Light Up the Shade with Colorful Flowers and Foliage Light Up the Shade with Colorful Flowers and Foliage

Nothing shouts "joy" quite like color in the shade. And flowers? Oh yes, there are many to choose from. In late winter there is the dainty crocus shouting "look at me" through the melting snow. In early spring there is the merry violet blooming deep purple beneath the bare branches of the Silver Maple. The Redbud tree is glorious in brilliant shades of fuchsia pea-sized blooms. Flowering Bradford Pears line the entrance to many small cities and towns, and Dogwood lights up the forest with its brilliant white bracts that last for weeks.

What happens, however, when the trees leaf out and that sparkling sunshine disappears beneath the shady oaks and maples? Surprisingly, beneath the shadow of the trees color abounds, if you plan your shady garden well. Interspersed amongst the coleus, caladium, and the hostas, colorful though they may be, there is room for beautiful flowering plants that bloom best in the shade.

  • Primrose (Primula): Radiant in dappled shade, asking only for rich, moist soil, is Primula X polyantha 'Pacific Giant' Mix. Ideal for edging your shady garden, 'Pacific Giant' blooms in a dizzying array of colors from gold to red to purple to multi. The blooms are huge and look just like little bouquets that literally eclipse the deep green foliage in spring. On the other hand, Primula X Polyantha 'Elizabeth Killelay' can take a bit of sun and stress. Where other Primulas may be devoured by rabbits, 'Elizabeth Killelay' fights back with even more blooms. Its deep red blossoms, edged in white, are a sight to behold. Both varieties are shade lovers and bloom in Spring. Height: 10 inches. Zone: 4-8.

  • Hosta (Hosta): These glorious plants with their colorful mum-like foliage also sport blooms, and some quite spectacular too, often 4 feet tall. 'Fujibotan' has dozens of blooms, sweetly fragrant and a lovely lavender hue. 'Aphrodite' has uniquely double, extra-large white blooms, which give off a heavenly scent in the late summer garden. Another incredible Hosta with fragrant white blooms is 'Venus,' and aptly named for its twice-double blooms that are 5 inches across! This radiant gem with its leathery green leaves is the last Hosta to bloom, in late summer or early fall. Hostas come in a variety of heights, widths, and colors. It is a very forgiving plant for those of us who often neglect the shade garden, and it is always beautiful. Zone: 3-9.

  • Coral Bells (Heuchera): I cannot say enough about Coral Bells. They are simply breathtaking in the shady garden. They love moist soil, and they come in a gorgeous array of colors, from golden 'Amber Waves' to heat and humidity tolerant, bronze 'Caramel.' From the magenta colored leaves of 'Sparkling Burgundy' to the lovely 'Lime Ricky' there is a foliage color and texture to delight every gardener. All have airy blooms; however, there are a few cultivars that have spectacular blossoms. New 'Hollywood,' with its dark purple foliage, begins blooming coral-red in spring, then continues all summer. 'Viking Ship' is not only disease resistant, but it dazzles the eye with bright pink blooms from early summer until fall. Heuchera 'Strawberry Swirl' has dozens of radiant, airy-pink blooms in early summer, then stands up to drought with its delightful silver foliage for the rest of the season. Heuchera comes in a variety of heights and widths, from fairly large to quite dainty. Zones: 3-9.

  • Astible (Astible): Radiant Astible is an all-time favorite of shade gardeners. Tall, airy plumes simply burst from the lovely foliage, in a dazzling array of colors. With careful selection you can expect a long bloom season, from June through August. Astilbe prefers deep-rich, moisture-retentive soil, and if it is properly mulched, it will perform well in clay as well. 'Rheinland' has bright pink blooms that simply cover the foliage, while 'Visions in Red' sports compact, vibrant red plumes, and it is very drought tolerant. 'Snowdrift' is a wonderful new cultivar, which blooms in pure white, and 'Purple Lance' is a deep, purple-red. Height: from 15 inches to 4 feet. Zone: 4-8.

  • Bleeding Heart (Dicentra): No spring shade garden is complete without 'King of Hearts' Dicentra. One of my mother's all-time favorites, I always make room for this elegant plant. Heart-shaped, rosy-pink flowers bloom non-stop above lacy blue foliage, all season long. It also likes sun, yet it will bloom in deep shade, as long as it is in rich, moist soil. 12 to 15 inches high and as wide. Zone: 4-9.

  • Bugbane (Cimicifuga Ramosa): If you have a taste for the unusual, you will love this elegant plant. The deep purple, almost black fern-like foliage grows 5 to 6 feet high all season long. In fall the real show begins with 5 to 6 feet stalks that sport huge, bottle-brush white blooms that are fragrant and real traffic stoppers. 'Hillside Black Beauty' is tissue propagated, breath-taking, and best of all nematode free. Grows best in a cool location and moisture retentive soil. Height: 5-6 feet. Zone: 4-8.

When beginning a blooming shade garden, remember to judge a plant by its size at maturity. It can take up to 3 years for perennial shade bloomers to become fully established. So give them plenty of room. Fill in with annual shade bloomers, such as impatiens, or lovely coleus with its spectacular foliage. And speaking of spectacular, if you've never grown Persian Shield (Strobilanthes Dyerianus), now is the time to discover this plant. Its gorgeous metallic-purple, sword-like leaves are so showy, you will dread the thought of losing it in the fall to frost. It is hardy to zone 8. It has insignificant purple blooms, but nip them off, as the foliage puts on the real show.

Remember to mulch every plant. Newspaper is a good first layer, then cover with pine needles or shredded bark, the smaller the shreds the better. Keep the soil evenly moist, and wait for the compliments. Better yet, just stand back and enjoy the show.

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