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A Lovely Pairing for the Shade

By: Garden Gate staff
If your border is short on sunlight, fill it up with this lush, shade-loving combo. Your garden will look fresh all season long.


Looking to step up your shade garden? The answer is in the foliage. Keep the shade garden elegant with lady fern. Bright green, lacy fronds stand erect. At 1 to 3 ft. tall, it’s perfectly poised to be a focal point midborder, its upright shape leaving room for low-growing, shade-loving plants around the base, like this ‘Jack Frost’ brunnera.

Compared to other ferns, lady fern is more drought-tolerant, although it prefers damp soil. If the soil is consistently moist, it can manage in full sun, too. But it is most commonly planted in part or full shade. Pretty, red-hued spring fiddleheads — furled fronds — add some interesting contrast to the consistently green foliage.

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Shade-loving brunnera’s bristly, heart-shaped leaves brushed with silver are about 8 in. across and look good all season. It tops out at about 18 in. so it belongs in the front of the shade border or as a ground cover. Even though the foliage is the main attraction, clouds of tiny blue flowers float above the foliage for several weeks in spring. Not only does it look great, it’s also easy to care for. Moist and shady areas and 3 in. of mulch should keep watering to a minimum, even during dry spells. To keep your plant looking its best, divide it every three or four years. Scroll down for more growing information, or check out another great combo for plants that thrive in dappled sunlight.

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Plants for This Shade Combo


A) Lady fern (Athyrium filix-femina)
Type Perennial Blooms Vibrant green foliage but doesn’t flower Light Full sun to full shade Soil Moist, well-drained Size 8 to 36 in. tall, 10 to 30 in. wide Hardiness Cold zones 4 to 8

B) Brunnera (Brunnera spp. and hybrids)
Type Perennial Blooms Small blue in spring Light Part to full shade Soil Moist, well-drained Size 12 to 18 in. tall, 12 to 24 in. wide Hardiness Cold zones 3 to 9

Published: June 19, 2018

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