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Showy Shade Garden Ideas

By: Sherri RibbeySherri Ribbey
Create a beautiful shade garden with these interesting plant combinations that showcase foliage and shade-blooming flowers to provide interest all season.

Planting ideas for your shade garden

Shade gardens are often the perfect spots for seating areas or getaways. Under the shelter of a mature tree or a structure, the temperatures are usually a bit cooler and it’s easier to get the sense of privacy or seclusion that helps when you’re creating a calming retreat. And shade gardens often require less maintenance: Out of direct sun, the soil holds moisture longer and weeds don’t sprout so readily. Apply a couple inches of organic mulch each year and your work load will be even lighter. Now let’s take a look at some plants that can help you upgrade your shade borders or create an area where you can kick back and relax. 


Showcase foliage in shade

It’s true that there aren’t as many plants with showy flowers for shade gardens as there are for sunny spots. But that doesn’t mean a border has to be boring. Mix up the planting with a variety of leaf shapes and colors. Here, the broad green hosta leaves make a great contrast to the burgundy coral bells at the front of this border. With just a few pansies for a pop of color, you can have an amazing all-season show. Repeating the coral bells along the edge with more pansies provides a cohesive look.

Back-of-the-border ligularia has dramatic yellow spikes that last for several weeks. But even when they fade, the attractive heart-shaped, heavily toothed leaves provide plenty of interest. Give this perennial regular deep watering to prevent crispy leaf edges. Deadheading the tall spent bloom scapes of the ligularia, hosta and coral bells below the mound of foliage will keep the border looking tidy.

Shade Garden Combination by Tera's garden with letter labels: Bright yellow flowers from ligularia add punctuation at the back of this shade garden border.

A) Pansy (Viola Delta™ Premium Pure Orange) 
Perennial; 3-in. bright orange flowers from spring to fall; full sun to part shade; 6 to 8 in. tall, 8 to 10 in. wide; cold hardy in USDA zones 5 to 8

B) Coral bells (Heuchera ‘Silver Scrolls’)
Perennial; small white flowers in late spring to midsummer; dark purple leaves with a lacy silver overlay; full sun to part shade; 8 to 12 in. tall (24 in. in bloom), 12 to 18 in. wide; cold hardy in USDA zones 4 to 9

C) Hosta (Hosta ‘Francee’)
Perennial; trumpet-shaped lavender blooms from mid- to late summer; dark green leaves with a white margin; part to full shade; 12 to 24 in. tall (30 in. in bloom), 24 to 36 in. wide; cold hardy in USDA zones 3 to 9

D) Hosta (Hosta ‘Patriot’)
Perennial; trumpet-shaped lavender blooms in summer; dark green leaves with irregular white margins; part to full shade; 12 to 18 in. tall (34 in. in bloom), 24 to 36 in. wide; cold hardy in USDA zones 3 to 9

E) Clustered bellflower (Campanula glomerata ‘Superba’)
Perennial; clusters of 2-in. tubular deep purple blooms from early to midsummer; full sun to part shade; 18 to 30 in. tall, 12 to 24 in. wide; cold hardy in USDA zones 3 to 8

F) Ligularia (Ligularia ‘The Rocket’)
Perennial; densely packed yellow midsummer flower spikes; large, serrated heart-shaped leaves; part to full shade; 3 to 5 ft. tall, 2 to 4 ft. wide; cold hardy in USDA zones 4 to 9

G) Globeflower (Trollius chinensis ‘Golden Queen’) Perennial; 2- to 3-in. yellow-orange blooms from late spring to midsummer; full sun to part shade; 24 to 36 in. tall, 18 to 24 in. wide; cold hardy in USDA zones 3 to 7

You Might Also Like:
How To Grow Pansies
Best Hosta Varieties for Your Garden
Colorful Shade Garden Combinations


Lungwort impations combo 174 lettered: Beacon impatiens pair perfectly with silver foliage of pulmonaria along a shady pathway.

Create a colorful path in shade

Bedding impatiens are a shade garden classic. They’re so easy to grow, and come in a wide range of colors. The Beacon series above is all that and super resistant to downy mildew, a fungus that’s devastating to impatiens. Pulmonaria’s silvery foliage catches the light near this part-shade pathway and really makes this combo pop.

A) Pulmonaria (Pulmonaria ‘Silver Bouquet’)
Perennial; blue to pink spring flowers arrive before the mound of silver leaves; part to full shade; 7 to 10 in. tall, 18 to 20 in. wide; cold hardy in USDA zones 4 to 9

B) Impatiens (Impatiens Beacon® Bright Red)
Tender perennial (usually grown as an annual); red flowers from late spring to frost; part to full shade; 14 to 18 in. tall, 12 to 18 in. wide; cold hardy in USDA zones 9 to 11

C) Impatiens (Impatiens Beacon® Coral)
Tender perennial (usually grown as an annual); coral flowers from late spring to frost; part to full shade; 14 to 18 in. tall, 12 to 18 in. wide; cold hardy in USDA zones 9 to 11


Shade garden combination with hydrangea and hakonechloa: Japanese painted fern and chartreuse foliage from hakonechloa add texture and color to a shady spot.

Add texture to shade borders

The unusual red-flowered ‘Beni’ mountain hydrangea has lacecap flowers that add to the textural look of this planting and performs best in part shade (4 to 6 hours of light per day). Too much sun causes the flower color to fade. All of the plants in this border grow best with consistent moisture.

A) Mountain hydrangea (Hydrangea serrata ‘Beni’)
Shrub; white lacecap flowers blush pink then mature to red in summer to fall; full sun to part shade; 4 ft. tall and wide; cold hardy in USDA zones 6 to 9

B) Japanese painted fern (Athyrium niponicum var. pictum ‘Ursula’s Red’)
Perennial; silver-gray foliage has a red blush along the central stem, especially near the tip; part to full shade; 12 to 18 in. tall and wide; cold hardy in USDA zones 5 to 8

C) Hakonechloa (Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’)
Perennial; insignificant yellow-green flowers in late summer to fall; part to full shade; 1 to 2 ft. tall and wide; cold hardy in USDA zones 5 to 9

You Might Also Like:
Best Shade Garden Plants
Garden Plans for Shade Gardens
Tour a Southern Shade Garden | Talk & Tour Video

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Product Recommendations

Here are some supplies and tools we find essential in our everyday work in the garden. We may receive a commission from sales referred by our links; however, we have carefully selected these products for their usefulness and quality.

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Related Tags

annuals tender perennials garden design issue 174 november december 2023 part shade perennials plant combos shade spring summer

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