and serene “secret garden” backyard.

Every time I visited Mom, I would marvel at how quickly that space was evolving into something so beautiful.

And then I would come home to this.

Cottage Garden Gone Wild!

This was the little space between our plum tree and our garden shed.  With the neighbor’s garage directly behind it, it doesn’t get much light.


Shade garden before cleanup.

This horrible photo, taken with my aging cellphone, still makes the space look more attractive than it actually was.



Weedy perennials and suckers from the plum tree had swallowed up a potted hosta, a potted ligularia, and even a mature rhododendron.


Shade garden before cleanup

It was a real mess, and I could see it every time I looked out the kitchen window.  And every time I looked, the little voice in my head said “Heidi you slacker!”


Shade garden before cleanup.

It was time to clean up this area and make it fun.

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The Cleanup

Of course I was hesitant to remove blooming perennials.  After all, I told myself, this is a cottage garden which by definition is not expected to be perfect. But that reasoning is why the area had become so chaotic in the first place.

So, with my heart in my throat, I removed violets, poppies, feverfew, and even a few foxgloves – for now.  I’m sure they will creep back next year, but hopefully with a little less enthusiasm.


Shade garden after cleanup


Shade garden after cleanup

The poor, neglected rhododendron needed pruning.  So I did what I usually do with shrubs its size:  I limbed it up.


Hosta, rhody, and ligularlia

Limbing up gives the plant a little more air circulation – and also a tidier look.

I added a layer of mulch to the soil, and the cleanup was done.

And now the fun could start.


Adding Light and Color

I wanted to add a little light and color to this dark area, but I didn’t want to add any self-seeding or spreading perennials.  So I decided, for the most part, to stick with annuals since they die away in late-fall.

I planted a drift of trailing lobelias in front of the potted hosta ( which is actually two different hostas in one pot).


Potted hosta

I’ve never planted lobelias in the shade before, so we will see how they do.

I brought in a footed urn that I had on hand and planted it with a sweet little Himalayan maidenhair fern.

I chose this particular type of maidenhair fern because in time it will grow enough to drape over the edge of the pot (as opposed to growing upward), and hopefully it will look amazing.


Himalayan maidenhair fern

I rescued a few white impatiens from the discount rack of a local store and planted them around the urn.

I had moved a heuchera in from another area, but it was drooping and too sparse, so I bought a fresh citronelle heuchera to group with baby tears and a fuchsia (yet to bloom).


Baby tears, citronelle heuchera, and fucshia


Adding Something Unexpected

Gardens are always more interesting when there is a little human touch to contrast nature.  And I needed something to lighten up the super-dark area at the very back, near the fence line – something to define the boundary of the space.

So I came up with this DIY shatter-resistant garden mirror.


The faux “antique glass” softens the reflection and gives it a dreamlike look.  When there is a breeze, it’s fun to see the movement of the plants reflected in the mirror.


DIY garden mirror

I still think this area could use something large-scale, so my only regret is that the mirror is not larger – a lot larger.

Even so, it is a fun addition, and it brings in some light.


DIy garden mirror


Shade garden after cleanup

I feel like I could do more with this area, but for now I’m going to give the new plants time to settle in and then see what happens.


Garden Mirror How-To Post Coming Soon

The DIY shatterproof garden mirror, with its “antique glass,” was the result of a fair amount of trial and error on my part – and a few happy accidents.  I’ll be telling you all about that in an upcoming post, so stay tuned!

Posts on this website are for entertainment only and are not tutorials.


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4 Replies to “Brightening Up a Dark Garden”

  1. So pretty!!! I have so many areas that need my TLC, but time is not always my friend….this weekend when I had my days off, it was too darned hot to do a thing outside, so it was all about inside chores! Oh well, I can only do what I can do….

    1. Debbie, at least you got something done indoors. Any progress is good! We were so very lucky to have dodged that heat spell around here. Everyone complains about our weather, but sometimes it works out for the better – sometimes!

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