8 Plants for a White and Silver Shade Garden

  • 01 of 09

    Brighten a Shady Garden With White and Silver Flowers and Foliage

    Garden Design Plan for a White Themed Shade Garden
    Marie Iannotti

    White flowers and foliage seem to glow in shade. By adding some silvery shimmer and gray feathery foliage, a shady spot in the garden becomes a bright highlight. You can plant a garden by following this design plan exactly,  or use the plan as an inspiration for designing your own white shade garden. Every year new variegated plants are introduced that make it easier to create glint of white in your garden.

    The plants in this suggested garden plan are keyed by number and are described on the following pages. If a plant isn't suited to your area or is hard to fine, alternatives are often listed. 

    For the first year of any perennial garden, filling in with annual flowers is a good way to make the garden look mature, while still leaving room for the new perennial plants to spread. For color early in the season, consider planting drifts of white tulips, such as 'Albion Star', 'Best White', 'Evita', 'Ice Princess' or 'Purissima'. Or perhaps 'Spring Green', with its green-streaked white petals.

    Continue to 2 of 9 below.
  • 02 of 09

    Goat's Beard (Arunus dioicus)

    Flowering goat´s beard (Aruncus dioicus)
    Justus de Cuveland / Getty Images

    Plant #1 in our design is goat's beard (Arunus dioicus). These large, towering plants can make wonderful focal points in a garden—a technique that is sometimes overlooked in woodland gardens. 

    Goat's beard is a very easy plant to grow and makes a wonderful choice, providing your garden isn't in full shade. It grows slightly smaller in shade than it does in sun, but it still offers an imposing presence and will flower just fine. Goat's beard is recommended in USDA hardiness zones 3 to 7. It blooms from May to July.

    As an alternative to goat's beard, conside white flowering astilbe. Two good choices are:

    • Astilbe japonica 'Deutschland'
      USDA zones 3 to 9
      2 feet  x 3 feet 
      Bloom period: July to August
    • Astilbe 'White Gloria'
      USDA zones 4 to  8
      3 feet x 2 feet
      Bloom period: July to August
    Continue to 3 of 9 below.
  • 03 of 09

    Lungwort (Pulmonaria)

    Variegated Pulmonaria saccharata
    Marie Iannotti

    Plant #2 in our design is lungwort (Pulmonaria), one of the earliest flowers to bloom in spring. The blooms offer brilliant shades of azure blue and hot pink., But it is Pulmonaria's foliage that makes it so welcome in a shade garden design. Breeders have taken old fashioned 'Mrs. Moon' and expanded both her spots and her leaves, so that pinwheels of white and frosted silver glint throughout the growing season. Pulmonaria also spreads in a controlled way, making a tidy blanket along the front edge of a shade garden.

    Good choices include: Pulmonaria saccharata 'Moonshine', 'Excaliber' and 'British Sterling'. Pulmonaria is recommended in USDA hardiness zones 3 to 8. It blooms from April to May. 

    As an alternative to Pulmonaria, consider:

    Brunnera macrophylla (False Forget-me-not) 'Jack Frost'
    USDA zones 3 to 8
    12 inches x 15 inches
    Bloom period: May to June

    Continue to 4 of 9 below.
  • 04 of 09

    Perennial Geramium

    Clark Geranium
    Chris Burrows / Getty Images

    Plant #3 in our white shade garden is perennial geranium (Geranimu spp.). 'Johnson's Blue', Rozanne' and Geranium sanguinium are the most popular varieties due to their flashy colors. For a white garden, Clark's Geranium or Geranium clarkei 'Kashmir White' is a perfect choice.

    Again, you may get a few less blooms when planting perennial geraniums in partial shade, but you'll notice them even more. Perennial geraniums require little attention, as they spread a bit further every year. They are also extremely easy to divide and transplant, allowing you to fill in any bare spots as your garden matures.

    Geranium clarkei 'Kashmir White' is recommended in USDA hardiness zones 4 to 8. It grows 20 inches x and 15 inches, and blooms from May to July. 

    For an alternative, consider:

    Meadow Anemone (Anemone canadensis)
    USDA zones 2 to 6
    18 inches x 12 inches
    Bloom period: May to July

    Continue to 5 of 9 below.
  • 05 of 09

    Bleeding Heart (Dicentra Spectabilis)

    White Bleeding Heart
    shene / Getty Images

    Plant #4 in our garden design is bleeding heart (Dicentra spectabilis). Romantic and delicate looking, bleeding hearts are actually very durable plants that make themselves right at home in partial shade, particularly if the soil is rich and moist. The white flowered form, usually called 'Alba', is a perfect feature for a white garden. One large specimen of Dicentra spectabilis is enough to grab your attention, however, it can be ephemeral and disappear once the weather warms. If that's the case in your garden, one of the fringed-leaf varieties, S. eximia  or S. formosa, might be a better choice.

    Dicentra spectabilis 'Alba' (Bleeding Heart) is recommended in USDA hardiness zones 3 to 9. It grows 30 inches x  and 36 inches, and blooms from April to May 

    Good alternatives include:

    • D. eximia 'Alba' (Eastern Fringed Bleeding Heart)
      USDA  zones 3 to 9
      18 inches  x 9 inches
      Repeat bloomer
    • D. formosa 'Alba' (Western Fringed Bleeding Heart)
      USDA zones 4 to 10
      18 inches x 24 inches
      Bloom period May to June
    Continue to 6 of 9 below.
  • 06 of 09

    Lamb's Ear

    Lamb's ears (Stachys byzantina)
    Ron Evans / Getty Images

    Plant # 5 is  lamb's ear, a wonderful edging plant. Lamb's ear doesn't bloom profusely in partial shade, but it is selected because of its foliage. The fuzzy texture of the leaves will catch whatever light makes its way through to the garden, as well as holding rain drops that will act as prisms.

    A good choice for a partial shade garden is Stachys byzantina 'Helen Von Stein', recommended for UDSA hardiness zones 4 to 9.  Because it doesn't usually flower, the plant instead puts its energy into larger foliage. Plants grow to about 12 inches  x 15 inches.

    An alternative to lamb's ear is:

    Woolly Thyme (Thymus praecox / Thymus serpyllum var. lanuginosus)
    USDA zones 6 to 8
    6 inches x 12 inches

    Continue to 7 of 9 below.
  • 07 of 09

    Variegated Ornamenatl Grasses and Sedges

    Using Ornamental Grasses in Shade Garden Design
    Marie Iannotti

    Plant #6 in our design calls for one of the many ornamental grasses.  Ornamental grasses bring a triple treat to garden design: visual appeal, movement and sound. There are plenty of variegated grasses that will grow well in partial shade, but don't overlook the sedges (Carex). True, some sedge varieties can grow a bit too aggressively, as is also true of some oranmental grasses. But the partial shade conditions help to keep most of these spreaders in check. If you do find your choice has grown significantly in just one season, don't wait to see what happens—replace it sooner, rather than later.

    The grass shown here is a variegated ribbon grass, one of the varieties that must be watched closely. Dry shade is the best growing condition to prevent ribbon grass from becoming invasive. Better choices include:

    • Carex siderosticha 'Variegata' (Variegated Broad Leaf Sedge)
      USDA zones 4 to 9
      8 inches x 18 inches
    • Hakonachloa macra 'Albo-Striata'"
      USDA zones 5 to 8
      24 inches x 18 inches
    Continue to 8 of 9 below.
  • 08 of 09


    Silver Green Foliage of Mugwort (Artemesia)
    Ron Evans / Getty Images

    Plant #7 in our design, Artemisia, is an herb plant that has become popular for its lacy, often feathery foliage. It makes a wonderful contrast to plants with large leaves, like the Hostas planted in front of it in our design. Artemisia is also used in flower arrangements, fresh or dried. Many varieties are fragrant, although not everyone agrees that the fragrance is pleasant.

    Good choices for tall growing artemisia include:

    • Artemisia 'Powis Castle' (Wormwood)
      USDA zones 6 to 9
      3 feet x 2 feet
    • Artemisia 'Valerie Finnis' (Western Mugwort)
      USDA zones 3 to 10
      24 inches x 18 inches
    Continue to 9 of 9 below.
  • 09 of 09


    Garden Design with Hosta Leaves in Assorted Textures and Colors
    Garden Design with Hosta Leaves in Assorted Textures and Colors. Marie Iannotti

    Plant #8  in this the ever-popular Hosta. It is hard to  imagine shade gardening without the abundance of wonderful Hosta varieties available. Every shade garden should include at least one or two contrasting and complementing varieties. 

    The large white-edged Hosta ventricosa 'Aureomarginata' is a great choice. But there are many extraordinary variegated varieties available. Some good choices to look for include:

    • Hosta 'Patriot'
      USDA zones 3 to 8
      18 inches x  36 inches
    • Hosta 'American Sweetheart'
      USDA zones 3 to 8
      20 inches x 24 inches
    • Hosta 'Center of Attention'
      USDA zones 3 to 8
      10 inches x 18 inches

    And if Hosta just isn't going to make it in your garden, an alternative to try is:

    • Acoris calumnus (Variegated Sweet Flag)
      USDA zones 5 to 9
      3 feet x 2 feet