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Plant Combinations for a Vibrant Shade Garden

By: Chloe Deike 
Revive your shade garden with contrast and color with these beautiful plant combinations!

Use contrast to create a vibrant shade garden

The shade is a natural place of respite — cool, relaxing, peaceful. But, do you ever collapse into the coolness of your shade garden only to find the sights uninspiring or the maintenance list unending? Choosing easy-to-grow plants with energy and interest makes all the difference. With a little thinking outside the box, you can retreat to an area that rekindles inspiration and leaves you feeling rejuvenated.

The key to establishing a vibrant shade garden is to use contrast in many ways with light, color and texture. Even without the sun, you can make your shade shine by using bright plants, such as the charming ‘Leonore’ trifolium above.

Be creative by choosing atypical plants for the shade, such as tropicals. And because the flowers on many shade plants are insignificant, look to the foliage for color. Play with leaf sizes and heights of plants to add depth and movement. You will not be short of interesting sights to ponder, and soon your shade garden — big or small — can be your greatest muse.

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fp-cb-vibrant-shade-garden-FunwithFoliage LetteredTall: You can overwinter trifolium indoors as a houseplant. Foliage patterns may fade in low indoor lighting but they'll bounce back once they're outdoors again the following spring.

Fun with foliage

The maroon hues of ‘Debbie’ trifolium and the bronze leaves of ‘Whopper Red with Bronze Leaf’ begonia contrast with the limegreen foliage of ‘Leonore’ trifolium, which shouts as the center of attention. The trifoliums bloom briefly in spring, but the foliage is the main event and the consistent bright red begonia blossoms are a trusty companion; you can depend on this look from spring through fall. This three-piece combo is great repeated along the edge of a pathway or in a container on your shaded patio, where the trifolium will trail over the edge. To keep trifolium sprightly, allow the soil to dry out between watering, fertilize twice a month, and be sure that they are greeted with some morning sun, as all of these plants love the sun as much as the shade.

A) Begonia (Begonia semperflorens Whopper® ‘Red with Bronze Leaf’)
Type Tender perennial (grown as an annual) Blooms Red blossoms spring through fall Light Part shade Size 30 to 34 in. tall, 15 to 24 in. wide Hardiness Cold-hardy in USDA zones 10 to 11, heat-tolerant in AHS zones 12 to 1

B) Trifolium (Trifolium Limerick™ ‘Leonore’)
Type Tender perennial (grown as an annual) Blooms White blossoms in spring, bright green center with slight maroon fringe and pale green-edged foliage Light Part sun Size 4 in. tall, 8 to 10 in. wide Hardiness Cold-hardy in USDA zones 7 to 11, heat-tolerant in AHS zones 12 to 1

C) Trifolium (Trifolium Limerick™ ‘Debbie’)
Type Tender perennial (grown as an annual) Blooms White blossoms in spring, bright green and maroon-edged foliage Light Part sun Size 4 in. tall, 8 to 10 in. wide Hardiness Cold-hardy in USDA zones 7 to 11, heat-tolerant in AHS zones 12 to 1

fp-cb-vibrant-shade-garden-OppositesAttract Lettered: Lighter colors like the yellow variegation of the shell ginger and the chartreuse creeping Jenny help bring light to shady spots.

Opposites attract

Take a bow, shell ginger! The best way to build off of the excitement of this unique plant is to add plants that are nothing like it. Plants of opposite color, like the purple shades of impatiens, purple heart and elephant ear, pleasantly interrupt the mass of variegated green. The elephant ear looms, and creeping Jenny crawls for playful height difference, but they also offer a needed cohesiveness as they spread alongside the ginger. Depending on amounts of shade, the elephant ear will grow even larger; the more shade, the bigger the leaves. Where they are hardy elephant ear grows taller — sometimes 12 to 15 feet —but in colder climates, where the rhizomes are dug up and stored inside for winter, plants stay around 6 to 8 feet tall. (You'll need to dig and store the ginger rhizomes, too.) The impatiens bloom spring through fall, so this colorful sight will always greet you. Even though their differences are attractive, these plants do share important commonalities: part shade, well-drained soil and consistent moisture.

A) Elephant ear (Alocasia macrorrhiza ’Black Stem’)
Type Tender perennial (often grown as an annual or brought indoors for winter) Blooms Dimpled, heart-shaped leaves with deep purple stems and veins Light Part shade Size 6 to 8 ft. tall, 4 to 6 ft. wide Hardiness Cold-hardy in USDA zones 9 to 11, heat-tolerant in AHS zones 12 to 1

B) Shell ginger (Alpinia zerumbet ‘Variegata’)
Type Tender perennial Blooms White flowers in spring, green-and-yellow variegated foliage Light Full sun to part shade Size 2 to 4 ft. tall and wide Hardiness Cold-hardy in USDA zones 8 to 10, heat-tolerant in AHS zones 12 to 1

C) Purple heart (Tradescantia pallida ‘Purpurea’)
Type Perennial Blooms Pale pink blossoms in summer, purple, lance-shaped foliage Light Full sun to part shade Size 8 to 12 in. tall, 15 to 24 in. wide Hardiness Cold-hardy in USDA zones 8 to 11, heat-tolerant in AHS zones 12 to 1

D) Creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’) 
Type Perennial Blooms Yellow flowers in summer, round yellow-gold foliage Light Full sun to full shade Size 3 to 6 in. tall, 12 to 18 in. wide Hardiness Cold-hardy in USDA zones 3 to 9, heat-tolerant in AHS zones 9 to 1

E) Impatiens (Impatiens SunPatiens® Compact Orchid)
Type Tender perennial (grown as an annual) Blooms Lilac flowers spring to frost Light Full sun to part shade Size 14 to 28 in. tall, 14 to 24 in. wide Hardiness Cold-hardy in USDA zones 10 to 11, heat-tolerant in AHS zones 12 to 1

F) Impatiens (Impatiens SunPatiens® Spreading Shell Pink)
Type Tender perennial (grown as an annual) Blooms Pink-coral flowers spring to frost Light Full sun to part shade Size 20 to 36 in. tall, 24 to 36 in. wide Hardiness Cold-hardy in USDA zones 10 to 11, heat-tolerant in AHS zones 12 to 1

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Published: March 12, 2018
Updated: March 16, 2021
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