Plants such as this Japanese primrose can be used to brighten even the darkest places in your yard and garden.
Some of the most beautiful gardens I have ever seen are shade gardens, containing colorful foliage plants and flowers that bloom as bright as their sun-loving counterparts.
Even in full shade, there are many plants and flowers that create a serene atmosphere, calming the senses and helping you to transform the darkest regions of your yard into a peaceful, tranquil paradise.
By using a combination of annuals, perennials and bulbs you can create a shade garden masterpiece that will bring color and beauty from spring right through fall.
Need some inspiration to begin? Visit the wonderful King Shade Garden at the Green Bay Botanical Garden and explore the trails and hillsides as you wander among just about every shade plant for our area you can imagine.
Here, the king of all shade plants, hostas, are represented by hundreds of varieties in all shapes and sizes. Intermingled among them are other shade lovers such as heuchera, hydrangea, solomon's seal, wild ginger, ferns, primroses and many more.
Combine shade-loving plants with decorative containers, rustic hardscaping and water features to create the shade garden of your dreams. While its tempting, try not to focus too much on one type of plant, but instead, create a tapestry of textures, colors and silhouettes using a variety of plants that are made for shade.
Here are some suggestions for unusual shade plants that will take your shade garden to a whole new level.
One of my favorites for the shade garden is this stunning, vertical bloomer. Rose turtlehead, along with the classic native white turtlehead, love shade and bloom on deep, dark foliage in the most beautiful shade of dark pink.
Rose turtlehead flowers on stalks that reach 3-4 feet high, with masses of flowers that bloom for weeks from late summer into fall.
Roger's flower, or rodgersia, is one of the most striking plants made for shade. Interestingly, it is not widely used in shade gardens in our area, but certainly should be. This may be due to the fact that it is a difficult plant to find.
Also known as featherleaf, Roger's flower features large, umbrella-like leaves that are heavily textured. From these leaves, towering flower stalks that can reach 4-6 feet high appear in mid-summer, containing masses of flowers that resemble astilbes. These flowers are normally light pink or white.
The foliage of Roger's flower is outstanding. One variety, Chocolate Wings, opens a deep, chocolatey bronze.
These plants prefer moist, humus-rich soils, as do many shade plants.
One of the most overlooked flowering plants for shade is the beautiful, pincushion-like flowers of astrantia, commonly known as masterwort.
These plants feature beautiful fern-like foliage and interesting, star-shaped flowers that bloom in shades of red, pink, white and purple. There are also bi-colored blooming plants available.
Many gardeners pass by ligularia at the garden center in favor of plants that appear to have more color and impact. This is because, normally, plants at the garden center are quite small, not in bloom and do not represent the true garden specimens that mature ligularia will become in a few years.
Giants in the shade garden, ligularia comes in many styles, all featuring great masses of bright, candle-like blooms in late summer and fall. The foliage of ligularia becomes even more striking with age, reaching 4-5 feet wide and high.
Many varieties feature deep purple or maroon leaves, either rounded or heavily lobed and spiky.
Ligularia also is available in many dwarf varieties that reach 2-3 feet high and across.
Coral bells and foam flowers
While they are from several different, but related plant families, the striking foliage of the many different varieties of coral bells and foam flowers make them standout plants for shade garden enthusiasts.
Also known as heucheras and heucherellas by collectors, these plants are rapidly becoming highly prized shade garden plants, as the colors and fun names that are marketed bring more and more fans.
Recent introductions include a soda pop line featuring such flavorful names as Ginger Ale, Root Beer and Cherry Cola. There are also those named Key Lime, Caramel, Mocha, Chocolate Chip, Lime Ricky and Peach Melba.
Grown mostly for their colorful foliage, many gardeners will snip off the thin, wiry flowers. I prefer to leave them as they dance among the shade garden plants in the summer breeze. Some varieties can grow flower stalks reaching 5 feet high.
Trees for shade
Even trees make striking shade plant additions, and a few of the most beautiful trees of all are just right for the shade garden.
Tri-colored beech, with its amazing leaves in deep rose pink, blackish green and white, is probably the most highly collectible tree for several years running. This is a small tree, reaching 12 to 20 feet high and wide, often much smaller. It grows best in the shade of larger trees.
Pagoda dogwood and variegated pagoda dogwood also are great for shade, sprawling horizontally in a pagoda-like form with striking leaves in green and gold (variegated) and masses of snowy flowers in late spring.
Japanese maples in all shapes and sizes make stunning shade garden specimen plants as well, bringing vibrant color to the garden, especially in autumn.
- Rob Zimmer:920-993-1000, ext. 7154, firstname.lastname@example.org