Best Plants for White and Silver Shade Gardens

White Garden

The Spruce / Marie Iannotti 

If you're looking for bright highlights to use in darker garden areas, white flowers and plants are an excellent choice. Because of their intensely light foliage and blossoms, these plants almost seem to glow when located in the shade. 

If this is your first year growing a white shade garden, start by planting bulbs in the fall and filling in with annual flowers in order to achieve early spring blossoms. These plants will make the garden look mature while still leaving room for perennials to appear later in the season. White ​tulips, such as "Albion Star," "Best White," "Evita," "Ice Princess,"Spring Green," or "Purissima" are gorgeous spring starters. 

  • 01 of 08

    Lungwort (Pulmonaria)

    Variegated Pulmonaria saccharata
    Marie Iannotti

    Lungwort (Pulmonaria), is one of the earliest flowers to bloom in spring. The petals offer brilliant shades of azure blue and hot pink, but its silvery foliage makes it especially welcome in a shade garden design. Breeders have taken the old-fashioned "Mrs. Moon" and expanded both the spots and leaves so that pinwheels of white and frosted silver glint throughout the growing season. Pulmonaria spreads in a controlled way, making a tidy blanket along the front edge of a shade garden.

    Choice varieties include: Pulmonaria saccharata "Moonshine," "Excaliber," and "British Sterling." Pulmonaria is recommended in USDA hardiness zones 3 to 8, and blooms from April to May. 

    As an alternative to Pulmonaria, consider:

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

  • 02 of 08

    Goat's Beard (Arunus dioicus)

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

    Goat's beard (Arunus dioicus) is a lovely choice for a dramatic pop of white. These large, towering plants can make wonderful focal points in any garden. Goat's beard is easy to grow provided your garden isn't in full shade. It grows slightly smaller in partial shade than it does in sun, but it still offers an imposing presence and will flower just fine. Goat's beard is recommended in United States Department of Agriculture hardiness zones 3 to 7, and blooms from May to July.

    As an alternative to goat's beard, consider white flowering Astilbe. Two good choices include:

    • Astilbe japonica "Deutschland"
      USDA zones 3 to 9
      2 feet by 3 feet
      Bloom period: July to August
    • Astilbe "White Gloria"
      USDA zones 4 to  8
      3 feet by 2 feet
      Bloom period: July to August
  • 03 of 08

    Perennial Geramium

    Clark Geranium
    Chris Burrows / Getty Images

    A beautiful addition to a 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 an all-white garden, Clark's geranium (Geranium clarkei) "Kashmir White" is a perfect choice.

    You may get fewer blooms when planting perennial geraniums in partial shade, but you'll notice them more in contrasting white. Perennial geraniums require little attention and spread a bit farther every year. They're 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 to 20 inches by 15 inches, and blooms from May to July. 

    For an alternative, consider:

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

  • 04 of 08

    Bleeding Heart (Dicentra Spectabilis)

    White Bleeding Heart
    shene / Getty Images

    Romantic and delicate looking, bleeding hearts (Dicentra spectabilis) are actually very durable plants that make themselves right at home in partial shade. The white-flowered form, usually called "Alba," is a striking feature for a white garden. One large specimen of Dicentra spectabilis is enough to grab your attention; however, it can be ephemeral after the weather warms. If that's the case in your garden, one of the fringed-leaf varieties, S. eximia or S. formosa, may be a longer-lasting alternative.

    Dicentra spectabilis "Alba" is recommended in USDA hardiness zones 3 to 9. It grows 30 inches by 36 inches, and blooms from April to May. 

    Good alternatives include:

    • Eastern Fringed Bleeding Heart (D. eximia "Alba")
      USDA zones 3 to 9
      18 inches by 9 inches
      Repeat bloomer
    • Western Fringed Bleeding Heart (D. formosa "Alba")
      USDA zones 4 to 10
      18 inches by 24 inches
      Bloom period: May to June
    Continue to 5 of 8 below.
  • 05 of 08

    Lamb's Ear

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

    Lamb's ear, a wonderful edging plant, doesn't bloom profusely in partial shade, but it makes this list because of its soft gray foliage. The fuzzy texture of the leaves holds drops of dew that act as prisms in early morning sun—an added delight of this charming plant. 

    An ideal lamb's ear variety for a partial shade garden is Stachys byzantina "Helen Von Stein," recommended for USDA hardiness zones 4 to 9. These plants grow to about 12 inches by 15 inches.

    An alternative to lamb's ear:

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

  • 06 of 08

    Variegated Ornamenatl Grasses and Sedges

    Using Ornamental Grasses in Shade Garden Design
    Marie Iannotti

    Variegated ornamental ​grasses bring visual appeal, movement, and sound to a garden's design. Plenty of variegated grasses grow well in partial shade—sedges (Carex), in particular, is an ideal choice. Some sedge varieties can grow a bit too aggressively, but the partial shade conditions can help to keep the spreading in check. If you do find your grass has grown significantly in just one season, thin or replace as needed.

    Variegated ribbon grass (pictured) is one variety that must be watched closely. Dry shade is the best growing condition to prevent ribbon grass from becoming invasive. Some less demanding choices include:

    • Variegated broadleaf sedge (Carex siderosticha "Variegata")
      USDA zones 4 to 9
      8 inches by 18 inches
    • Hakonachloa macra "Albo-Striata"
      USDA zones 5 to 8
      24 inches by 18 inches
  • 07 of 08


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

    Artemisia is an herb that has become well-liked for its lacy, often feathery foliage. It makes a wonderful contrast to plants with large leaves, such as hostas. Artemisia is also used in flower arrangements, fresh or dried. Many varieties are fragrant, although not everyone agrees that the smell is pleasant.

    Good choices for tall-growing ​Artemisia include:

    • Wormwood (Artemisia "Powis Castle")
      USDA zones 6 to 9
      3 feet by 2 feet
    • Western Mugwort (Artemisia "Valerie Finnis")
      USDA zones 3 to 10
      24 inches ny 18 inches
  • 08 of 08


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

    It is hard to imagine shade gardening without the ever-popular Hosta. Every shade garden should include at least one or two contrasting and complementing varieties. 

    The large, white-edged Hosta ventricosa "Aureomarginata" is a solid choice. But there are many extraordinary variegated varieties available. Some additional options include:

    • "Patriot"
      USDA zones 3 to 8
      18 inches by 36 inches
    • "American Sweetheart"
      USDA zones 3 to 8
      20 inches by 24 inches
    • "Center of Attention"
      USDA zones 3 to 8
      10 inches by 18 inches

    And if you decide to exclude Hosta in your garden, try this alternative:

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

Article Sources
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  1. Ribbon Grass. University of Illinois Extension