The Shade Garden, formerly known as the Rock Garden, was designed around 1911 under the direction of Park Superintendent George Parker. This garden first appears on a map of the Park in 1914, called “Elizabeth Park Showing Hardy Perennial Garden, Rock Garden, and Rose Test Garden.”
Rock gardens were originally called Alpine Gardens, and were first constructed in Austria. Rock gardens became popular in the 1920s through the 1930s. They are designed in the shape of miniature mountains, using Alpine plants. However, this was not practical, as most of the plants failed to adjust to their new environment
The rock garden was in disrepair by the 1970s and 80s. In 1981, the Conservancy rearranged the gardens and added three stonewalls, gravel paths, and new plantings. Because of its sunken setting, the Shade Garden appears as if the visitor is stepping down into another “room” when leaving the Perennial Garden. The Conservancy oversaw a second renovation in the spring of 1995.
The Shade Garden is unique among all the other gardens in the Park. All planted areas within the Shade Garden are raised beds, linked by brick dust paths. The Shade Garden features mixed plantings of herbs, perennials, ornamental grasses, woody shrubs, and small evergreen and deciduous trees.
The main entrance to the Shade Garden is a set of stairs going directly from the Perennial Garden and is denoted by a dramatic pair of Weeping Blue Atlas Cedar trees. The stonewall was rebuilt in 2012 by the Conservancy with a grant from the John Martin Foundation.
The garden is maintained by a combination of volunteers and contractors under the direction of the Elizabeth Park Conservancy. In mid-March, winter debris is removed and plants are cut back to encourage new growth. The Shade Garden volunteers maintain the garden until the end of September.
The Shade Garden is surrounded on three sides by tall, mature, deciduous trees. A very hedge-like planting of rhododendron borders along the garden’s west side. The Shade Garden is a favorite shady spot for visitors – a place to stop and rest, read or nap, as well as a refuge from summer’s heat.