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Top 16 Stunning Shade Garden Perennials

by Lisa Marinkovich
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The Top 16 Shade Garden Perennials That Add Tranquility To Any Shade Garden Space

I have a new found joy working in my garden. I love the fresh air and the benefit of the exercise that goes with it. With that said,  I have grown to appreciate the tranquil shaded garden space.  My shaded garden offers a cool, soothing lush sanctuary — especially on warm summer days. Gardening where the sun doesn’t shine brightly all day requires special planning.

Do you have a slice of shade in your yard where you want to create a gorgeous serene atmosphere? If you do, check out the 16 stunning shade garden perennials that I have planted in my own garden. I have also included a short list of shade loving plants with a planting guide from my neighbor’s gorgeous garden.

The secret behind creating a beautiful shade garden lies in understanding shade, shade-loving plants and the special care shade gardens need. Before you plant, take time to evaluate your shaded garden space. Study the amount of light your garden gets throughout the day with the following shade descriptions so that you invest in the best plants for your shaded space.

Shade Descriptions

  • Partial shade flowering perennials are happiest where they’re protected from the sun during the mid-day hours when the sun is at its strongest, or else they’re planted in a spot where the sunlight is dappled, perhaps under the shelter of a small shade tree or beneath a pergola or trellis.
  • Full shade flowering perennials thrive in areas that receive no direct sunlight, even though they often do receive some sunlight, largely in the form of reflected or heavily filtered light. Full shade areas are often found under large trees or on the north side of structures.
  • Light shade, when it is open to the sky but with no direct sunlight
  • Semi-shade, where it receives three to six hours of direct sun in mid-summer
  • Dappled shade, with diffused light from deciduous trees
  • Moderate shade, with two to three hours of midsummer sunlight
  • Deep shade, under a dense evergreen tree canopy with less than two hours of sun.

As you review the 16 stunning perennials listed, keep in mind that you will want to select ideal backdrop plants,  anchor shrubs and blooms amongst the green textured plants. For example, use shade-loving shrubs to anchor beds, add height and structure, and provide a dark backdrop off which bright blooms visually pop. Good choices include azalea, camellia, dogwood, hydrangea and rhododendron.

The following perennial recommendations will bring life to your shade garden year after year.  These plant varieties come in an amazing array of shapes, sizes, and colors and absolutely adore shade.

 1.  Astilbe Hybrids

Feathery, plumelike flowers have an airy quality that can lighten any space; they come in  various shades of pink, salmon, lavender, red, and white on elegant stems above fernlike foliage.  Astilbe adds a pop of color to a lush green shade garden. A mainstay of shaded perennial borders, they’re also great beside garden pools, along shaded paths, and in pots for vivid color from May through July. They can swing with columbine and meadow rue in shade gardens, or with peonies and delphiniums in sunnier spots.

Keep Them Happy: Give them moist, rich soil with good humus. Astilbe hybrids grow best in Zones 2-7 and 14-17, but will grow outside this range with shorter bloom time.

2.  Heuchera ‘Obsidian’

Of all the dark leaved heucheras available, ‘Obsidian’ is one of the best. The glossy black leaves keep their color all season, posing a startling contrast to the white flowers borne on stalks in June and July. The 16 inch wide mound of polished leaves makes a strong statement as a solo planting and when massed. This heuchera combines well with many other colors in the garden. It fits well into cottage gardens, containers, formal gardens and woodland gardens. It also attracts hummingbirds and is evergreen during most winters.

  • Shade to sun
  • Slightly drought tolerant but prefers moist well-drained soils
  • 16 inches wide by 16 inches tall
  • Zones 4-9

3.  Creeping Jenny

Creeping Jenny is a bright green perennial that will continue to come back year after year. Depending upon which zone you live in, it actually may stay green year round.

Either way, this is a ground cover so unless you pot it, it might very well take over your shady area. For some this might be a desired result.

4.  Hydrangea Varieties:

There are so many varieties so I won’t get into all of them. Just know you can buy dwarf hydrangeas as well as traditional varieties that get quite large. Climbing hydrangea is another variety.

a.  Climbing hydrangea-Climbing hydrangeas are great in that they offer slow-growing vines which can extend to 50 feet, offering clusters usually comprising both small fertile and more showy sterile flowers style flower, embedded in green foliage during the summer. These do require a sturdy support structure to which they can cling. They also need soil that has great drainage, with at least partial shade and they absolutely thrive in very shady areas. Bear in mind that climbing hydrangeas may take between 3-4 years to get established. One thing many people like about these is that pruning is next to none.

Climbing-hydrangea

b.  Mophead hydrangea-The mophead hydrangeas have the quintessentially large, puffy flower balls, indicative of old-fashioned elegance. If you see cut flowers at a store, they are likely mophead. These are best suited for places with afternoon shade, also requiring well-drained soil. With mophead you have to prune annually after the pink or blue blooms have appeared.

5.  Japanese Forest Grass

Japanese forest grass is an attractive, flowing plant that grows slowly and is not invasive. The graceful grass gets 18 to 24 inches (45.5 to 61 cm.) tall and has an arching habit with long flat, foliar blades. These arching blades sweep from the base and gracefully re-touch the earth.

Japanese forest grass comes in several hues and may be solid or striped. Most varieties are variegated and have stripes. The variegation is white or yellow. Golden Japanese forest grass (Hakonechloa macra) is one of the more popular types and is a completely sunny, bright yellow variety. The golden Japanese forest grass is best planted in full shade. Sunlight will fade the yellow leaf blades to a white. The leaves get a pink tinge to the edges as fall arrives, increasing the appeal of this easy to grow plant. The following cultivars of golden Japanese forest grass are most commonly grown in the garden:

Read more at Gardening Know How: Golden Japanese Forest Grass – How To Grow Japanese Forest Grass Plant https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/ornamental/foliage/japanese-forest-grass/golden-japanese-forest-grass.htm

6.  Arrow-leaf Ginger 

Arrow-leaf Ginger is a deep green plant native to the United States. These cuties have a tropical look and feel. In the summer, it has dark purple flowers near the base of the leaves, which have a silvery veining. It generally grows to about eight inches tall by one foot wide and thrives in mostly shady gardens it has dark purple flowers near the base of the leaves, which it has dark purple flowers near the base of the leaves, which have a silvery veining.

7.  Lady’s Mantle

Lady’s mantle- I took this picture after it rained. I love how raindrops sit on the leaves.

Lady’s Mantle is a perennial that has many uses. Some use it to decorate wreaths and other décor with. While others use it as a live edging. I took this picture after rainfall so you cal see how pretty the rain drops look on the leaves.

Lady’s Mantle is a ground cover. but I have planted it as an edging which will require a more work. The plant is a simple green vine that adds character to your shade garden.

8.  Hellebore Plants

I love hellebores because they are so darn easy! They are among the earliest perennial flowers to bloom, welcoming spring with their rose-like blossoms. In warm locales, Helleborus orientalis can bloom outdoors at Christmastime. In colder zones, hellebores will break through the frozen ground early in the spring. Their foliage remains attractive into the summer, so they are suitable for splashy, mass plantings.  The great thing about Hellebores is that they are easy to take care of and bloom early.

There are 17 Hellebore species so lots to choose from.

9.   Fatsia Japonica

Large, exotic, rich green foliage adds an exciting and bold tropical look to landscapes and patios. Great in a shaded entryway or patio, or in a sheltered spot near a water garden or dipping pool. Perfect for outdoor containers or as a houseplant. Ideal for low light, urban settings. Winter flowers are followed by black ornamental berries. Evergreen.

provide nice texture and tropical look for shady areas. Aralia is a native plant of Asia and America and most of the species of Aralia are found in the mountain regions. Aralia must have shady conditions and protection from the sun and range in size between 4-6′ wide and 5-8′ in height at maturity.

10.  Brunnera Jack Frost

Brunnera – has tiny blue forget-me-not type flowers that bloom in the spring

Prized for its large highly frosted and veined heart-shaped leaves. Brunnera Jack Frost produces a truly spectacular display of tiny blue-forget-me-not type flowers that bloom in the spring. I love this plant!

11.  Hosta

Autumn Frost’ hosta
Guacamole Hosta has a wonderful fragrance.
Color Festival

Hostas bloom in late spring through late summer with pale lavender or white flowers, foliage is their main attraction with leaves of blue, gold or green, and many that are variegated. Hostas come in thousands of varieties! You cant go wrong with paring a cool blue hosta with burgundy or chartreuse eye popping varieties.

Most hostas have heart-shaped or round leaves, but you’ll also find some that are very narrow, others that are cup shaped and yet others with wavy edges. So even hostas that are the same color keep the garden lively.

12. Ferns

Ferns are some of the oldest living plants, dating back to the age of the dinosaurs. There are dozens of garden-worthy species that are adapted to a wide variety of conditions. Most require rich soil and plenty of moisture, though some such as Western sword fern (Polystichum munitum) are drought-tolerant after establishment, making them a good choice for challenging sites such as dry shade. Ferns pair well with nearly any woodland shade plant such as primrose (Primula), bishop’s hat (Epimedium), hosta (Hosta), masterwort (Astrantia) and wood sorrel (Oxalis).

13.  Caladium

Caladiums are known for their heart-shaped foliage that boasts vivid color combinations of green, white, red, and pink. They thrive in shady sections of gardens, with hot, humid weather, making them an ideal plant for adding bold color between shrubs, under trees, in perennial borders, or in containers.

14.   Spotted Dead Nettle (Lamium Maculatum)

Named for the resemblance of its leaves to stinging nettles, this low-growing evergreen plant blooms in late spring to early summer and attracts bees, especially bumblebees. Because it can adapt to a variety of light conditions, spotted dead nettle thrives in transition areas between light and shade.

15.  Fuchsia

I love this stunning annual drapes beautifully from pots and hanging baskets and blooms all season long. Hummingbirds will flock to fuchsia’s gorgeous flowers in purples, pinks and whites! Keep this plant in full shade.

16. Solomon’s Seal

Soleman's Seal- Best Shade Plants

Below find a shade garden plan based on a picture of my friend and neighbor Lenea’s gorgeous shaded garden path.
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1 comment

Chris Bear June 19, 2020 - 9:08 am

We are currently redoing our Island where there is a lot of shade so this was helpful!!

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