Shade Gardening in the Mid-Atlantic

For me shade gardening began after I retired and realized that we had lost our woods to  12′ high Multiflora Rose and Japanese Honeysuckle.  We reclaimed it soon after.  Simultaneously I began gardening under shade trees in our yard, White Pines and a Tulip Tree that I’d planted as tiny saplings 37 years earlier (in 1984) and a large American Holly and Georgia Hackberry that came up when we didn’t mow part of our backyard 44 years ago (in 1977) .  Our last English Setter had died and we no longer needed lawn.  I compiled a wish list of natives I wanted to plant in our newly reclaimed woods and other shady areas.  Friends generously gifted me with many divisions from plants in their yards that they had had success with.  Since then I’ve done the same for others who are embracing a more layered landscape.

I certainly don’t miss the lawn and neither does Clay who does the mowing.  In  15 minutes or less he’s easily mowed the pathways and is done.  Our shade gardening provides a great deal more habitat, so we find even more nature moments to savor.  This layering of plants has certainly increased the joy factor in our yard.  And I’ve fallen in love with many, many new-to-me shade-loving natives.  As Thomas Rainer says, “more life brings more life.”

I shared a program (via Zoom) on “Shade Gardening with Natives” for the Native Plant Society of NJ’s Southeast Chapter on Monday, November 15, 2021 at 7 pm.

To learn more about shade gardening be sure to read my  handouts below:

Pat Sutton’s Shade Gardening  Handout – Resources (Click on the underlined text to download and print)    This handout includes resources (great books that have helped me) and the many websites with “Native Plant Finder” tools to help you generate a list of plants suitable for your area and site.  It also has suggestions for sites to visit to see shade-loving natives in the landscape.

Pat Sutton’s Shade Gardening Handout – Native Plants  (Click on the underlined text to download and print)    This handout includes a list of shade-loving natives for the Mid-Atlantic, many of which I’ve planted or have growing in my woods or other shady spots on our property.

Pat Sutton’s New Jersey’s Native Trees, Shrubs, and Vines That are Beneficial to Birds  (Click on the underlined text to download and print)   This list is annotated with the  number of NJ bird species that feed on fruits, seeds, cones, or catkins of each.

2017 Gardening for Wildlife WORKSHOP SERIES

Mistflower with Gray Hairstreak and a caterpillar. Native plants are KEY: many offer nectar and serve as important host plants for butterflies and moths

This year I’ve added two brand new topics,
so there will be 7 in-depth
“Gardening for Wildlife With Native Plants” Workshops (pdf)

on select Saturdays and Sundays
March 11 – April 1, 2017

 the perfect time to shake off winter
and begin planning and planting
(or enhancing) your property and wildlife garden

Learn to create gardens and habitats in little time.  Learn of the best plants for wildlife and sources of locally grown natives.  Learn how to save money by encouraging seed production rather than hampering it with traditional gardening practices.  See immediate results by implementing wildlife-friendly garden practices rather than traditional wildlife death-trap practices.  Benefit from maintenance tips and advice so that your habitat looks its best.

Many (1000s) have taken these workshops, been empowered, and created habitats that have given them pleasure for years to come.

If you have taken one of these workshops with me and would like to share a one-liner (or more) about them that might help others realize their value, I’d be most grateful.  Add your comment(s) in the comment section following this post (I may use your comments as I continue to promote these workshops, so THANKS).

Shade Gardening is one of 2 new topics covered in 2017

Imagine walking out your own door into a habitat that YOU created, a habitat that fills up with wildlife visitors galore: hummingbirds, butterflies, caterpillars, chrysalises, dragonflies, ladybugs, many different native bees, beetles and other fun pollinators, songbirds, frogs, turtles, moths at night, and more!  Every walk down your garden path is full of wonder, learning, delight, awe . . . almost like traveling to an exotic land, but that exotic place is your own back (or front) yard.  There is nothing more gratifying than knowing that you provide safe haven for all these creatures.

Consider joining me for one, several, or all seven of these workshops (discounted fees when you sign up for 3 or more workshops).  Native plants and wildlife-friendly practices are the key and will be emphasized and detailed throughout.

I present a zillion one- to two-hour programs each year and maybe you’ve attended a few of these. I love teaching them, but (with only one or two hours) they are more one-sided presentations, me sharing fun natural history information and images with you, the audience.

Prothonotary Warblers returned in 2016 to nest again in Sutton’s garden where they found a wealth of butterfly and moth caterpillars to feed two broods of young

These full-day workshops offer the opportunity to be far more in-depth and interactive and are more likely to empower you, take you to the next level.  Take advantage of this special opportunity to educate yourself.  Don’t count on landscapers or nursery owners; sadly many of them are not well informed about native plants and wildlife gardening practices.   I have heard my share of horror stories where folks have paid dearly for a butterfly garden of native plants and instead ended up with a bed of non-native invasives.

The 5-hour format (10 a.m. to 3 p.m.) allows for:

  • an interactive workshop atmosphere
  • each workshop covers a unique aspect of wildlife gardening (in-depth)
  • each workshop builds on the others, but is not repetitive (so you’ll want to try and attend all 7 to maximize your learning opportunity)
  • resources (handouts and circulated books) that are key to your learning and understanding will be shared and showcased
  • you’ll learn how to utilize these resources (find answers to burning questions you may have)
  • time for in-depth questions
  • time for in-depth answers
  • during a working lunch we’ll brainstorm (as a group) each participant’s specific challenges (you’ll draw a rough sketch of your yard and submit a photo of your sketch that I’ll  project so we can all see it for this brainstorming)
  • time to get to know one another and learn from each other (of garden triumphs and tribulations, successes and pitfalls). Nothing beats collective experience and roundtable discussion
  • each workshop will culminate in a site visit to a nearby backyard habitat (including my own and others) where wildlife-friendly practices and design and plant selections will be showcased
Three different Green Frogs called our ponds home in 2016, along with many Leopard Frogs and Gray Tree Frogs.

Take advantage of the discount by signing up for 3 or more workshops.

So, what do you say! Will I see you in March and early April?




for NJ Audubon’s Nature Center of Cape May
1600 Delaware Avenue, Cape May, NJ 08204 (609-427-3045)

  1. Saturday, March 11 – How to Create a Backyard Habitat
  2. Sunday, March 12 – Lose the Lawn, Create a Wildflower Meadow Instead (from small “Pocket Meadow” up to sizable meadows)
  3. Saturday, March 18 – How to Create a Pollinator Garden (to benefit Butterflies, Hummingbirds, Moths, Bees, & More) 
  4. Sunday, March 19 – Plant Wars: How to Recognize and Deal With Invasive Plant Species
  5. Saturday, March 25 — How to Create a No-Fuss Wildlife Pond
  6. Sunday, March 26 — How to Make Messy Look Good (Maintenance Tips & Advice) & Shade Gardening (2 NEW topics packed into one session)
  7. Saturday, April 1 – Landscape Design With Wildlife in Mind

 Please note that the 7 workshops in this series will be held at the Cape May Bird Observatory Center for Research & Education, 600 Rt. 47 N, Cape May Court House, NJ 08210 and not at the Nature Center of Cape May in Cape May.

Time: 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 pm.

Limit: 20 participants;  preregistration required  (through NJ Audubon’s Nature Center of Cape May, 1600 Delaware Avenue, Cape May, NJ 08204; 609-427-3045 — if you reach the message machine, leave a message — your call will be returned).

Cost/workshop (includes handouts):
$40 member of NJ Audubon Society, $50 nonmember
Sign up for three or more workshops for a discount:
$30 each (member); $40 each (nonmember)

Sign up for five or more workshops and receive a FREE ticket to visit Sutton’s garden during peak blooming (dates to be set).

Sutton’s garden July 9, 2016
Sutton’s late fall garden, Nov. 14, 2016

All workshops include a site visit to a nearby wildlife garden (Sutton’s garden and others).