I love my shade gardens! Of all my flower beds, the shade gardens are the lowest maintenance gardens. They are the gardens that if they don’t get any attention for a few weeks they do just fine. There are so many stunning perennials for shade, that if you have shade and do a little digging (pun intended), you’ll be amazed at all the texture and foliage color you can come up with. When I started this post, I was initially going to call it 13 Stunning Perennials for Shade to Jazz Up Your Gardens, but you know what, I couldn’t stop at 13.
There’s just something about Shade Gardens that is so peaceful! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard, “ugh, all I have is shade” or “it’s so hard to find beautiful plants for shade.” So, I’m here to help those of you that don’t know what to do with your shade areas, and for those of you that embrace your shade areas, perhaps you’ll see a new plant or two you want to try.
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What About Hostas in the Shade Garden
When perennials for shade is mentioned the first plant most gardeners think of is hostas. We can’t talk about shade plants without talking about Hostas. I’m not referring to the plain Jane hostas, like lancifolia, royal standard or the variegated ones. These are okay when you’re starting out and you need free. The problem with these hostas is that they grow very fast and they get divided and divided, and before you know it you have an entire shade garden filled with these mediocre hostas. You can remedy that by making room in your gardening budget to replace those boring hostas with three or four of these beautiful shade plants every year, or even replace them with some beautiful hosta varieties.
Although, hosta plants are amazing and there are so many different varieties of hosta, I’m not going to include any hosta in my list today. I like to think I’m a collector of hostas – fat ones, skinny ones, miniatures and all those in between, but I wouldn’t want to limit my shade gardens to just hosta plants. I’ve been working over and adding new shade beds to our landscape, so I’m always looking for new and unique hostas, as well as other shade plants. So, do not hesitate to add some interesting varieties of hostas to your shade gardens. Okay, enough about hostas, because like I said they aren’t being included in this post.
The Best Perennials for Shade Gardens
Astilbe is a popular perennial for shade, and I just had to include it. It has plume-like flowers that rise above ferny foliage and it blooms for 2-3 weeks in mid summer. Astilbe comes in colors of white and all shades of pink. If you’re so inclined and want to be really creative, you can spray paint the plumes when they have finished blooming to keep color in your shade garden the entire summer.
A Must Have Perennial for Shade – Bleeding Heart (Dicentra)
Bleeding Heart is a must have perennial for a shade garden. They can get quite large, but they are easy to divide and transplant. Bleeding Heart plants come in white and shades of pink. Most varieties will die back completely in summer in warmer climates. The variety pictured below is Gold Heart.
Here is a lesser known variety called Fringed Bleeding Heart. They seem to bloom a little later and longer than the other varieties of bleeding heart in my gardens.
Bugbane is an underused shade garden perennial. The foliage on bugbane is gorgeous and comes in different shades of green and even dark purple. They flower towards the end of summer and the flowers look like bottle brushes.
Don’t let the “weed” part of the name scare you away from growing bugleweed. Many plants are used for medicinal purposes and bugleweed is one of them. Bugleweed is a ground cover plant and in some conditions it can be aggressive, but is fairly easy to thin out. The blue or purple flowers in the spring are so charming and the glossy foliage is beautiful.
Coral Bells (Heuchera) – A Classic Perennial for Shade
Another amazing foliage plant that comes in lots and lots of varieties and lots and lots of colors is Coral Bells. In mid to late summer they shoot up delicate stems of the daintiest little flowers. I grow them mostly for the foliage, but I do like clipping the long flower stems to add to bouquets.
Don’t forget to add some fun touches to your shade garden, like a garden bench, a cute little sign or solar landscape lights. Just a note here, solar landscape lights don’t work very long (if at all) in shade gardens. But some look really cute in the daytime too and add a bit of character to your shade garden.
Dead Nettle (Lamium) – Lots of Shade Garden Flowers
What a horrible name, but such a lovely shade ground cover. It can be aggressive, but is very easy to weed out. The flowers bloom in spring in shades of pink, purple and white and last for several weeks. The picture below shows two different varieties growing together.
False Forget-Me-Not (Brunnera)
False Forget-Me-Not got their name because they have the most charming spray of tiny blue flowers that very closely resemble forget-me-nots. This is another great foliage shade plant that is fairly low maintenance, and no one likes to eat it!
Ferns are such a lovely perennial for shade, but avoid ostrich ferns at all costs. They are invasive and will take over a shade garden and crowd out other plants. That being said, there are many lovely ferns. Look for maidenhair, ghost ferns, lady ferns or Japanese painted ferns (pictured below).
Foam Flower (Tiarella)
Foam flower is another plant with lovely foliage and is often confused with Coral Bells (Heuchera). It makes quiet a statement in a shade garden when planted in masses. The plant flowers from a spike that shoots up about 8-12 inches. The flower spike is generally white.
Foamy Bells (Heucherella) – Stunning Color for Your Shade Garden
Foamy Bells are a cross between Coral Bells (Heuchera) and Foam Flower (Tiarella). Again, another shade plant with stunning foliage. If you don’t have foamy bells in your shade garden, just add some. The beauty pictured below is Solar Eclipse.
I’m including foxglove here even though it’s technically a biennial and it does best with just a bit of sun. If you can get a patch of foxglove growing and let the last batch of flowers go to seed and return the following year, you’re very lucky. I’ve tried and tried to get foxglove to grow in my gardens more than one year with not much luck. I’m going to keep trying though because they are so lovely.
Goatsbeard (Aruncus dioicus)
Goatsbeard is a shade plant that looks like an astilbe on steriods and is a great plant to add some height to a shade garden. The dwarf varieties are sometimes hard to tell apart from Astilbe. The flowers are very tall creamy white plumes. They definitely look better planted in groups or masses.
Golden Corydalis (Corydalis Lutea)
The foliage of golden corydalis looks very similar to bleeding heart and is often called yellow bleeding heart, although the two plants are not related at all. If you like a super tidy garden, just beware that this sweet little plant will reseed itself all over the place. The little seedlings are very easy to weed out, so I let golden corydalis stay in my gardens. The sweet little yellow flowers bloom for several weeks and add a nice touch to a shade garden.
There may be other varieties of hydrangeas that do well in shade, but I’ve had the best luck with Annabelle Hydrangeas in the shade. They really thrive in my shady gardens and they add some height and a different type of interest.
Jacob’s Ladder (Polemonium)
I love the palm-type foliage of Jacob’s Ladder and the flowers are so dainty and lovely. Jacob’s Ladder is very easy to grow, it behaves itself and it’s a great shade plant for pollinators.
Japanese Spikenard (Aralia)
Arailia Sun King is the 2020 Perennial of the Year. The foliage is a stunning chartreuse to lime green and is a really stand out in the shade. I will be adding a few to my shade gardens this year.
Lenten Rose (Helleborus)
Lenten Rose is one of the first flowers to bloom in my shade garden in the spring. I wasn’t familiar with Lenten Rose until a few years ago and they are a bit spendy, but I’m adding more to my shade gardens every year. I can just imagine having a good sized patch of these beauties.
Another plant with an awful name, but it’s oh so pretty. Lungwort was used for medicinal purposes to treat lung ailments and that’s how it got its name. Lungworts bloom in early spring for several weeks. The blooms range in shades of blue, pink and purple and really are very charming. When the plant isn’t blooming the foliage is a healthy green with light spots on the leaves. The variety pictured below is Pretty in Pink.
The last perennial to bloom in my zone 4 gardens and the blooms are so unique. All parts of the plant are poisonous so take caution when you’re working with and around it. Unless you have a large mass of monkshood, it does need to be staked.
Want some more Ideas for Your Shade Gardens?
I have most of these perennials for shade in my gardens, but I do not have good pictures of them all, so some of the pictures in this post were used with permission from Walter’s Gardens. Although Walter’s Gardens is a wholesale plant company, they are a great resource if you are looking for information on a particular perennial.
I just keep thinking of more shade plants I love, but I will stop here. This list will definitely give you lots of ideas for perennials for shade and maybe some are plants you want to try in your gardens. What are your favorite perennials for shade? Please leave a comment at the end of the post and let me know what they are. I’d love to hear what you think. Also, can you do me a favor and pin one of the collage pins below to your favorite shade gardening board on Pinterest. Thanks a bunch!
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