Delight in shade plants

A common mistake made by beginning or less-than-experienced gardeners is forgetting to take into consideration the amount of sunlight a plant will receive. Plants that need sun will not flower or prosper in shade, and plants that need shade will wither and scorch in sun. Most plants that are available in nurseries do well in sun, so it is the shaded garden that is the most difficult to master.

Sometimes gardeners feel that the only way to plant a shade garden is with foliage plants. While that is not only feasible but also fairly easy, many times there is a desire for flowers, too. And there are many flowering plants that do wonderfully well in shade.

For a low-growing plant with striking variegated leaves and pink or white flowers, Cyclamen coum (which blooms from late summer through fall) or C. hederifolium (blooming in late fall, early winter) are sure to be commented upon. Emerging in early spring, the mouse plant, Arisarum proboscideum, has shiny green leaves and little flowers in brownish-gray with tiny “tails” that look just like the hind ends of little mice. It was one of this year’s Great Plant Picks and will delight anyone who observes it. Anemone blanda will reward you with white, pink or blue flowers in spring. Another great ground cover is Linnaea borealis, the twinflower, with two tiny trumpets carried above small, dark green leaves.

Mid-height flowers include Astilbe in shades of white, pink, red, lavender and salmon. They grow with ferny foliage, some emerging with bronzy shades and mid-summer blossoms. Dodecatheon has flowers in pink or white with large apple green leaves. Bleeding Heart has flowers that look just like dangling hearts in shades of white or pink growing on tall, arching stems, and there is even a cultivar that has golden leaves. Hostas, while usually grown for their intriguing leaf variations, can provide flowers in white through dark lavender, and the species H. plantaginea has white scented flowers. Uvularia emerges in early spring to bring bright to pale yellow bells, depending on the species.

Tall plants that grow well in our area include the jack-in-the-pulpits. The genera Arisaema include some that grow as tall as four feet and all have fantastic flowers that look as if a mad scientist designed them. A native plant that is underused in shaded gardens is Foxglove. The white or pink spires of Digitalis purpurea are short-lived, rarely living more than two years, but provide weeks of colorful display. Oriental lilies and trumpet lilies will grow well in part shade, but they do need a couple of hours of sun to do their best. In shades of white, pink, red, yellow and orange, they are a wonderful scented addition to any garden.

Not all vines do well in shade, but there are a couple that do very well. One is the native honeysuckle, Lonicera celosia, with bright orange flowers. It may be hard to find: look at Native Plant Society plant sales. Many species and cultivars of Clematis will do very well in partial shade, but they need some sun for best flowering. Akebia quintata grows with dainty evergreen leaves (quintata refers to the five leaves on each stalk) and softly scented clusters of white or purplish flowers, even in full shade. It occasionally produces strange sausage-like, sweet edible fruit.

So, when you are thinking of enlivening that shady part of your garden, you can have many exciting flowers as well as the interesting textures of foliage plants. Not easily found in every nursery, they are worth the quest for the beauty they will provide.

Linda Stephens-Urbaniak can be reached at

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