The Atlanta Botanical Garden boasts a good variety of conifers for both sun and shade . Jamie Blackburn, a curator of horticulture at the garden, shared some of his thoughts about conifers that are well suited for the shade. One that may be familiar to some is Cephalotaxus harringtonia 'Prostrata,' the prostrate Japanese plum yew, an effective groundcover. (It is also reported to be deer resistant but experience tells us that results may vary depending on how hungry the deer are.) If you want a more upright plum yew, like a Christmas tree, look for seedlings that have a central leader, as these are more likely to form a pyramidal shape as they mature. The upright fastigiate cultivar of this species is typically much more narrow than it is tall.
Some shade tolerant conifers on display at ABG, although not widely available, are worth seeking out. These include Torreya grandis, Taxus chinensis, Chinese yew, and Tsuga chinensis, Chinese hemlock, which is resistant to the wooly adelgid, a devastating insect that attacks our eastern native hemlock Tsuga canadensis. There are cultivars of Tsuga canadensis that appear resistant to the adelgid like 'Gentsch White,' a rounded compact plant whose branches have silvery tips; it grows 4' tall and wide, perfect for smaller shade gardens or containers.