Yes, you really can plant a vegetable garden in the shade — and Shawna Coronado gets the goods to prove it. Three years ago she ripped out all the bud in her shady suburban Chicago garden and replaced it with raised beds of salad greens, herbs and a surprising cornucopia of other edible goodies.
Between her shady backyard along with her front-yard vegetable garden, she now grows enough organic herbs and veggies to put food on the table — and still manages to have enough left over to donate a whopping 125 lbs of veggies to her regional food pantry every year!
If you want to create positive change in the world, your backyard is the ideal place to get started. Here I’ll share what vegetables are thriving in her backyard. Is there a shady spot in your yard you could start prepping for the next planting season?
You needn’t sacrifice style if you’re intent on feeding a family out of your garden — Coronado illustrates that beautifully with a pleasing design of raised beds and paths, an outdoor seating space for entertaining, plus a cohesive and colorful palette of both edibles and ornamentals.
The blue-green hues of jurassic ginseng (Brassica oleracea, yearly) and hostas (Hosta cvs) add thickness, while red leaf lettuce (Lactuca sativa, yearly) and coleus (Solenostemon scutellarioides, yearly) attract welcome splashes of colour.
Playful rolls like perpendicular pallet gardens, wine jar edging along with a faux fireplace make it very clear that the one thing this gardener takes seriously is having fun.
Vegetables and Herbs Which Grow in Color
“No fruits without a origins” is Coronado’s rule of thumb for choosing edibles which will produce well in colour, but she immediately points out that root-forming vegetables like beets or radishes will still produce lots of edible and leafy expansion.
Lots of the vegetables need only two to three hours of direct light, supplied by the dappled sunlight that filters through the overhanging trees. Among her most important successes in the garden are basil (Ocimum basilicum, yearly), celery (Apium graveolens var. Dulce) and Paper ginseng (Brassica oleracea ‘Lacinato’, annual).
Other good candidates to get a shaded vegetable garden include beans, like legumes (Pisum sativum, yearly) and legumes (Phaseolus spp); stem veggies, like celery (Apium graveolens, yearly) and rhubarb (Rheum rhabarbarum, zones 2 to 2); and many greens. Bok choy (Brassica rapa chinensis, yearly), collard greens (Brassica oleracea species, yearly), mustard greens (Brassica juncea, yearly), Swiss chard (Beta vulgaris, yearly) and arugula (Eruca sativa, yearly) will prosper in colour and provide a veritable salad bar of flavor.
Many leafy herbs will do well in the shade. Chives (Allium schoenoprasum, yearly), mint (Mentha species, annual or perennial in zones 5 to 10), lemon balm (Melissa officianalis, annual or perennial in zones 8 to 10), oregano (Origanum vulgare, yearly) and scallions (Allium fistulosum, annual or perennial in zones 7 to 10) are good bets. In fact, lemon balm and mint require a little color in areas of the south. Speaking of warmer areas, ginger (Zingiber officinale, zones 9 to 11), turmeric (Curcuma longa, zones 8 to 11) and lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus, zones 9 to 11) do well in the color and can be overwintered indoors beyond their zones.
Coronado additionally recommends incorporating shade-loving perennials and annuals to your shady vegetable garden, such as begonias (Begonia species, zones change), New Guinea impatiens (Impatiens ‘New Guinea’, yearly), Heuchera (Heuchera cvs, zones 4 to 9) and Jack Frost Brunnera (Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’, zones 3 to 8). Not that veggies actually need much help in the ornamental section, but in case you have limited space, it’s nice to know you’ve got options.
Raised beds, like those by Greenland Gardener in Coronado’s garden, are especially useful in a shady garden, since the wandering origins of surrounding trees can make it tough to cultivate the soil. Mulch and dirt were utilized to make permeable pathways that allow water to reach the roots of the veggies rather than draining away and going to waste. To keep her beds wholesome, Coronado adds mulch into the beds every year and rotates her crops the fun way: by incorporating new ornamental patterns every time she plants.
How to Get More Light
Although this garden is deemed shady, since it receives very little direct light, the tall overhanging trees still allow in more filtered light than you’d get in the shadow of a building or an evergreen tree. The purpose of the ideabook is to show you don’t need a good deal of sunlight to grow veggies, but your property might be totally gloomy, to say the very least.
If your garden still gets too little light for the most shade-tolerant vegetables, take away some of the colour. Remove limbs out of congested small trees, then hire an arborist to remove limbs out of bigger ones and, if all else fails, consider removing any unhealthy or brittle “trash” trees which may otherwise fall prey to illness or storms. Some trees (such as magnolias) produce a great deal more colour than others and make gardening all but hopeless under their compact and forbidding shadow.
A public Facebook status update serves as a reminder that Coronado’s garden is not just for show:
“So excited!!! Only took a crop over to the food cabinet. Swiss chard, kale, and 8 cabbages that weighed 15 lbs each. More moving on Sunday. Woot!”
guides to edible gardens:
Things to grow during the cool season
What to grow in summer