Gardening in the shade has been the scourge of many a gardener. Trying to get plants to grow and perform well in a shady spot can be very challenging but it is not impossible and can, in fact, be very rewarding. Transforming a previously dark area devoid of life, colour and texture into a focal point makes all the trials and tribulations worth it. A healthy and vibrant shade garden is truly a thing of beauty.
Many gardeners fall into the trap of trying to grow plants in shade that are simply not suited for that type of exposure. While some plants will survive in such a setting they will never excel to look their best. However, there are plants that do love growing in the shade and will look fabulous with minimal care and fuss.
7 of the best performers in the shade 1) Hostas.
These plants are grown for their foliage. While they do bloom and the blooms are attractive it is the foliage that makes these plants the stars of the shade garden. With nearly 2,000 varieties there is a hosta for every type of garden. They come in bi-colours, dwarfs, giants and a wide variety of textures. While hostas are shade-tolerant they still need some light even if it is indirect. Some specialty varieties will grow in deeper shade. One example is hosta sieboldiana ‘Elegans’. The beauty of hostas is that they can be grown on their own as a focal point plant, as an entire shade bed or easily mixed with other plants.
Bleeding hearts have been around for many years but they are no longer your grandmother’s bleeding hearts. Today’s varieties can be used as specimen plants on their own and not just background plants as they may have been used in the past. A good example is Dicentra ‘Gold Heart’. This is a spectacular plant for deep shade. The bright lime-green leaves are almost electric in shade and the brightness of the leaves makes the light pink blooms stand out much more than on the older dark green varieties.
Also known as coral bells. These plants are also grown primarily for their foliage. While the tiny, bell-shaped flowers are attractive the new varieties with their brilliant leaf colours are what make this plant
a shade winner. The Dolce series of heucheras are particularly eye-catching. The bright chartreuse foliage of ‘Key Lime Pie’ or the fiery, salmon colour of ‘Peach Melba’ for example instantly add a splash of colour to any shade garden.
This woodland plant is quickly becoming a shade gardener’s favourite. This rhizomatous perennial grows in mounds. Siberian bugloss, as it is also known, has beautiful heartshaped leaves. The variety ‘Jack Frost’ has striking silver foliage veined in green and sprays of bright blue flowers reminiscent of forget-me-nots. The plant does very well in partial to full shade.
Both the old favourite ‘Annabelle’ and the newer variety ‘Endless Summer’ can add interest to the shade with their large blooms. ‘Endless Summer’ offers the bonus of colour in blue or pink depending on whether you add an acid-based fertilizer or an alkaline one. The plant will also re-bloom through the spring and summer. Both plants prefer morning sun followed by dappled shade.
(Athyrium niponicum ‘Pictum’). This is another foliage plant for the shade that can be a focal point all on its own. The clumping fronds are dark green in colour, overlaid in olive and silver-gray. The stems provide an interesting contrast with their burgundy colour. This plant will do well in partial to full shade. It is hardy to zone 4 but with some winter protection and once established, it will do well.
6) Japanese Fern. 7) Geranium Cranesbill.
The variety ‘Rozanne’, former perennial of the year in 2008 is a much better performer than previous varieties. The plant forms midsized mounds of deeply-cut green leaves and bears loose clusters of bright violet-purple flowers starting in early summer. Flowering can continue for weeks or months depending on the region. The plant does well in full sun to partial shade. The bonus of the bright flowers makes this an appealing addition to the shady garden.
Gerald Filipski is a member of the Garden Writers Association of America. Gerald’s column appears weekly in the Edmonton Journal and he is the author of Just Ask Jerry.