11 Best Flowering Perennials for Shady Gardens

Close-Up Of Purple Flowering Plant
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Gardeners often lament that there are limited plant choices for the shade garden. It's true that hostas, the traditional shade plant, now come in a wonderful array of colors and textures, but there's no reason to limit yourself to this one type of plant. Shady gardens do not have to be limited to foliage plants. You have many other choices, and you may even find that some plants known as sun lovers, such as daylilies, actually enjoy the relief of partial shade, especially in hot areas. When choosing plants for shade, don't be afraid to expand the search box beyond "shade only" selections. While deep complete shade offers definite challenges, most garden areas receive at least some filtered light for portions of the day, and you probably have more options than you think.

Here are 10 recommended choices for plants that offer colorful blooms for your shade garden. They will all do fairly well in part shade locations, and some will thrive even in deep shade.

  • 01 of 11

    Monkshood (Aconitum napellus)

    Monkshood flower

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    • USDA Hardiness Zones: 3 to 7
    • Color Varieties: Deep purple-blue
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Rich, well-drained soil

    Monkshood is a herbaceous perennial that likes full sun but is fine in partial shade. The plant is named for the shape of the deep bluish-purple blooms that can last up to two months, appearing in fall atop 5 to 6-foot stalks. This is an excellent plant for offering late-season color when most other plants have ended their bloom period. Monkshood has good resistance to pests and diseases, but in shady locations the plants will need to be staked to prevent toppling.

    All parts of this plant of poisonous. Care should be taken when handling the plant, and don't plant monkshood where children play unsupervised.

  • 02 of 11

    Columbine (Aquilegia spp.)

    Aquilegia flowers (common names: granny's bonnet or columbine)

    mikroman6/Getty Images

    • USDA Hardiness Zones: 3 to 9
    • Color Varieties: Red, yellow, white, pink, salmon, purple, bicolors
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Average well-drained soil

    Butterflies and hummingbirds can't resist the delicate, nectar-filled blossoms of columbine. There are many native species available, but most commercial offerings are cultivars of C. vulgaris. The bicolored, bell-shaped flowers come in a wide variety of color combinations. This is a very easy plant to grow, and it often spreads by self-seeding. Gardeners often observe columbine varieties hybridizing to form new varieties in the garden. Growing about 2 feet tall, columbine usually blooms in late spring and early summer.

    Columbine is prone to leaf miners, but you can always cut the foliage back after it blooms.

  • 03 of 11

    False Spirea (Astilbe spp.)

    Astilbe

    bluebudgie/Pixabay 

    • USDA Hardiness Zones: 3 to 8
    • Color Varieties: Pink, red, white
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Medium moisture, loamy soil

    Astilbe is one of those nearly perfect flowers. The fern-like foliage stays attractive all season. The flower plumes bloom once spring and early summer in shades of whites, pinks, purples, ​and reds, but last the whole season after they fade. Many different varieties abound, some growing as small as 6 inches, others to 5 feet.

    Astilbe is a mainstay of the shady garden. Except for dividing your astilbe plants every three years or so, they require little effort.

  • 04 of 11

    Black Cohosh (Actaea racemosa)

    Black cohosh (Cimicifuga ramosa) 'Brunette', Piet Oudolfs Millennium Garden

    Kate Gadsby/Getty Images

    • USDA Hardiness Zones: 3 to 8
    • Color Varieties: White
    • Sun Exposure: Part shade to full shade
    • Soil Needs: Average, medium-moisture soil.

    Also known as bugbane, black cohosh is the rare plant that blooms well in deep shade. It can easily reach 6 feet in one season and adds texture as well as height to the shade garden. The dense, deeply cut foliage gives rise to even taller stalks of bottle-brush white flowers in late summer or fall.

    This plant was formerly categorized as Cimicifuga racemosa. All plants in the genus Cimicifuga were recently transferred to the genus Actaea.

    Continue to 5 of 11 below.
  • 05 of 11

    Bleeding Heart (Lamprocapnos spectabilis)

    Dicentra spectablis (Bleeding heart, Dutchmans trousers), perennial, spring garden, England

    Claire Takacs/Getty Images

    • USDA Hardiness Zones: 3 to 9
    • Color Varieties: White with pink
    • Sun Exposure: Part shade to full shade
    • Soil Needs: Rich soil with lots of organic material

    Delicate bleeding hearts are another of the rare flowers that bloom well in deep shade. It is generally a spring bloomer, growing to 2 to 3 feet tall. The flowers are delicate heart-shaped drops, pink with white tips. The blooms last for several weeks, but bleeding heart may die back in the hot months of summer, though it always returns next season.

    Bleeding heart was once known as Dicentra but was recently reassigned to the Lamprocapnos genus.

    Dutchman's breeches (Dicentra cucullaria) is another related spring charmer and has white blossoms resembling pantaloons.

  • 06 of 11

    Barrenwort (Epimedium spp.)

    Barrenwort (Epimedium Fire Dragon)

    Vicki Gardner/Getty Images

    • USDA Hardiness Zones: 5 to 9
    • Color Varieties: Red with yellow
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to full shade
    • Soil Needs: Prefers cool, moist soil, but tolerates dry conditions

    Barrenwort is often dismissed as a slow-growing ground cover, but these plants deserve more respect. This herbaceous perennial grows and spreads from rhizomes. The spring-blooming, spider-like flowers come out in clusters, and the foliage, which starts out almost lime green, changes to a rich red in the fall. Some types are evergreen on warmer climates. Other common names for this plant include bishop's hat and horny goat weed—a name earned by plant's reputation as a libido enhancer.

  • 07 of 11

    Primrose (Primula spp.)

    Planting Primrose (Primula) plants in container

    L Alfonse/Getty Images

    • USDA Hardiness Zones: 3 to 9
    • Color Varieties: Yellow, red, pink, purple, and blue 
    • Sun Exposure: Part shade
    • Soil Needs: Rich, moist, well-drained soil

    Primulas are one of the first flowers to bloom in spring, as the name indicates (primula comes from Medieval Latin, meaning "little first one"). Primulas can handle some sun in the spring, but after things warm-up, they'll require at least partial shade. Their colors are usually vibrant, and sometimes they can be bicolored. There are dozens of species and cultivars available, and many are grown as annuals since they quickly succumb in warm weather.

  • 08 of 11

    Meadow Rue (Thalictrum aquilegifolium)

    Purple flowers Thalictrum
    koromelena / Getty Images
    • USDA Hardiness Zones: 5 to 8
    • Color Varieties: Purple
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Medium moisture, well-drained soil

    Meadow rue has columbine-like foliage, with fuzzy white, pink, or purple clusters of summer blossoms. It takes care of itself, doesn't like fuss or being moved, and it thrives in partial shade. The plants reach heights of 3 to 5 feet and flower from May to July.

    Continue to 9 of 11 below.
  • 09 of 11

    Lungwort ((Pulmonaria saccharata)

    Lungwort
    Jessica Kopecky Design / Getty Images
    • USDA Hardiness Zones: 4 to 9
    • Color Varieties: White/pink/blue
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Medium moisture, well-drained soil

    Lungwort is an early bloomer with white-spotted foliage The long narrow leaves can be entirely silver or spotted with silver. The showy flowers of white, pink, or blue appear in April; all three colors sometimes are found on the same blossoms. There are several similar members of the Pumonaria genus that are good landscape plants, including P. officinalis, P. longifolia, P. saccharata, and P. angustifolia. 

  • 10 of 11

    Siberian Bugloss (Brunnera macrophylla)

    Brunnera macrophylla (Siberian bugloss) - III
    AlpamayoPhoto / Getty Images
    • USDA Hardiness Zones: 3 to 8
    • Color Varieties: Blue
    • Sun Exposure: Part shade
    • Soil Needs: Medium moisture, well-drained soil

    A close cousin of forget-me-nots, Siberian bugloss is a clump-forming perennial that grows to a maximum of 18 inches. Its blue flowers appear in April and May, but its attractive, heart-shaped dark-green leaves are very attractive in the shade garden all year. This is an excellent plant for grouping or massing over large areas.

  • 11 of 11

    Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia)

    Virginia Bluebells
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    • USDA Hardiness Zones: 3 to 8
    • Color Varieties: Blue
    • Sun Exposure: Part shade to full shade
    • Soil Needs: Medium moisture, well-drained soil

    Virginia bluebells are a native wildflower that makes an excellent choice for naturalized shade gardens. Growing to about 2 feet tall, this clump-forming perennial produces clusters of trumpet-shaped blue flowers in March and April. The foliage dies back as soon as the blooms fade, so Virginia bluebells is best planted amidst other plants that can fill in.