We live approximately 60 miles southeast of Atlanta. I have a heavily shaded lawn and have given up on trying to grow grass. I have been advised to try Lenten Roses and ferns as an alternative. We have very hard clay soil but sloping, so have pretty good drainage. What would you suggest?
There are two ways you can deal with this. The first would be to develop a lawn substitute planted with shade loving species that tolerate some foot traffic. Appropriate plants could include Bugle Weed (Ajuga reptans), Sedge (Carex morrowii), Kenilworth Ivy (Cymbalaria aequitriloba), Kew Wintercreeper (Euonymus fortunei 'Kewensis'), Variegated Creeping Charlie (Glechoma hederacea 'Variegata'), Moss (Hypnum imponens), Lily Turf (Liriope muscari), Creeping Lily Turf (Liriope spicata), Creeping Wire Vine (Muehlenbeckia axillaris) or Dwarf Creeping Wire Vine (Muehlenbeckia axillaris 'Nana'), Mondo Grass (Ophiopogon japonicus) or Dwarf Mondo (Ophiopogon japonicus 'Nana').
The second would be to develop a shade garden in which foot traffic is not allowed, or is restricted to paths and stepping stones. Appropriate plants could include Cast Iron Plant (Aspidistra elatior), ferns, Lily Of The Valley (Convallaria majalis), Lenten Rose (Helleborus spp.), English Ivy (Hedera helix 'Needlepoint', 'Anne Marie', 'Gold Child', 'Ingelise', 'Teardrop'), Hosta, Allegheny Spurge (Pachysandra procumbens), Japanese Spurge (Pachysandra terminalis), Spike Moss (Selaginella uncinata or other species), Asiatic Jasmine (Trachelospermum asiaticum), and Vincas (V. major or V. minor). Of course, any of the low-growing lawn substitute type plants could also be included.
I also suggest amending your hard clay soil. Spread a four inch layer of organic compost over the area, and work it into the top six inches of soil with a tiller. Next, spread a 4 inch layer of sand over the area, and till it into the first six inches of soil. This should help to make the site more hospitable.