Do you suffer from sunny garden envy? When I lived in my first house, my tiny yard was shaded by a large Norway maple that made it impossible to grow the flamboyant, brightly-colored perennials of my dreams, but I learned to love my tranquil retreat once I discovered just the right plants for a shady garden.
Shady gardens provide a wonderful opportunity to play with different textures and subtle variations in color, and you won’t work up a sweat tending to your plants. A partially-shaded garden bed typically gets 4-6 hours of sun each day, while a full shade area gets 2 or less hours of sun each day. If this sounds like your yard, here are the easy care plants you won’t want to miss.
- Hydrangeas – These easy care shrubs are available in many varieties from the traditional mophead varieties to dainty lacecaps. Most prefer partial shade, particularly if the area is shaded in the afternoon.
- Japanese painted fern – Many ferns perform well in the shade, but this one’s my favorite. These ferns are smaller and perfect for underplanting or the edges of shady borders. Their lush fronds often contain dusty greens, purples, and silvers that add lots of interest and texture.
- Hosta – These are the quintessential easy care plants for shady gardens. Nowadays, there are so many varieties – dark green, bright chartreuse, blue-green, and variegated. The delicate blooms are a bonus. All you need to do is cut them back to the ground every fall and they will reward you by getting bigger and better every year.
Astilbe – This easy care plant boasts showy, feathery flower stalks that rise above lush fern-y foliage in summer. They’ll perform well in partial to full shade and are super-tough.
- Anemones – These are among my favorite flowering perennials for partial shade. They bloom on long, graceful, arched stems in late summer and early fall. In spring, their lush foliage is wonderful for filling in bare spots. Try to plant them where they will get afternoon shade.
- Bleeding heart (dicentra) – This is an old-fashioned favorite for shady gardens. The bright pink or white heart-shaped flowers are among the very first to appear in spring. The plants will die back in the intense heat of late summer, so simply cut them back when they turn brown.
- Toad lily (tricyrtis) – It’s unfortunate that this lovely and exotic-looking flower has a somewhat unfortunate name. I successfully grew them in full shade where they still formed large clumps that bloomed in the fall when not much else was going on. The flowers are tiny and intricately patterned, so plant them where you can enjoy them up close.
Monkshood (aconitum) – These perform best in partial shade, especially if they get some morning sun. The beautiful violet, hood-shaped flowers appear in late summer and fall on stalks that extend 2-3 feet above the basal foliage. Be cautious and wear gloves when working with this plant as all parts of it are poisonous if ingested and it can cause skin irritation for some.
- Lenten rose (hellebores) – These slightly mysterious easy care perennials bloom in late winter producing masses of dusty pink or creamy white flowers. They perform well even in full shade.
- Japanese reed grass – No flowers here, but this ornamental grass for shade looks dramatic when planted en masse at the edge of a border. It’s short and arching leaves are variegated shades of golden yellows and greens.