Shade Loving Plants – Just because shade loving plants thrive where the sun doesn’t shine, doesn’t mean that they can’t bring color into your garden. The shaded areas of your garden can be just as bright and appealing as the sunny ones. These shade-loving perennials turn all those dim areas, from part to full shade, into a delightful oasis that will only increase in beauty year after year.
Hellebores are among the earliest perennials to bloom in the new year, flowering by January or February in the South, and several weeks later in the North. The flowers are not showy, but when they are the only flowers in the garden, they seem beautiful.
Colors range from white to dusty rose to burgundy. Hellebores make great garden plants because their bold evergreen foliage remains a glossy dark green all year. They do depend on afternoon shade, especially in hot regions.
If your soil is too dry or lean for forget-me-nots, this is the flower for you. It blooms in early to mid-spring with blue blossoms that fade to pink as they mature. There are many, many hybridized varieties of pulmonarias, so their foliage can vary. In general, though, leaves are speckled or spotted with white and create interest in the shade garden long after the flowers have faded.
Blue phlox (Wild Sweet William)
One of the most beautiful of the shade plants, it blooms in mid-spring. During most of the year the plant is a low rosette of foliage; it shoots up stems from one to two feet high when it flowers. There is a white form available, but most common is a pale lilac-blue color. As an added bonus, the flowers last longer than those of most spring-blooming perennials. Light shade is best; the plant may not bloom well in dense shade.
This is one of the showier shade-bloomers, and again, there are many varieties to choose from. Columbine are grown easily from seed; just scatter a packet over a patch of tilled soil in the fall. The seeds need a winter chilling period and will sprout in spring, blooming by their second year. They are prolific self-sowers if you allow the flower heads to go to seed – a lucky break, since the plants themselves seem to be rather short-lived. Columbines come in an endless variety of colors and bi-color combinations; there are tiny ones (eight inches) and tall ones (two to three feet flower stalks). Give them light to moderate shade and keep them well watered.
This is without a doubt the showiest of the shade bloomers! Foxgloves are biennials, meaning they complete their life cycle over two years. The best way to get them established is to buy small transplants and put them in the ground in early fall. You want to leave enough time for the roots to become established before the real cold weather comes. The plants will live over the winter, putting on a burst of foliar growth in early spring as the soil begins to warm. Then, from the cabbage-like rosette of leaves, flower stalks quickly reach five feet. The spires of white, pink, and rose speckled flowers are truly impressive.
After blooming, the plants will set seed and probably die. There is soon another crop of foxglove seedlings that spring up, however, and the cycle continues. Foxgloves do like some sun, so situate them in light shade or in afternoon-only shade. The less light they receive, the more spindly flower stems will be – it’s best to put a tall stake in place right as the flower stalk begins to grow. Then you can keep tying the stalk to the stake in intervals, as the stalk grows. It really is best to stake””otherwise, it’s inevitable that a spring rainstorm will batter and break down the flower stems.
Unusual, feathery flowers top this late-spring to early-summer bloomer. Planted in masses, it is quite beautiful, and flowers reliably in moderately deep shade. The downside, however, is that astilbes require very moist soil and are relatively heavy feeders. Without adequate moisture, the plants will go dormant and “˜disappear’ in mid-summer. Colors include white, lavender, pink, coral, and red. When grown well in a spot they like, astilbes will spread rapidly by underground rhizomes, covering a lot of ground. They also add some height to the shade garden (flower stems are two feet tall).
Though it is most often grown in sun, the daylily is remarkably shade tolerant. It is one of the most carefree perennials as it’s tough as nails. Because daylilies are easy breed, there are thousands of hybrid varieties available – in every color but blue or a pure white (creamy whites abound). They come in different heights and different flower forms – double, ruffled, etc. Daylilies look best planted in masses. They make good companion plants for spring bulbs, as the emerging daylily foliage camouflages the dying leaves of daffodils and others. Daylilies bloom in early summer.
Most asters are sun-lovers, but the wood aster (Aster divaricatus) is a notable exception. It is not a showy plant, but it flowers in summer, when most woodland plants are finished blooming. Flower stems grow 24 to 30 inches, but tend to flop over and are hard to stake. The plant is probably best grown on a bank or at the top of a retaining wall – spots where the floppy stems can cascade downward in a froth of white flowers. This is a tough plant that will increase in size every year.
This is a noteworthy plant in that it is one of the few shade-lovers that bloom in fall (late summer in Northern climates). Flowers are pink or white, single-petalled or double, and they are beautifully showy. It isn’t possible to say enough good things about this plant!
This is a plant that is not offered enough in retail nurseries, though it is always available through mail order. In late summer or early fall, its stems are lined with small, speckled flowers that are exotically reminiscent of tiny orchids. Plant it in the front of the border or alongside a path where the purplish flowers can be admired close-up for their understated beauty; they don’t make a splash of color.