Under trees and shrubs, where the sunbeams play, filtered by leaves into patches of light that dance over the ground, it’s pleasantly cool and there’s a deliciously secretive atmosphere — and the subtle differences between shades of green are better appreciated here than anywhere else. Shady places are anything but ‘problem areas.’ There’s a great variety of perennials that flourish in shady conditions.

First, to build the framework for a successful shade bed, incorporate some eye-catching ornamental foliage plants: ferns, hostas, and shade-loving grasses fit the bill. A plant like Japanese forest grass (Hakonechloa) forms lush cushions of elegantly cascading stalks and is a nice focal point for modernist or Asian-themed gardens.

Charm in full bloom and year-round

Just because you’re working with a shady spot doesn’t mean you have to do without flowers. Early spring bloomers amenable to shade include the anemone or windflower (Anemone blanda, A. nemorosa). Although only 6 in/15 cm tall, they are resilient and, over the years, will form thick carpets of flowers in white, pink, and purple. Along the edges of bed, little treasures like liverwort (Hepatica), spring cyclamen (Cyclamen coup), and the August-to-October blooming fall cyclamen (Cyclamen hederifolium) will blossom in the prettiest way. In autumn, fortune saxifrage (Saxifraga cortusifolia var. fortune) opens its vibrant, white-to-purple flowers. And the Christmas rose (Helleborus niger) blooms even in the depths of winter.

Spots of color — for every spot

Naturally, in part-shade and full-shade areas, it’s the relatively subdued tones that prevail, but there are also plants with bold color that will thrive here. Take the flashy, torch-like blossoms of the Astilbe, for example: in addition to pastel colored varieties, there are some that bloom flame red. For light shade, there are many day lilies (Hemerocallis) that will feel right at home and reward the patient gardener with vibrant shades of yellow and orange. Even when you’re beautify a spot in the shadow of a home or other structure, you won’t have to look far to find attractive flowering plants, from bleeding heart (Dicentra spectabilis ‘Goldheart’) to wolfsbane/aconite (Aconitum vulparia), different varieties of cranesbill (Geranium), the impressive goat’s beard (Aruncus dioicus), and fairy wings (Epimedium), which have multiple tiny flowers that form a refined, yellow filigree.

The extreme case: Dry and shady

Where full shade meets dry soil, only the specialists will do. For grasses, consider planting types of sedge (Carex) and rush (Luzula). Easy-care ground covers like a color of deadnettle (Lamium) or the wintergreen, bright yellow-blooming barren strawberry (Waldsteinia) can also come in handy when planting bare patches of earth. And King Solomon’s-seal (Polygonatum), with its architectural form, is a great structuring element that suits both formal and cottage garden designs.


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