Shade Gardens

Shade gardens provide a welcome oasis in the South but can be a challenge to design.

Shade gardens provide a welcome oasis in the South but can be a challenge to design.

You can have colorful blooming plants in a shade garden, but most of them (ephemeral wildflowers, azaleas, dogwoods) flower in early spring before leaves have developed fully on the tree canopy. Certain hydrangeas are the exception, flowering May through July. Summer color can be accomplished with impatiens and begonias as well as the colorful foliage of coleus and caladiums. Most of the beauty of a shade garden in summer, however, comes from subtle contrasting textures like the frilly fronds of a fern next to the smooth surface of a hosta leaf. You can view these plants and more in our extensive collection of shade gardens.

Daffodil Hill was first planted in the 1970s and now provides a spectacular early spring display that is followed by the colorful peak of trees and shrubs blooming along the Azalea Trail and Dogwood Trail. The Container Garden, supported by Memphis Garden Club, features a secluded nook of container plantings along with benches for a rest along your walk. 

The Hosta Garden and Hydrangea Garden are maintained with support from the Mid-South Hosta Society and Mid-South Hydrangea Society, respectively. Both gardens feature good selections of these plants with new introductions added frequently. The Fragrance Garden connects garden areas with a display of perfumed blooms throughout the season.  Visitors of all ages will enjoy the Prehistoric Plant Trail featuring petrified wood and fossils from the Memphis area. This garden is planted with ancient species including the largest concentration of our collection of ferns, provided and maintained by the Memphis Fern Society. 

Our gardens showcase the wide variety of plants that can be used to create a shady backyard retreat. So whether you have dappled sunlight or heavy shade, we hope you’ll find something inspiring in this group of gardens.


Azaleas are one of the most popular plants in southern gardens. This flowering shrub has more than 10,000 different varieties. All azaleas are botanically Rhododendrons but what we typically think of as Rhododendrons are the large broadleaf evergreen shrubs found in mountainous temperate climates. Although it is possible to grow them here and we do have a few, we recommend seeing them in all of their glory in the Great Smoky Mountains.

The azaleas seen here typically peak in April. Their high-impact blooms come in many shades of pink, coral, red, purple, and white. Azaleas prefer shaded areas with acidic soil and often do well planted under trees. 

There are both deciduous and evergreen azaleas. All native North American azaleas are deciduous.  Most of the evergreen azaleas are native to Japan. Deciduous azaleas typically have a scent, while evergreen azaleas usually have no scent at all. The Encore™ azaleas featured along the trail are evergreen hybrids that bloom heavily in spring and sporadically through summer and fall. Look for our Aromi, Satsuki, and other hybrids and cultivars within the collection.


This garden, supported by the Memphis Garden Club, features an eclectic assortment of containers along with an arbor, stylized benches, and pathways planted with interesting border beds. Here you can find seasonally appropriate container plantings and a lovely tree well that showcases a mature bay magnolia underplanted with dwarf acorus. Because this garden is central to many other gardens and is the halfway point for guests beginning their tour at our main entrance, it is the perfect place to stop for a rest during your visit.


Daffodils are considered to be the harbingers of spring because they start blooming as early as January. They come in combinations of white, yellow, orange, and even pink. There are over 40 different species and thousands of varieties that have been cultivated. An estimated 300,000 daffodils of numerous varieties can be seen blooming here each year. 

There is some confusion in the nomenclature of this plant. The botanical name of the family is Narcissus, with the common name of daffodil. In the South, they are often called buttercups, but this is a confusing name that can apply to several other plants as well. As a general rule, the familiar Jonquil species of Narcissus and its hybrids are characterized by yellow flowers, a strong scent, and rounded foliage.

Daffodils are a reliable perennial in the South. Many old plantings that appear to be wild were actually planted years ago by homesteaders. Their leaves should not be cut or mowed over while still green or the bulb will not produce a flower the following year. An added bonus for gardeners is that squirrels, voles, and other rodents will not eat the toxic bulbs.


A dogwood in bloom punctuates the arrival of spring, when horizontal sprays of delicate white streak the landscape. The blooms are not true flowers, botanically speaking; they are bracts, originating from the outer layer of the flower buds set in late summer. These bud scales protect the small, yellow true flowers within while they develop. Many cultivars have been selected for different colors of their bracts, ranging from the natural white, through pinks and reds. 

The Dogwood Trail consists primarily of Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida) and Kousa Dogwood (Cornus kousa), although cultivars and hybrids of each can be found as well. The Kousa-American hybrid dogwoods are a cross between C. kousa and C. florida and are more resistant to dogwood borer and dogwood anthracnose, two serious infestations that can distort and wrinkle leaves and flowers. Along with the familiar deciduous forms, dogwoods can occur as both shrubs and evergreen trees. Be sure to check out our evergreen Empress of China™ dogwood (Cornus elliptica ‘Elsbry’) planted in the Asian Garden.


This serene garden was created using some of our more fragrant shade plants. The majority of shade loving plants produce white flowers, so our garden design features only shades of white and cream. The canopy is formed by mature Southern Magnolias, the classic mainstay of many southern gardens. Their large white blossoms with their heady fragrance are always welcome in early summer. Osmanthus, another broadleaf evergreen, lines the path leading to the entrance. They are covered in small white fragrant blooms in the fall that can be detected long before you see the plants. 


During the spring and summer months, seasonal interest is provided by white shade annuals such as caladiums and impatiens and accented by perennial favorites that add texture, such as ferns and hostas. Other flowering plants included are Astilbe, Gardenia, Lily of the Valley, Ginger Lily and Florida Anise.


Hostas are a lush and reliable addition to any shade garden. In the Mid-South, these herbaceous perennials provide an array of colors as well as textures of foliage from March to October. Some hosta leaves are as large as a dinner plate, while others may be as small as a thumb. During the summer, the plants produce white, lavender or purple flowers, some of which are fragrant. 


This collection was established in 1999 by the Mid-South Hosta Society and is recognized as an American Hosta Society National Display Garden. Themed as Hostas From Around the Globe, the seven beds display more than 600 hosta plants representing 250 varieties, all botanically labeled and organized geographically to show where they were discovered or developed. One raised bed showcases miniature plants. Another bed features plants recognized as Hosta of the Year across several decades. 


Hostas require weekly watering, good drainage, and underground protection from hungry voles. That is why you will see woven-wire baskets around the root systems of our plants. As hosta clumps increase in size, they can be divided (preferably in spring and fall) and shared.


Hydrangeas are a beloved flowering shrub in the South, adding color to any garden. There are over 75 species of hydrangeas native to North America and Asia. Thanks to support from the Mid-South Hydrangea Society, we have approximately 35 different varieties throughout the Garden with examples of each of the following major types: smooth, panicled, bigleaf, mountain, oakleaf, and climbing.  

The flowers of hydrangeas come in a range of spectacular colors including pink, red, white, purple, and green. The bloom color of certain varieties depends on the pH of the soil. These flowers tend to be blue or purple in acidic soil and pink or red in more alkaline soils. 

Hydrangeas prefer partial shade to full sun and typically bloom from mid-spring to late summer. If you have them in your yard, be sure to know if they flower on old wood or new wood before pruning to prevent removing next season’s flowers.

Plant Trail

The Prehistoric Plant Trail is a family exploration garden that takes visitors back to prehistoric times. There are educational sign panels, dinosaur statues, petrified wood displays, a stone cave, and a sand pit for uncovering dino bones. Early land plants featured include: mosses, palms, magnolias, ginkgos, and even a Dawn Redwood and a Sequoia Tree! This area also houses the largest concentration of our Fern Collection which was donated and planted by the Memphis Fern Society.