Top 10 Flowers for Shading Your Garden

  • 01 of 10

    A Heuchera for Everyone

    Photo © National Garden Bureau

    The number of coral bells cultivars available for the garden has grown so much in recent years that they may soon rival coleus for variety in foliage colors. The versatile heuchera was named Perennial Plant of the Year in 1991 by the Perennial Plant Association. The summer blooms are usually pink, red, or white, but the foliage can vary from chartreuse to midnight purple, with dazzling yellow, orange, and variegated types to choose from as well. According to Iowa State University Extension coral bells tend to be short-lived perennials, but new plants grow fast to fill in any gaps left by those that don’t emerge in the spring.

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  • 02 of 10

    Choosing Hydrangeas

    Photo Field Outdoor Spaces

    I can’t imagine my shade garden without hydrangeas; I am currently at four shrubs and counting. Gardeners in southern areas can choose from many cultivars of big leaf macrophylla types, which include the popular blue and pink ‘Endless Summer’ variety. The panicle hydrangeas, native to Asia, are desirable for their large size (up to 15 feet) and cold hardiness to zone 4. In spite of the new and improved introductions in recent years, my favorite remains my ‘Annabelle’ H. arborescens shrub, like the one pictured here, which produces masses of giant snowballs in summer without any coddling. I grow hostas at the base of my hydrangeas, but gardeners looking for a burst of color can pair the shrubs with impatiens (seen here), caladiums, or begonias.

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  • 03 of 10

    Kicking Back

    Garden Picnic Table
    Photo flickr user kkmarais

    Good seating turns guests from garden spectators into participants. Not many people care to sit in the blazing summer sun in August, but the shade garden is a respite throughout the growing season. You don’t need to spend a fortune on your shade garden retreat; a colorful tablecloth and some flea market picnicware add interest to any inexpensive patio set. A portable pansy bowl and some hardy hydrangeas complete the lush landscape.

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  • 04 of 10

    A Professional's Touch

    Caladiums and Impatiens
    Photo Gregory Garnich,

    A landscaping professional created this masterpiece from a mix of annual plants, like impatiens and caladiums, and perennials including asters, hostas, and ferns. If you’re attempting to landscape a large shady area from scratch, annuals can fill in the blank spots while you allow yourself a few years to settle on your favorite permanent specimens.

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  • 05 of 10

    Perfect Partners

    Bleeding Heart
    Photo flickr user Linda N.

    In the shade garden, the use of texture and form is just as important as including different flower colors and blooming times. The pink flowers of bleeding heart and silvery foliage of dead nettle brighten the spring landscape.

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  • 06 of 10

    A Flower Garden Under Trees

    Garden Under Trees
    Photo flickr user Andrea_44
    Gardening under trees isn’t always easy, nor even always recommended, as some trees have shallow roots that don’t appreciate being disturbed by a trowel, and some flowers can’t compete with the water and nutrient uptake of trees. If you decide to plant a flower garden under trees, choose perennials like these rhododendrons and azaleas to avoid disturbing the tree’s root system every year.
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  • 07 of 10

    Springtime Staples

    Pansies and Lily of the Valley. Photo Toru Watanabe
    Pansies are a harbinger of spring for many gardeners, and they appreciate a bit of filtered sunlight to help prolong the bloom time into warmer weather. Pick a few pansy blossoms and pair them with some lily of the valley for a May Day basket or fragrant nosegay bouquet.
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  • 08 of 10

    Seeing Spots

    Photo AnnaKika,

    A nice attribute about pulmonaria, or lungwort plants, is that they spread steadily but not invasively over the years to form a large colony where they have mostly shade and moist, rich soil. The seedlings look so cute, like little freckled versions of their parents, they almost turn me into a person who talks to her plants. Almost.

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  • 09 of 10

    Finicky and Fabulous Fuchsias

    Photo Marian McCaffrey

    I haven’t figured out how to successfully keep a fuchsia alive for more than a month, but that doesn’t stop me from buying them. Maybe it’s the Midwestern wind that blows like a relentless hairdryer.

    If you try fuchsias in the garden, place them in a site that receives morning sun, and filtered afternoon shade. Keep the soil moist, but not soggy, and feed them once a month with a basic fertilizer for annual flowers.

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  • 10 of 10

    Frosted Beauty

    Photo flickr user peganum,

    The silvery foliage of brunnera ‘Jack Frost’ provides a striking background for the delicate clusters of blue flowers that appear in the spring. This hardy plant withstands zone 3 winters, forming a dense mound significant enough to be a standalone specimen, or you can divide the clump in the fall to get more of these heart-shaped leaves into your garden.