For most people, when they think of shade, they get a picture of ivy, vinca major, or pachysanra as their only options. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. Shade can be as alluring as sun, if you use the right combination of plants.
Earlier I wrote about knowing your shade. Is it dense, spotted, or partial? All of this will have a bearing on which plants will do well in your particular shady spot.
There are two kinds of interest in a shade garden, flowers and foliage. Many people are familiar with hostas and ferns, but there are others as well. Coral bells (Heuchera) have really come to the forefront in the past decade. Once a paltry little plant with uninteresting green foliage and tiny white or pink flowers, it now comes in a plethora of foliage colors, from green, to lime green, to dark purple, to green with red veins, etc. These can be grown in such dense darkness that one person I know put one in a closet and came back later only to find it blooming! One of my all time favorites is lady’s mantle (Alchemilla mollis). It is pretty as it is, but when it rains the water beads up on it and looks like diamonds scattered amongst the leaves, very pretty indeed.
There are dozens of flowers that do well in shade. For perennials some of my favorites are bleeding heart (dicentra spectabilis), the fringed bleeding heart blooms repeatedly, but doesn’t put on nearly the show of the “common” one; jacob’s ladder (Polemonium caeruleum), it comes in green and variegated foliage; primroses (Primula); astilbe (Astilbe); foxglove (Digitalis purpurea); lenten rose (Helleborus), comes in many beautiful colors, not just white; hardy ageratum (Eupatorium coelestinum) watch out, this one will freely seed itself in; ligularia. For annuals of course there is always impatiens (Impatiens wallerana), but my favorite is the wishbone flower, also called clown flower (Toernia fournieri), and coleus is a favorite for its bright foliage.
Most spring bulbs can be planted where there’ll be shade in the summer, but summer and fall bulbs that do well include African lilies (Agapanthus hybrids); caladiums (Caladium x hortulanum); and Turk’s cap lily (Lilium martagon).
There are also a few understory trees; dogwood and witch hazel which can tolerate shade. There are more shrubs and our well-known azaleas, rhododendrons and hydrangeas all do well in shade. There’s also a pretty little deciduous shrub kerria (Kerria japonica), that has dainty yellow flowers on it in the summer, to check out.
There are even more plants available for your shady garden. These are the ones I’m familiar with and have found are pretty good troopers, as long as you place them in the correct shade and water level. So, now go take that boring spot under the trees or back in the woods and make it a dramatic wonderland!