Thursday, March 19th, 2009...1:18 am

Carolyn’s Shade Gardens in Bryn Mawr


Carolyn’s Shade Garden

I first learned about Carolyn’s Shade Gardens in Bryn Mawr, PA, when a friend told me that the only plants Carolyn sold were really great quality. With that recommendation, I had to visit this garden. TheGardenLady’s garden is primarily a shade garden with huge sycamore trees. What could be better than to find excellent plants that thrive in a similar location? I went to this nursery and was delighted to see the lovely display gardens in the shade all happily in bloom. Many of the plants that were for sale had been dug out of these pretty gardens. And all the plants came with advice from their owner, Carolyn.


So this is another nursery that TheGardenLady decided to tell the readers about. As I wrote in another post, “People who love flowers and plants seem to be some of the nicest people on this planet. They love what they are doing and are generous with their knowledge”

Carolyn Walker, the owner comes from a family of notable gardeners.

The Susie Walker Award at the Philadelphia Flower Show is given in honor of her aunt, a famous Chestnut Hill, PA, gardener. Her uncle, Perot Walker, was a well known naturalist (he traveled with MacMillanto the Arctic among other adventures), gardener, and famous teacher at Chestnut Hill Academy. Carolyn’s father was also an avid gardener.

So she was fated to be a gardener.


But she said that it was her roommate during sophomore year in college who really got her started-with houseplants. She taught Carolyn how to repot houseplants and divide them. This got her hooked. As soon as she  graduated, Carolyn branched out into vegetable gardening, which she pursued avidly for the next decade-she once grew 20 kinds of peppers. Meanwhile Carolyn went to law school and became an international corporate tax lawyer with weekends in the garden.

In 1992, Carolyn decided she had enough of the corporate world and quit. When considering her next career, a friend suggested that she grow and sell plants. The rest is history. Carolyn started planting cell flats of plants in her garden. Naturally they were shade plants because that’s what she has. Being an academic type, Carolyn decided to back her efforts with some training. She completed the three-year program at the Arboretum School of the Barnes Foundation and then received both Certificates in Ornamental Horticulture at Longwood Gardens (approximately 18 courses) . Carolyn followed that with three landscape design courses at Temple’s School of Horticulture in Ambler.

The first year she started her business, Carolyn sold plants to her classmates at Barnes. Then she decided to have people come to her home, by appointment, for a tour of her gardens during which they would pick out plants to be dug to order. About 10 years ago Carolyn had her first open house where customers could come without an appointment and the plants were already in pots available for sale. Now she sells plants during four spring and two fall open houses plus special events and sales like snowdrop pre-ordering, a “bulb” weekend, hellebore seminars, and garden tours for garden clubs and horticultural organizations (the Morris Arboretum comes every year). Carolyn’s Shade Gardens is also open by appointment anytime during her season.

Carolyn’s business is unique from top to bottom. She doesn’t sell any plant that she hasn’t grown successfully herself in her garden. She grows about 70% of the plants she sells, and she grows the plants in the ground in her own garden because she feels that growing plants in the ground through at least one winter is the only way to tell whether they are really suitable for her area. Carolyn runs the nursery organically and always has. Customers can walk around Carolyn’s two acres of display gardens full of labeled plants, get ideas, and then go back to the sales area and buy the plants they saw.

Carolyn loves talking to people about plants. She likes to sell plants that are low maintenance and easy to grow. That means no fertilizers other than compost or chopped leaves and no watering once the plants are established. She loves to pass on her gardening knowledge, like which of the plants are the most deer-resistant. To beginning gardeners, Carolyn suggests picking out three or five of one plant, because one is not going to make much of an impact. She tells gardeners not to try to do a whole garden all at once but to focus on one area and think of the heights of plants, their textures, and when they flower. And she says to consider shade an opportunity, not a liability; because there are so many plants you can’t grow in the sun.

Carolyn’s Shade Gardens is a retail nursery, but Carolyn does have a catalog which is sent out exclusively by email. You have to go to the nursery to buy the plants, but if you can’t get there, the catalog is filled with information about each of the plants. But if you are in the area, try to visit this nursery. You will be so pleased.

If you want to be on Carolyn’s customer email list to receive the catalogue and open house notifications, just email your full name and phone number to

(rain or shine)

Winter-blooming Shade Plants

Featuring Hellebores, Unusual Bulbs, Pulmonarias

Early Spring-blooming Shade Plants

Featuring Corydalis, Phlox, Lamium, Primroses

Spring-blooming Shade Plants

Featuring Hostas, Ferns, Hardy Geraniums

Summer and Fall-blooming Shade Plants

Featuring Toad-lily, Lobelia, Japanese Anemone, Turtlehead


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  • Anthony DeCurtis
    March 19th, 2009 at 11:54 am

    Dear Carolyn,
    I’d like to plant variegated hostas beneath a pink dogwood this spring. Is it a good idea?

  • Charlotte Burnett
    February 6th, 2019 at 4:01 am

    Hi Carolyn ,
    Long time no see , I heard about your blog and site from Steve Kent and am a fan !

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