“Gardens are not made by singing ‘Oh, how beautiful,’ and sitting in the shade.” – Rudyard Kipling

You’re probably looking at the title of this and are like “Uhhhhh, Allyson ….” OK, let me clarify it is not that kind of shady.

I have a love-hate relationship with trees. I love trees in that they are beautiful and you get so much from them like clean air, wood, fruits and nuts, among other things, but they also cast shade.

Like, a lot of shade.

Shade is not great for vegetables and flowers. Every book I’ve ever read on gardening reads full sun this full sun that. You must have full sun! Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. …

OK, I’m here to say, that’s not true. You don’t have to have full sun to have a successful garden, and in this article I’ll show you some wonderful plants that thrive in partial shade for all you shady gardeners out there desperate for a patch of sun.

Now, I will say this about shady gardens: Expect smaller vegetables, less yields and slower maturation. That just can’t be helped. Plants need sunlight and partial shade (3–6 hours of direct sunlight) is not exactly ideal for vegetables. But it’s not the worst either, and full shade … well, that’s better left to a rock garden than anything else. But if you can be patient and aren’t expecting bumper crops, a place in the shade shouldn’t deter you from putting seed in the ground.

The plants I’m going to talk about are all cool season plants. These are all plants that don’t do well in the summer’s heat, but because you’re growing in the shade anyway where it’s cooler, you can actually extend your crop out into summer or start in summer and go into fall.

Leafy Greens

Several leafy green plants sit in a pile.
Leafy greens: Hate the heat, love the cool shade.

If you love salads, then a shady garden will be right up your alley, as lettuces and other leafy greens will do well in shady gardens. Being in the shade may actually help you as the heat of summer makes plants like these turn bitter and bolt prematurely, so you get a longer season by putting them in partial shade. Try bok choy or other Asian greens like mizuna or tatsoi for stir-fries. Perhaps take a page from Popeye’s book and extend your spinaches’ growing season, or go hipster and do all things kale. The possibilities are endless!

Plant-It-And-Forget-It Vegetables

A pile of freshly collected rhubarb sits in a wheelbarrow.
Rhubarb: A tangy-sweet year-in, year-out surprise.

How about for the plant-it-and-forget-it crowd? Try rhubarb for a tangy-sweet veggie that makes great pies and desserts that will have your friends wondering “Is this really a vegetable?” Or perhaps asparagus is more your speed with stalks that you just break and bake for many a side dish at parties. Maybe you really have a thing for horseradish (I’m not judging). This is an excellent plant for that patch of shade nothing else wants to grow in!

Root Vegetables

Three types of radishes are displayed in a market.
Radishes: A (relatively) quick plant for mid-day munching.

Try root vegetables for hours of dirt-spraying and veggie-pulling fun! Carrots come in all shapes and sizes, so plant a smorgasbord! Try beets for heart healthy benefits and making your kitchen look like a crime scene before dinner as their juices dye your hands and cutting board red.

A little impatient? Try quick-growing radishes for a spicy, crunchy snack that is much better than those Flamin’ Hot Cheetos you were thinking of grabbing. Who doesn’t love a good baked potato? Plant your own and soon you’ll have dinner and snack time made in the shade.

Brassica Plants

Brussel sprouts available for purchase at the grocery store.
Brussel sprouts: No, really give them a try!

Of course, who could forget the brassica family? With such lovelies as broccoli, cauliflower and Brussel sprouts. No takers? Anybody? But what about Kohlrabi, the plant with that weird bulb thing right before it goes into the soil? Or the myriads of cabbages – big, small and even purple – which taste great turned into sauerkraut or kimchi? Or the beautiful turnip or rutabaga? No? I lost you at Brussel sprouts, didn’t I?

I hope those of you reading aren’t going to be casting shade on your own trees for blocking your sunshine. Just take what they give and use it to your advantage and pretty soon, having shade cast on you won’t be that bad after all.

Allyson Ernst
Nature Interpreter, Glenwood Gardens