Although a shady garden receiving regular moisture is much easier to populate than dry shade, you should always take the specific plants requirements into consideration when planting. What do we mean by shade? Ah, that’s a great question! Simply put, there are different levels of shade: partial, full and deep. You’ll see variations on these 3 terms but the length/strength of sunlight is the key. For our purposes here, partial shade refers to 3 to 6 hours of sun per day and is often used interchangeably with partial sun BUT if the plant requirements say ‘partial shade’, it should get relief from the hottest afternoon sun. Full shade is what you would expect in a woodland garden that receives ‘dappled’ sun through the leaves of deciduous trees and is more sheltered than partial shade. Deep shade refers to less than 3 hours of direct sunlight a day and filtered sunlight the rest of the day. Deep shade does not mean no sun at all – few plants could survive if placed in mushroom-like light conditions.
This is an excellent weed-suppressing groundcover where grass will not grow, for under shrubs or on shady banks and slopes. It is the largest Bugleweed producing tall spikes of blue flowers over huge bronze, heavily textured leaves which rapidly form a solid patch. The flower spikes are attractive to butterflies. It flowers profusely making quite a dramatic statement when mass planted. Grows best in average, well-drained soil that receives regular moisture. Prefers some shade in southern zones. In order to tidy up after flowering, mow over the patch with your lawn mower set at the highest setting – now that’s easy gardening!
2. Lady’s Mantle (Alchemilla mollis) – Zone 2
This is a true garden classic but one might ask: “Why plant a green plant with green flowers?”. The colour green is a natural backdrop to any landscape and there are numerous shades of green – just look around. Lady’s Mantle provides emphasis to more colourful perennials, especially when used to edge the front of the border and when mass planted. This is not a fussy plant and will add impact anywhere it’s planted but too much sun will scorch the leaves so partial shade to full shade is best. Chartreuse flower clusters appear in summer. A great photo opp: get your camera out after a spring shower and capture the water droplets settling on the leaves. Stunning!
3. Goat’s Beard (Aruncus dioicus) – Zone 2
Giant Goat’s Beard resembles an Astilbe on steroids! It forms a dense, bushy clump with elegant lacy leaves and enormous creamy-white plumes in spring. It is native to moist meadows from Quebec to Oklahoma and Georgia. Perfectly suited for alongside a pond or stream or in a moist woodland setting where it can get regular moisture. It tolerates full sun in cooler summer regions but partial to full shade is best. When happy, it can reach up to 6 feet high x 5 feet wide providing a fantastic dense screen. Plant in an area where it has plenty of room to expand. It may appear a little gangly when first planted but will fill in to be a magnificent specimen.
This is the BEST Astilbe to use as a groundcover for the shade but it will tolerate SOME sun and drought conditions. It forms a low spreading patch with mid-green, textured leaves and lovely rose-purple flower spikes in late summer to early fall which attract butterflies. It’s flowering time is obviously later than most other Astilbe, so it’s fantastic for extending colour in your summer gardens. Partial to full shade is best for this popular outstanding performer. It can withstand dense shade but you won’t get the same bloom power!
By far the most popular and showy of Hardy Ferns and undoubtedly, one of the most beautiful with soft grey-green, arching fronds held on deep burgundy stems. It is a former Perennial Plant of the Year and an outstanding choice for the shade garden. It makes a strong statement in a shady garden with its metallic-looking fronds which add wonderful contrast to other shade-loving perennials. Stands out perfectly near a pond or stream and is happiest in partial to full shade. If you plant it where it will receive some sun, direct it to receive morning sun only. Afternoon sun could be too intense and ‘bleach’ out that beautiful colour!
This 2012 Perennial Plant of the Year offers pure magic in the shade garden. In spring, baby-blue, forget-me-not flower clusters are held above the beautifully frosted and crackled, deep green leaves – guaranteed to brighten up any woodland setting. This is a very versatile perennial and stunning when paired with other shade-lovers like Hosta and Hardy Ferns. Plant in partial to full shade only: too much sun and it will be less drought-tolerant and in dense shade, you lose flower power. It will form a groundcover over time but the variegated forms are somewhat slower to spread than the species. If you are a fan of blue-flowering perennials, this one is hard to beat!
This is an exquisite addition to the partially to fully shaded garden and is an excellent and vigorous grower. It’s petite at only a 30cm high (12″) and features lacy, powdery blue-green leaves and clusters of pure white, delicate heart-shaped, fragrant flowers that appear in late spring lasting into late summer. It’s perfect for woodland settings and in containers and rock gardens too.
8. Fancy-leaf Coral Bells (Heuchera ‘Obsidian’) – Zone 4
This is still the darkest form available featuring large, dark purple to almost black, glossy leaves that remain dark all season. The name ‘Obsidian’ refers to a dark, almost black, volcanic glass used as gemstones. Fancy-leaf Coral Bells, in general, are wonderful additions to the shade garden and can withstand sun in cooler regions but where the summers are hot, require shade from the afternoon sun. However, it is particularly important they receive regular moisture so don’t allow to dry out. Small clusters of creamy-white bell flowers appear high over the foliage in late spring to early summer.
9. Hosta ‘Patriot’ – Zone 2
Hosta is, without a doubt, the most popular, most-used and well-known perennial for part-shade to full shade and is especially well-suited for sun-dappled, shady gardens that receive regular moisture. ‘Patriot’ is considered one of the best variegated forms with oval shaped leaves that come to a point on the end. They’re deep green in the centre and have wide, irregular, margins that are creamy-yellow in spring turning white as the season progresses. As an added bonus, lavender flowers appear in late summer.
10. Lenten Rose (Helleborus orientalis Hybrids) – Zone 4
Most Lenten Rose are raised from seed so if you want a particular colour, purchase them at your garden centre when in bloom. Bloom colour ranges from pure to creamy-whites, pinks, dark purple-black and amazing choices in between that even include streaking and spotting. They bloom later than the Christmas Rose (Helleborus niger) and make a spectacular display in the early spring garden. Plant in partial shade to full shade which helps preserve the vibrant colour of both the flowers and leathery, evergreen leaves. They do well under a variety of conditions and soil types, even under trees and shrubs and are long-lived.
11. Not included in the Top 10 Perennials for Shady Gardens (Regular Moisture) because it was included in Top 10 Perennials of the 21st Century was Fern-Leaf Bleedingheart (Dicentra ‘King of Hearts).