There are many beautiful plants to liven up a shady corner of the garden. Although ferns and hostas may be the first plants to pop immediately to mind when you hear the phrase “shade garden,” there are dozens of worthwhile plants that much prefer shade to sun. Here are seven of my favorites.
1. Toadlilies (Tricyrtis hirta)
Toadlilies (pictured above) are surprising late-season bloomers in the shade garden. There are many different cultivars—some tall and some short—but all have inch-wide, mottled blooms that are long-lasting and appear in August and September. They also make great cut flowers and are fairly deer resistant. I love the unusual flowers of toadlilies and grow several different varieties in my garden.
2. Yellow Bleeding Heart (Corydalis lutea)
This plant blooms heaviest in spring, but it also produces a moderate amount of flowers through the entire season. The Corydalis lutea at my house was blooming on Thanksgiving Day last year! It has dusty blue-green foliage that is delicate and reaches only a foot tall. Clusters of small yellow flowers rise above the foliage, and when the plant is allowed to drop seed, many baby corydalis will grace the garden the following spring.
3. Fern-Leaf Bleeding Heart (Dicentra exima)
Fern-leaf bleeding hearts are real treasures for the shade garden. Although traditional bleeding hearts (Lamprocapnos spectabilis) only bloom in the spring and go dormant in the summer, fern-leaf bleeding hearts stay in bloom for most of the spring and summer with very little care. The foliage is, you guessed it, fern-like and a beautiful gray-green. The flower color can be shades of white, pink and red, depending on the cultivar you select, and the mature plant reaches only 10 to 15-inches tall. I cannot say enough good things about this tough little beauty.
4. Cora Bells (Heuchera spp.)
Coral bells are largely planted for their interesting foliage, though the dainty bell-like flowers are a lovely sight, as well. The 8- to 10-inch-tall foliage can come in shades of green, orange, burgundy, yellow, chartreuse, brown and everything in between. Some cultivars have stunning variegation. Because the foliage color stays consistent the entire growing season, even when the plant isn’t in flower, it provides much needed texture and color to the garden. Plus, red-flowered varieties are adored by hummingbirds.
5. Spotted Deadnettle (Lamium maculatum)
Although spotted deadnettle is generally considered a ground cover, it is a very lovely plant. It comes in many different flower colors, including yellow, red, pink, and white, and many cultivars have variegated, speckled or striped foliage. In my garden, I grow a cultivar called Pink Pewter. It flowers heavily in spring and then off and on throughout the season.
6. The Rocket Ligularia (Ligularia stenocephala)
This plant bears jagged-edged, heart-shaped leaves and 3-foot-tall spires of yellow flowers. It loves damp, shady sites. Although mine performs fine in dry shade, it does wilt unless I regularly water it. There are other Ligularia species that are worthwhile as well, including L. dentata, whose flowers are daisy-like, instead of spikes. Some cultivars also have burgundy stems or foliage for additional interest.
7. Siberian Bugloss (Brunnera macrophylla)
Siberian bugloss is a great plant for early-season color in the garden. Clouds of tiny blue flowers appear over clumps of heart-shaped leaves. Alhought the plant is in flower for only a few weeks, the foliage is also interesting, especially if a variegated form is selected. Jack Frost and Looking Glass both have frosty, white leaves that add interest to the garden throughout the growing season.