The most consuming part of my garden, and probably yours, is keeping ahead of the weeds. It is essential to the success of any garden, but most of all I think it gives you time to think and plan. A good garden design that truly reflects you and your style takes lots of time and thought. Some of my best designs and plant combinations come to me as I am weeding in my garden.
Plant in mass
Recently while weeding a small shady spot, I noticed how great the weeds were doing alongside one lone hosta. A very popular shade-garden perennial, hostas are commonly available in Kentucky, but they are by no means the only shade perennial.
Sometimes shady spots in a garden can appear quite dull and colorless. It can be a little harder to find perennials for shade that flower as profusely as many of the sun lovers do. One way to compensate is to plant in mass instead of in small collections.
Plant a grouping of five plants or more to make a big impact with perennials whose flowers are less predominant, like foam flower, or when perennials bloom for only a short period of time, such as
You can also choose perennials that have strikingly beautiful, intricate, or ornate foliage. I have always been a fan of the big blue-leafed hostas because the foliage alone really brightens up a small space or a dark spot in the garden.
Plant more than hostas
If hostas are holding your shade garden hostage, here are some excellent choices to diversify your shady areas.
Foam flower, Tiarella cordifolia, is an evergreen perennial that prefers a moist, shady spot in the garden, and when planted in a group of five or more makes an impressive statement in bloom. Its intricate heart-shaped leaves are known to turn bronze for the winter.
Green and Gold (also known as goldenstar), Chrysogonum virginianum, is tolerant of heavy shade. Its yellow blooms are more predominant in the spring but it will bloom sporadically throughout the summer and fall. It forms an excellent thick groundcover, which is excellent for weed suppression.
Plumbago or leadwort, Ceratostigma plumbaginoides, is tolerant of a sunny spot but needs protection from the hottest afternoon sun. It is slow to emerge from dormancy in the spring but once it gets up, watch out because it blooms from late spring to fall. I would put this one on my aggressive list because it spreads and fills in a space quickly.
Cranesbill or perennial geraniums are excellent for the shady garden in our area. There are over 200 species known today ranging in size from 6 inches to 3 feet tall, flower color from light pink to dark blue, and with foliage from simply lobed to finely dissected. In moist areas geraniums prosper in full sun, but with so many choices for a sunny garden spot, I like to reserve the perennial geraniums for my shady areas. Geranium x ‘Johnson’s Blue’ is widely available, stands about 15 inches tall, and its clear-blue flowers are simply stunning in May in my garden.
Certainly one of the most beautiful perennials for shade has to be astilbe or false spiraea. Extremely popular, this shade lover is very easy to grow. A single plant is attractive by itself, but a group of five or more will impress even your nongardening friends when it is in bloom. Varieties are available for almost any size garden, ranging in size from 6 inches tall to over 3 feet tall. The plume-like bloom is sturdy, makes an excellent cut flower, and never requires staking. Colors range from pure white to blood red. Astilbe x arendsii ‘Rheinland’ is a very popular cultivar with clear-pink flowers and stands an impressive 2 feet tall.
Live, learn, and grow
The most difficult shady spot to garden is one that is dry. It is difficult to find showy perennials that will do well in this situation, but I am on a quest to discover them. I have some extremely dry shady areas in my front yard thanks to a very large sugar maple. I learned early on that even the best designs can fall apart when the plants won’t grow. That’s okay, because it puts us in a continual state of garden renovation as we live, learn, and grow alongside our gardens.
Striking Shade Perennials
Green and Gold (or goldenstar),
Plumbago or leadwort,
Cranesbill or perennial geranium