Shade Perennials

Most of my garden receives shade at least half of the day. The shade is created by mature shade trees such as maples, ash, and pine, so conditions are fairly dry. But shade plants have turned out to be among my favorite! I love the soft foliage and varying greens of shade plants.

  • Aconitum cammarum (Monkshood) 'Stainless Steel' - a tall cultivar with pale silvery blue flowers
  • Aconitum fischeri (Monkshood) - a shorter type of monkshood with dark blue blooms.

aconitum fischeri

  • Actaea ramosa (aka Cimicifuga racemosa) 'Hillside Black Beauty'
  • Alchemilla mollis (Lady's Mantle) - the classic staple of the shade garden. I have little clusters of it scattered throughout my borders.

Alchemilla mollis (Lady's Mantle)

  • Alchemilla mollis (Lady's Mantle) 'Auslese' - so far I can't tell the difference between this cultivar and plain old Lady's Mantle... it might be slightly smaller? Really, they are identical looking as far as I can tell. (The blue color in this photo is due to the morning light.)

Alchemilla mollis 'Auslese' in bud

  • Anemonella thalictroides - a charming little woodland wildflower. The foliage looks similar to columbine or thalictrum, and the pure white flowers are striking in the shade. It has quite a long flowering period. The plant goes dormant in summer, so I have mine near ferns which fill the gap.
Reddish foliage of anemonella thalictroides in early spring

By mid-spring the foliage fades to bright green

  • Aralia cordata 'Sun King' - not really sure if this is a perennial or a shrub... in any case, it is a deciduous plant with gorgey bright yellow foliage.

Aralia cordata 'Sun King' - young plant

  • Aruncus (Goat's Beard) 'Zweiweltenkind' - the name of this hybrid goat's beard (a. dioicus x a. sinensis) means 'Child of Two Worlds', because both its new spring foliage and its summer flowers are highlights. Somewhat more compact than the potentially gigantic Aruncus dioicus.

Aruncus 'Zweiweltenkind' - new spring foliage

  • Asarum canadense (Canadian wild ginger)

  • Asperula odorata (aka Galium odoratum, Sweet Woodruff) - lovely simple green groundcover with fine-textured whorled leaves and dainty white flowers in spring. It is an aggressive spreader, but I do find it easy to pull out. Needs to constantly be pulled back.
Asperula odorata (Galium odoratum) (Sweet Woodruff) - flowering in May
  • Astilbe ‘Bressingham Beauty’ - a very tall astilbe (almost 3 feet) that blooms freely. I love the dense pink color. I have trouble keeping astilbe happy in my dry garden, but am going to promise to water it well this year!
Astilbe 'Bressingham Beauty'

  • Astilbe 'Visions in Red' - I think this is 'Visions in Red', although I'm not certain. It was here when we moved in. This is a very short astilbe whose foliage emerges a deep maroon color in spring. The flowers are a lovely deep pinkish-maroon.
Astilbe 'Visions in Red'
  • Astrantia ‘Roma’ - Astrantia (Masterwort) has lovely palmate foliage, and holds its blooms for a long time. This silvery-pink cultivar seems to radiate light in its shady spot.
Astrantia 'Roma'
  • Bergenia cordifolia 'Evening Glow (Abendglut)' - I love bergenia (pigsqueak) so much I keep buying more of them. They are all very similar, but have slight variations in flower color, leaf shape, and fall foliage color. This is a new cultivar I'm trying out.
  • Bergenia cordifolia 'Pink Dragonfly'- this bergenia is much smaller than the others I have, with narrow, oval-shaped foliage and the prettiest flowers I have ever seen on a bergenia. They start out a soft shell pink with darker interiors, and eventually fade to intense deep pink. I especially like how the flowers are held in dense clusters low on the plant close to the foliage for an elegant presentation. Oddly, the rabbits love to eat this bergenia! (That is just not supposed to happen!) Fall color is also special: a warm plum-red.
Bergenia (pigsqueak)  'Pink Dragonfly' - pale pink flowers when first opened
Bergenia 'Pink Dragonfly' - pink color intensifies over time

  • Bergenia cordifolia ‘Red Beauty’ - I like this cultivar, but less than 'Winterglow'. The foliage is not as large, and it does not seem to be as vigorous (although perhaps this is due to the location). The flowers are a strong magenta pink that fades to a lighter color over time. On the other hand, the fall color on this one is superb - a very intense red with coral undertones.

Bergenia cordifolia 'Red Beauty', fall foliage color

  • Bergenia cordifolia ‘Winterglow’ - This was my first bergenia ever and I was hooked from then on. The chunky, leathery foliage looks great in all seasons, and the spring flowers are a fine shade of cerise pink. Fall and winter color is a deep brownish burgundy. I love this cultivar for its big, bold foliage and vigorous habit.
Bergenia cordifolia (Pigsqueak) 'Winterglow', flowering

  • Brunnera macrophylla (Siberian Bugloss) 'Jack Frost' - a silver leaved brunnera green veins and  cute pale blue flowers in spring. Brunnera is long-lived but slow to establish.

Brunnera 'Jack Frost'

  • Brunnera 'King's Ransom' - this one has very attractive pale golden edges.
  • Carex flaccosperma - I'm not generally a grass person, but this sedge has quickly become a favorite. It adds a great spiky contrast to its generally moundy neighbors, and holds its foliage and color well into winter.
Carex flaccosperma

  • Carex siderosticha 'Banana Boat' - another sedge but with wider, chartreuse/yellow foliage. This one really lights up the shade garden!

Carex 'Banana Boat' with Epimedium 'Amber Queen' and Heuchera 'Melting Fire'

  • Corydalis lutea - this plant has been a trooper so far. Dainty foliage resembling dwarf dicentra, with bright yellow flowers dangling here and there fairly all season. Reportedly not long-lived - I have had one die out suddenly for no apparent reason.

Corydalis lutea

  • Dicentra formosa ‘Luxuriant’ - so far this has been a bit disappointing, but perhaps it takes a while to establish. A miniature bleeding heart with a tuft of all-pink flowers on wands above a clump of foliage.

Dicentra formosa 'Luxuriant'

  • Dicentra spectablis rosea (Bleeding Heart) - everyone has one of these, and rightly so! They are so lovely and easy to grow. My daughter loves to pick the wands of dangling hearts. This grows into a monstrous sized clump over a few years. The foliage will brown and go dormant in mid-summer unless the weather is exceptionally cool.

Dicentra spectabilis (Bleeding Heart)

  • Digitalis grandiflora (perennial foxglove) - this is the common foxglove, which is a slightly shorter plant than the garden hybrids (only about two feet tall), with pale primrose yellow flowers. Unlike the hybrids, which are biennials, this type is a true perennial and should return year after year. It is quite easy to grow from seed.
Digitalis grandiflora (foxglove)

  • Digitalis mertonensis (Strawberry Foxglove)
  • Erythronium (Dog's Tooth Violet) 'Pagoda'  - elegant creamy yellow flowers in early spring. Foliage goes dormant in summer.
Erythronium (Dog's Tooth Violet) 'Pagoda'

  • Euonymous fortunei ‘Emerald Gaiety’
  • Hakonechloa macrantha (Japanese forest grass) ‘Aureola’
  • Helleborus orientalis (Lenten Rose) unknown variety - this was sold with the label 'Peppermint Ruffles', which it obviously is not. (That's what I get for buying unbloomed hellebores, sigh.) Once I stopped being annoyed at this fellow for not being who he said he was, I've grown quite attached to him. The creamy double flowers are simple but nice. Might possibly be 'Sparkling Diamond', which is another from the 'Winter Thrillers' series.
Unknown double white/cream hellebore - possibly 'Sparkling Diamond'

  • Helleborus x ericsmithii 'Ivory Prince' - this gorgeous cultivar has beautiful blue-green foliage with silver streakings, red stems, and soft green flowers with pink undersides and edges. I've heard varied reports about how hardy it is (some say only to zone 6) - it has the very tender Helleborus lividus from Majorca in its ancestry. I found it a local nursery so thought I'd give it a try here. It seems to have survived the harsh winter of 2013/2014 just fine, and in fact had the best looking overwintered foliage in my garden this spring!
Hellebore 'Ivory Prince'

  • Helleborus x nigercors 'Valentine Green'
  • Hypericum calycinum 'Brigadoon' - a groundcover St. John's Wort that has lovely chartreuse/yellow foliage and grows in the shade. Very large yellow flowers in summer.
Hypericum calycinum (St. John's Wort) 'Brigadoon'

  • Lamium (Deadnettle) ‘Orchid Frost’ - this groundcover does spread, so watch out. But I've found it easy to pull up if it wanders too far. This particular cultivar has, in my opinion, a particularly nice combination of flower and foliage color. It is a veritable blooming machine. Not frost-hardy though - melts into mush as soon as winter breathes on it.
Lamium 'Orchid Frost'

  • Mukdenia rossii 'Karasuba' - large palmate leaves with good fall color. A small woodland plant from China.

Mukdenia rossii 'Karasuba'

  • Phlox divaricata (Woodland Phlox) 'Blue Moon' - I'm not sure how long-lived these will be, but the flowers are SOO fragrant - they smell just like antique roses! I smelled them from across the garden center and could not resist :-) They bloom in mid spring and add such welcome blue color. They have returned nicely in their second year - so far so good!

Phlox divaricata 'Blue Moon' with Ferns

  • Polemonium caeruleum (Jacob's Ladder) 'Blue Pearl' - flowers are a lovely shade of blue, held high above ferny foliage. Overall a bit unkempt looking, but great for adding a dash of breeziness. I grew these from seed - quite easy to do. Oddly, the flowers smell like grape Kool-Aid (really).

Polemonium caeruleum (Jacob's Ladder) 'Blue Pearl'
  • Polygonatum odoratum (Solomon's Seal) ‘Variegatum’ - This plant is so elegant in a shady spot, and so far has withstood some tough conditions including drought and marauding bunnies. It expands slowly every year to make a large clump over time.

Polygonatum odoratum (Solomon's Seal) 'Variegatum' with male fern

  • Polygonatum 'Valerie's Song' - a larger, all-green polygonatum.
  • Primula veris macrocalyx - a selection of wild primrose with slightly larger flowers.
  • Pulmonaria (Lungwort) 'Majeste' - spotted foliage makes me feel ill, but this pulmonaria has more or less solid silver leaves. The deep blue and pink flowers appear so early - it is usually one of my first perennials to bloom! The flowers continue to appear throughout spring. The foliage looks great even when not in bloom. It is not evergreen, but the plant retains its foliage well past frost here.
Pulmonaria 'Majeste' blooming in spring

Pulmonaria 'Majeste' - fall foliage

  • Pumonaria (Lungwort) 'Raspberry Splash' - I liked my first lungwort so much I had to add more to my garden. This one has raspberry pink flowers.
  • Pulmonaria (Lungwort) 'Silver Bouquet' - another all-silver variety
  • Smilacina racemosa (False Solomon's Seal)
  • Tricyrtis formosana (Toad Lily)
  • Trillium lutea - a yellow-flowered trillium with silvery patterned markings on the leaves.
  • Vinca minor

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