Made for Shade: a Tough and Classy Planter

Plant this easy combo of good-looking, shade-tolerant plants in a tough spot. It won't disappoint.

By Kate Bryant June 10, 2013

This understated container planting requires little care but looks elegant all through the growing season. The combination of Oregon grape and two types of fern gets an A for good design, simplicity, and toughness. Bonus points for including a native plant: Oregon grape, which flowers in March and look great year-round in containers.

This planting ensemble would be perfect for outside a restaurant (which is where I spotted it) or any business because it requires little care other than minimal summer watering and occasional fertilization to keep it healthy and happy.

It's a sturdy ensemble in winter, with nice, festive, dark green foliage. In March, the blazing yellow flowers of the Oregon grape attract pollinating insects and perfume the air for a couple of weeks. In mid-spring, the new croziers on the fern warm up the ensemble. Late spring brings plenty of lush new growth on the ferns and fresh, light green leaves on the Oregon grape, followed by ripening, powdery blue berries as the summer turns to fall. In winter, the black berries are eaten by birds.

Try it:

  • Trough, approximately 36" long, 8" deep and 12" tall
  • Potting soil
  • Three 1-gallon Oregon grape (Mahonia aquifolium)
  • Three 1-gallon ferns. The two ferns on the sides appear to be autumn fern but choose any medium-sized ferns you like that reach about 1' tall. You can use a smaller fern at the center. Pick evergreen ferns to keep the planter looking dressy all winter. Pick drought tolerant ferns and your planter will be almost bullet-proof.

For an approximately 36" long trough, include six full, one-gallon sized plants.

Maintenance requirements: In a shady spot (it would be perfect for a north or east facing wall), summer watering once a day or deeply every couple of days is sufficient. Lightly fertilize monthly March to August with a balanced, all-purpose fertilizer. Monthly grooming would be smart, with more attention in early spring, when any dead leaves on Oregon grape should be cleaned up and dead fern fronds removed from the base.

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