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Front Yard: Lot’s O’ Shade

I love a good problem. Weird, right? Well . . . it’s not the problem I love, it’s that I get to find / create a solution.

In my mind there’s always a solution. You may not like the answer or the option(s), but there’s always a solution.

So, when it comes to small yards that are bathed in shade (“problem”), you’ve come to the right place (solution).

First Step: Acknowledge what you can’t control.

You can’t control

  1. Trees not planted in your front yard because they’re either in your neighbor’s yard or in the parkway. (Click here for more information (tip 4) about what you need to know about Chicago parkway trees.)
  2. The position of your house. If your front yard faces north(ish) or if you have tall buildings around you, then it is what it is.

Second Step: Let go of what you can’t have.

We’re not the kind of firm that makes shyte up to make a sale. Matter fact we may air too much on the side of forthrightness and frankness. Our goal it is to create a front garden that you love, so why on earth would we try to sabotage that and tell you something will work when we know that it won’t?

Two big items you won’t get:

  1. Grass (lawn and plants). Ditch the idea of grass . . . it’s an exercise in futility. There may be shade varieties of grass but grasses need sun. Plus, a small front yard with turf grass means it has to be mown – headache! If you are committed to turf – you could explore artificial turf. Lots of varieties – not the kind that was in your grandparents’ 3-season porch.
  2. Lots and lots of blooming flowers throughout spring, summer, and fall.  Most blooming plants need at least part sun to really be their best. Next Level Pro Tip: spring flowering plants can work if a majority of your shade trees are deciduous i.e., they drop their leaves in the fall. Because these trees won’t yet have all their leaves in the spring, sunlight will get to your garden so flowering plants can grow. (Share this with your neighbors and you will look like a genius. You’re welcome.)

Third Step: Embrace what you can have.

Cue Rolling Stones . . . “You can’t always get what you want . . . But if you try sometimes, well, you might find you get what you need . . .

While you may feel slighted by what you can’t control or can’t have, trust me, there are so many more things you can have and love.

Get in the mindset of textures, shapes, and sizes. You’ve got a huge winning palette with these 4 options:

  1. Plant choice. (Reminder: I’m focusing on small front yards so mature plant size matters.)

Here are some options:

      • Trees: Hornbeam, Kousa Dogwood, some Japanese Maples, Sweetgum
      • Shrubs: Oakleaf Hydrangea, Yew, Boxwood, Hemlock, some Junipers
      • Perennials (the kind of plant the grows again each year): Fern, Hosta, Hellebore, Hakonechloa, Dicentra (Bleeding Heart), Lady’s Mantle
      • Groundcovers: Wild Ginger, Lamium, Pachysandra, Epimedium
  1. Landscape bed shapes. We use rectangles, squares, circles, curves in all different ways and patterns. Check out our social media posts over the past week . . . pics of small front yards with shapes galore!
  2. Hardscape materials. Pavers (all different sizes and colors), gravels or chips, metal edging. (Again, pics on social.)
  3. Whether you have one main container or many throughout your front yard, containers can be planted with loads color. The reason for this is that annuals are planted for a finite amount of time. Because they’re temporary, you won’t see the plants suffer from lack of sun.

So, here you have it. Four solid solutions for the shady small front yard! May you feel empowered and hopeful that you too can have one amazing front yard.