Tour a Shade Garden in Charleston

Grande dame of the garden Patti McGee shows HGTV editor Felicia Feaster around her South Carolina walled garden, the perfect illustration of how to make shade beautiful.

The Sound of Relaxation

The soothing sounds of flowing water in this charming water feature accent longtime gardener Patti McGee's exquisite shade garden in the heart of Charleston. McGee's spectacular garden has been featured in Charleston's annual garden tour "Behind the Garden Gate," a partnership between Spoleto Festival USA, Garden Conservancy Open Days Program and the Charleston Horticultural Society.

Succulent Bed

Stones and succulents add color and texture to this Charleston walled garden water feature.

The In Crowd

Shelter plants inside in containers and then arrange them in informal groupings outdoors when the weather heats up. Charleston gardener Patti McGee has chosen a predominate color theme of jade to give a sense of harmony to her containers.

Sensational Succulents

Succulents are often the centerpiece in Charleston gardener Patti McGee's charming container arrangements.

Ivy-Covered Trellis

An ivy-covered trellis provides a lovely frame around this garden bench punctuated by two bookend boxwoods.

Bits and Pieces

Small beds provide concise and clever opportunities to group more delicate plants beyond the usual containers.

Contain Your Enthusiasm

Succulents "give you such architectural interest" says Patti McGee, who has sprinkled containers of them throughout her Charleston garden.

Grand Entrance

Even the driveway to this Charleston courtyard garden is gorgeous, flanked by brick pillars covered in creeping fig and iron gates.

Terra Cotta Tango

Agave and kalanchoe lend texture to this terra cotta container.

Dwarf Mondo Grass

Dwarf mondo grass provides a sort of natural carpet beneath this bench.

Farfugium Japonicum

McGee is a big fan of leopard plant, Farfugium japonicum, in her shade garden, especially Farfugium japonicum 'Aureomaculatum'.

Mix of Color

Coleus 'Wasabi', hydrangea, foxgloves and leopard plant provide ample color and texture in this Charleston garden.

Multi-Purpose Loggia

A Charleston answer to the front porch, the loggia serves several functions at this home, as a sheltered place to socialize and in the winter as an impromptu greenhouse. McGee shelters her more fragile plants in the loggia, which her husband drapes with plastic to keep the cold out.

Sense of Humor

Small boxwood encircled beds contain clever, sculpted plantings.

Shades of Green

Tibuchina and wire vine erupt from this curvaceous terra-cotta container.

Favorite Charleston Garden Shops

Looking to capture the Charleston garden ambiance back home? Patti McGee sources many of her garden treasures at local shops like Hyams.

Charleston Walled Garden 20

Charleston "single house" residences are characterized by multi-level porches or piazzas built on the side rather than the front of the house. These porches provide an ideal perch to take in the walled garden below.


Fatsia japonica peeks out from the iron gate surrounding this walled Charleston garden.


This wooden bench defines one of the peaceful nooks in this Charleston garden designed in part by Loutrel Briggs, a renowned American landscape designer who designed hundreds of gardens in the historic Charleston area and often worked with sandstone, as seen in these garden pavers.

Shade Loving Hydrangea

McGee has a special place in her heart for hydrangea. "I've learned that hydrangeas give you such a lot of summer interest," she says.


Blooming acanthus is flanked by nandina in this garden nook.

A Mix of Tropicals

A banana plant provides unexpected vertical and textural interest in this shade garden.

Container Centerpiece

Containers are in every part of Patti McGee's garden, on steps, surrounding water features, accessorizing benches and seating arrangements and providing a pop of color to this wrought iron table.

Cast Iron Call

Is there a prettier way to summon guests to dinner or announce that cocktails are served than this cast iron bird and bell?

Charleston Walled Garden 29

Large terra cotta containers containing ivies and Rohdea japonica ornament these stairs leading to the garden, creating a bridge between indoors and out.

Holding Pattern

It's hard to find a nook in Patti and Peter McGee's garden that doesn't offer some visual treat for the eye. The corner leading to a hidden alleyway where Patti keeps some of her unused containers creates an opportunity to create a configuration of beautiful potted up plants.

Tiered Planter

A tiered planter shows off a bevy of lush plantings in this Charleston garden.

Wall Flower

Containers hung on walls can expand the garden space and draw the eye upward.

Creeping Fig

Creeping fig covers the wall of this garage, allowing it to beautifully blend with the garden that surrounds it.

True Blue

Few shrubs offer the lush flowers and foliage as well as the adaptability to shade that hydrangeas do.

Inspired Architecture

Unconventional but elegant architectural touches like this fountain ornamented by a small frog who looks poised to leap into the water show signs of a distinctive, interesting gardener's sensibility at work.

Outdoor Living

Well thought out arrangements of benches or tables and chairs in the garden offer opportunities to rest, eat and places for guests to perch during parties.

Big Impact

This shade container delivers big impact with its artful combination of lamium and geranium.

Lavender and Lace

The delicate beauty of a lacecap hydrangea punctuates the verdant backdrop of Patti McGee's Charleston garden.

Garage Refuge

The McGee's garage, artfully draped with creeping fig, is where Patti McGee often overwinters delicate tropicals and other plants. McGee keeps the plants on dollies so they can be easily wheeled inside when a freeze threatens.

'Ayesha' Hydrangea

Hydrangeas of many varieties bring color to any shade garden including the pretty 'Ayesha' Hydrangea macrophylla.

Tree Pop

A whimsical face adds to the magical, fun spirit of Patti McGee's garden.

History Lesson

This elegant outbuilding which the McGees often rent to academics visiting Charleston, once served as their 19th century home's kitchen to keep hot temperatures away from the main house.

Acanthus and Geranium

A low container potted with acanthus and geranium can be easily moved indoors when cold temperatures threaten.

Back in Black

An arrangement of black elephant ears and succulents add interest to this garden nook.

Plant Got Your Tongue?

The vertical lines of sansevieria contrast nicely with low to the ground succulents in this container.

Color Field

Chartreuse sedum and echeveria 'Black Prince' show the visual payoff in mixing dark and light plants in the same container.

Texture Talks

Succulents with a variety of textures can be easily transferred indoors or moved to a protected space when temperatures drop.

Grow Up!

This clever wrought iron plant stand provides an opportunity to display an array of potted plants in an interesting vignette, a technique that works especially well with trailing plants like these ivies.

Framing the View

Black shutters frame the view and offer a tantalizing peek of green things to come.

Delicate Color

Dainty lamium and Evolvulus 'Blue Daze' peek out of this container.

Welcoming Topiaries

Ivy topiaries strike a formal note and welcome guests to this Charleston home.

High Style

A stylish wrought iron hanger could serve as a berth for candles or small pots.

All in it Together

Maidenhair fern, Swedish ivy and Rex begonia provide an array of textures in this well-curated container.

Terra Cotta Angel

Artful design flourishes like this terra cotta angel give Patti McGee's garden its distinctive, memorable look


Take a lesson from renowned Charleston gardener Patti McGee and vary the texture and leaf shape of the plants you select for a shade garden to engage the eye.

Green Is Good

Hellebores, toad lily and hydrangea with their distinct leaf shapes prove that color is not the end-all of a garden plan.

Colocasia 'Black Magic'

Patti McGee keeps some of her tropicals like this Colocasia 'Black Magic' in containers so that she can overwinter then in a protected spot when Charleston temperatures drop.

Leopard Plant

Farfugium japonicum 'Aureomaculatum' also known as leopard plant, is one of McGee's favorite shade-loving plants.

Shrimp Plant

The old-fashioned shrimp plant (Justicia brandegeeana) is one of the unusual plants in Patti McGee's garden.

Charleston Walled Garden

Hydrangea varieties including Hydrangea quercifolia 'Snowflake', Hydrangea aboresens 'Annabelle', and Hydrangea macrophylla 'Blue Wave', 'Ayesha', 'Mme Emile Mouillere' and 'Lemon Zest' are all represented in Patti and Peter McGee's Charleston garden.

Vintage Oak

A 1968 oak tree commands center stage in this Charleston garden.

Oak Canopy

The oak that provides a canopy over Peter and Patti McGee's garden is what makes it a shade garden and gives the garden its timeless air.


The delicate, old-fashioned beauty of hellebores provides "year round texture" in the garden says Patti McGee.

Texture of Life

McGee has a real talent for using not just various plant textures, but also non-plant elements like brick, pebbles, stones and terra cotta to give aesthetic appeal and depth to her garden scheme.

Bird of Paradise

A wrought iron crane potted up with succulents is a whimsical flourish in the small water feature flanking the loggia.

Wrought Iron and Containers

It's hard to find a section of the garden that doesn't feature McGee's inspired design signature of small and large containers and wrought iron, which provides a continuous visual theme and unites disparate parts of the garden.

Global Style

Globe-shaped boxwood provide wonderful anchors and enunciation for the corner of the garden.

Charleston Walled Garden

Patti McGee describes her garden as "layered" featuring plants whose bloom time is staggered so there is always something going on in the garden.

Coleus 'Wasabi'

The bright chartreuse color of coleus 'Wasabi' is a wonderful contrast with the deeper greens of the garden.

All Season Garden

"Winter gardens in Charleston are really important" says McGee who makes sure to include plants like farfugium, edgeworthia, camellias and daphne in her garden whose leaves provide texture and green color no matter the season.

A Bit of Lawn

When the McGees bought their Charleston home they added a 22-square foot lawn that serves as a nice balance to the complex plantings in the garden.

Loggia Lounge

The loggias that define so many old Charleston homes provide restful, sheltered places for entertaining and wonderful perches for admiring the garden.

Historic City

Charleston's beauty derives in large part from its gardens and from its well-preserved architecture including private residences like McGee's built in 1846.

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