Adding Perennials To Your Shade Garden

By Tanya Hein

A shade garden is the perfect place to plant today’s popular perennials. The heat and wind protection typically found in a shade garden is just the boost many perennials need to thrive year after year, and with the good base provided by a crop of dependable perennials, gardeners need not worry about planting hundreds of shade-tolerant annuals each year.

Choosing Flowering Perennials for Shade

Just like any other plants, however, shade-loving perennials do best in conditions that meet their particular requirements. Moisture considerations are especially important, and a successful shade garden should be divided into damp and dry areas. Your shade garden may have only damp areas or only dry areas, but it is possible to have a combination of the two.


Determining the moisture level of your shade garden before you buy plants can save you the expense of purchasing varieties that are not suited to your shade garden. Flowering perennials that will thrive in damp shade include:

  • Anemone (A. nemorosa or A. ranunculoides) – spreading perennial with white or yellow flowers
  • Giant Himalayan lily (Cardiocrinum giganteum) – bulbous perennial with large, white blooms
  • Strawberry foxglove (Digitalis x mertonensis) – tall stalks with downward-facing pink blooms
  • White shooting star (Dodeacatheon meadia ‘F. Album’) – lovely white blooms on dainty, arching stems
  • Young’s barrenwort (Epimedium x youngianum) – delicate white flowers, green foliage
  • Willow gentian (Gentiana asclepiadea) – fresh green leaves, blue trumpet-shape blooms
  • Dwarf Spuria iris (Iris graminea) – thin, green leaves and violet blooms
  • Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum x hybridum) – bright green leaves, dangling, white blooms, great for borders
  • Lungwort (Pulmonaria) – upright woodland plant featuring pink/blue blooms
  • Foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia) – summer-flowering evergreen
  • Piggyback plant (Tolmeia menziesii) – spreading, evergreen with tiny brown flowers
  • Trillium (T. luteum) – lovely three-petal white flower, often found in woodlands
  • Large-flowered bellwort (Uvularia grandiflora) – pretty, hanging, bell-shaped blooms, usually yellow or greenish yellow

Finding hardy plants willing to tolerate dry, shady conditions is somewhat more difficult. If possible, focus on spring-flowering bulbs that are able to take advantage of early season moisture before the soil dries out as summer arrives. Regardless of the plants you choose, proper soil preparation and amendment and regular watering are keys to success.

If your shade garden is prone to dry conditions, consider incorporating some of the following dry shade flowering perennials:

  • Lady’s mantle (Alchemilla mollis) – felted foliage with tiny green blooms
  • Bergenia (Bergenia cordifolia) – round evergreen leaves with pink flowers in the spring
  • Cranesbill geranium (Geranium macrorrhizum) – semi-evergreen foliage with numerous white, coral-tinged blooms
  • Stinking hellebore (Helleborus foetidus) – red stems with red-trimmed green flowers
  • Lilyturf (Liriope muscari) – similar to monkey grass with tall, thin, green leaves with spikes of light purple blooms
  • Periwinkle (Vinca minor) – mat-like ground cover with dark purple flowers

Light-colored blooms, such as white, silver or pale pink, tend to stand out well in a shade garden while darker colors may blend into the foliage. Plant flowering perennials in clusters for greater effect when they bloom and take advantage of the many shrubs, ferns and bulbs that can add interest and appeal to your shade garden.

Search online or speak to your local nursery owner to find shade tolerant perennials that will thrive in your area and make your garden beautiful.

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