“To sit in the shade on a fine day, and look upon verdure is the most perfect refreshment.”
~ Jane Austen
Sunshine usually gets all the accolades—with its heat, colors, warmth, and glow. But shade is just as deserving of attention, giving us cool shelter and moist growth. Many plants prefer shady groves and will turn those dim haunts into verdant understories, if we only give them the chance. Here are perennials that love to grow in the shade!
Hostas are resilient, long-lasting, and popular shade plants. They grow large leaves in many shades of lime green, variegated, or blue-green colors. A large stem rises mysteriously above the foliage and blooms with nodding blue, white, or pink flowers throughout the summer. They’re easily overlooked compared to the sun-loving perennials, but once you appreciate their suitability for the shade, you’ll fall in love with these plants.
Lily of the Valley
This woodland perennial blossoms with a sweet-smelling fragrance in late spring. The bell-shaped flowers rise above tulip-like leaves that reach 6-12” in height. During the summer, the flowers turn into attractive—but inedible—red berries that give extra color to their lush carpet of leaves.
While sunshine is always a gardener’s best friend, shade gives you the chance to grow a different world of plants altogether.
This perennial offers some of the most intriguing flowers of all garden plants, whether they grow in the shade or not. The heart-shaped blossoms hang gracefully from the stems and open towards the earth with drop-like white-petals. The whole plant typically grows 12-18” with spacious green leaves around the strings of flowers and thrives in part shade.
The bright flowers of this perennial look at home under the sun of a prairie meadow. In fact, they can handle full-sun, as long as they have shelter on hot summer afternoons, but astilbes grow best in part shade. Above a ground cover of green leaves, they display flamboyant plumes of red, pink, or white blossoms, usually rising 1-4’ in height. As Astilbes prefer consistently moist soil, put them in an area that tends to stay wet throughout the spring and summer.
Many gardeners often wish they had more shade so they could grow more ferns. These deep-breathing plants give a peaceful mood to any cool, moist grove. It’s a treat to watch the fiddleheads unfurl in the spring, and the green fronds offer steady foliage throughout the summer.
Along with lily of the valley, creeping Jenny can blanket your shady spots in greenery. The round leaves of this groundcover grow more of a golden green in the sun and turn a deeper green in part shade. They look great amidst the crevices of a rock garden, spilling over the edge of a container, or weaving around the base of other perennials.
Vying for hostas as the most popular shade plant, heucheras, also called coral bells, display even flashier foliage. The leaves range from shades of purple, pink, coral, yellow, and sometimes green. From late spring through the summer, multiple stems display clusters of tiny pink or white flowers. The otherworldly mystique of heucheras brings something completely unique to the garden.
They’re technically a small shrub, but many hydrangeas are small enough to fit into your perennial garden. Most varieties like to grow in moist shade. They usually display huge flowerheads of white blossoms, many of which fade to pink by the end of the growing season. Popular in gardens around the Midwest, and all over the world, hydrangeas are one of the most prized garden flowers that grow in the shade.
While sunshine is always a gardener’s best friend, shade gives you the chance to grow a different world of plants altogether. Thriving beneath trees often in dense, lush forests, shade-lovers bring a coolness that’s hard to match in their sun-loving cousins. So before you lament your shadowy garden, appreciate it for what it is and grow some perennials that thrive in the shade!
Platt Hill Nursery is Chicago’s premier garden center and nursery.