shade gardens

Plants for a Shade Garden

Make a Shady Oasis in Your Yard

Make an oasis in the shady spots in your  yard with plants that thrive in a shade garden. You can have a lovely display of greens and colors on the north side of a house, under tree canopies or in a corner that gets little direct sunlight. These are the spots you have likely struggled with to landscape. Great shade gardens use plants of varying heights and types, different textures, and light-enhancing colors. Like a walk through a woodland, a planned and properly planted shade garden can be an oasis of cool, restful shade in the heat of summer.

Shade Garden Plants

Many people think that shade-loving plants don’t have much color except green. It’s true that hostas, ferns and mosses thrive in the shade, but many other plants with colorful and interesting blooms prefer to grow with a cool and shaded root bed, but with their foliage in the light, or in a semi-shaded area.

Inviting hostas line this shady path

Inviting hostas line this shady path

White flowers and light coloured or mottled foliage seem to add a glow in a shady spot, as do varied shades of green. If you’re looking for just one plant to add to your shady corners, then the hostas, with their many varieties of size, leaf shape, and color are one of the best choices. There are, however, many others.


Pulmonaria, commonly known as lungwort, is one of the earliest flowers in the spring, bringing shades of brilliant blue and hot pink to the garden. But it’s the foliage that makes it stand out in a shady corner. Its green leaves are spotted with white, making it stand out in the shade.

shade garden

Arching stems of the White Bleeding Heart add spots of light.

Bleeding Heart

Delicate looking Bleeding Hearts (Dicentra var.) are right at home in partial shade, with rich moist soil. There are white flowered forms which can add that touch of brightness, or the more familiar pink flowered ones. By choosing the fringed-leaf varieties, you also add a textural interest.


Feathery flowered astilbes are one of the more common stand-by plants for shady spots. With fern-like and delicate foliage and plumes of flowers in pinks, lavender, red or white waving in the air, they add an airy, light quality to a shade garden. Astilbes can be from a few inches to a few feet in height, and over twenty species or hybrids are available. Although they grow well in shade, the astilbe appreciates a couple of hours of dappled sunlight every day.


Jack-in-the-Pulpit is a native wildflower that is easily grown in shade gardens. Both leaves and flower appear in early spring, and after the flower fades, the bright red berries last for much of the summer. Because it is native to woodlands, it grows best in rich and moist soil.

More Natives Gone Tame

Another shade-loving native plant that has been cultivated is Heuchera. These generally do best in light shade, and do well in almost any type of soil. With its compact habit, attractive mat of colorful leaves and fine upright stems of tiny flowers, it is a great specimen plant.

Foamflower (Tiarella) is another native plant, with growth habits and appearance similar to the heuchera. It has evergreen leaves, often spotted or patterned, that take on bronze tints in fall. This plant has been hybridized, and many lovely varieties are available.

Crossed with heuchera, the resulting plant known as Heucherella. One of these hybrids, Quicksilver, has silvery metallic leaves which are a rich red-purple beneath. The spikes of starry white blossoms appear in May and June, and the evergreen leaves turn a deep mahogany over winter.

Silverlight Heuchera

Silverlight Heuchera

If you’re looking for a shade-tolerant perennial ground cover, then bugleweed (Ajuga spp)is for you. It can carpet a semi-dry area beneath trees in no time with its fast growing runners. It will also grow well in an area with good garden soil, and more light. You’ll find species with leaves in chocolate-burgundy, yellow, or green, all with spikes of electric blue flowers in the spring. If you pamper this plant the first year, it will take over and cover the area in no time.

Another great choice for a shade-loving ground cover is the lamium, or dead nettle. The leaves of its many varieties almost seem to glow in the shade, and small white blossoms add even more light. This annual will grow to about three feet in diameter.

Shrubs for Shade

Perhaps you’re looking for some shade-tolerant shrubs to fill up a larger shady area of your shade garden. There are several you can introduce that will add seasonal color with blossoms or year-round color with foliage or bark color.

Red twig Dogwood (Cornus stononifera) will add year-round interest with tons of white blooms in spring, coppery purple fall leaves, and bright red bark giving winter color. The new twigs have brightest color, so prune out the old wood periodically.

Oakleaf Hydrangea blooms in late spring, with panicles of white flowers that can be left on the shrub over the winter to add seasonal interest. It has cinnamon exfoliating bark, so even through the greenery more color is visible. Other hydrangeas also do well in partial shade.

The Japanese Aralia is a fast growing evergreen that is native to Japan and South Korea. This shrub produces large, dark green, deeply lobed leaves. From fall through winter balls of small whitish flowers are followed by clusters of small round black fruit. Although not hardy in cold areas, it can add a tropical look to a protected shady nook.

Rhodos in season show a mass of color

Rhodos in season show a mass of color

If you’re looking for color in a semi-shaded spot, as well as winter green, then evergreen rhododendrons or azaleas may be what you’re looking for. The species and varieties available are almost infinite, with ones that bloom almost any time of the season, with sizes from a few inches to several feet tall. These are acid loving plants, with fairly shallow root systems, so take care planting and watering. Do your research if you’re choosing shrubs from this group.

So, there you have it – 15 colourful plants that will thrive in your shade garden! Now head here for a great article and find out 33 tips that will make your shady spots look great!