How To Create A Colorful, Long-Lasting Shade Garden

by Amanda

Garden filled with Hostas, Geranium and Lamium all in bloom

This shade-loving perennial garden includes Hostas, Geranium and Lamium.

Gardening in shade can sometimes be challenging, but doesn’t have to be frustrating! Turn your shady areas into colorful showpieces by first defining what type of shade you have and choosing varieties that will bloom all season long. There are enough shade-loving perennials and bulbs to fit any gardener’s landscaping needs – we promise!

Defining Shade

A common misnomer among gardeners (myself included at one point) is that all shade is the same. That couldn' be further from the truth – growing a successful shade garden rests upon your ability to accurately define the type of shade you have in your area. That will be integral to deciding which plants will thrive in your garden.

  • Full Sun: Let’s define full sun as the type of light you see in open meadows and areas with no tree cover. This means that the area gets 10 or more hours of sun per day.
  • Partial Sun: This type of light can be found on the edge of trees and woods, but not directly underneath tree cover. This means the area gets 5 to 10 hours of sun per day.
  • Partial Shade (sometimes called Open Shade): Light shining through widespread tree cover produces partial shade, meaning this area gets less than five hours of sun per day. Also found in the shadows cast by tall structures for part of the day, or on the north side of buildings.
  • Full Shade: Heavily wooded forests and woodlands offer up full shade, meaning there is never really any direct sunlight hitting the ground.

Most of us think of partial shade when we think of shade; which means the landscape gets about 5 hours or less per day. Good news: there are plenty of varieties that thrive in this type of sunlight!

Bleeding hearts blooming in a shade garden

Bleeding Hearts are a true conversation-starter in any shade garden.

Perennials For Shade

With dozens of plants to choose from, there is plenty of fun to be had planning your shade garden for this season!

Astilbe is one of our favorite perennials for a creating a colorful display under trees and in shady areas around the border of your garden. Spiky, textured blooms are offset by spectacular foliage. These native beauties offer up color mid-season and come with an exciting bonus: fabulous cut flowers!

Hostas are often the stars of the shade garden, offering up great economic value. Plant just one and in a few years you’ll have several to work with! Hostas are perfect for lining walks, edging gardens and creating dramatic accents in almost any spot.

Bleeding Hearts not only thrive in the shade, but offer up a true conversation piece in the early spring garden. These colorful perennials illuminate any shady setting with their heart-shaped blooms. Pair them with Hostas or ferns for some classic drama.

Ajuga is a shade-loving groundcover that has endless possibilities in the landscape. It spreads easily and offers up evergreen foliage that carpets the garden floor. Tip: don’t plant too near a heavily-watered lawn as it could spread and take over (which could be a good thing, depending on who you’re talking to).

Coral Bells, also known as Heuchera, is another shade-loving foliage favorite. This unique perennial adds year-long interest to the shade garden and comes in a variety of rich colors.

Geranium is an extremely easy-to-grow perennial that only gets to be only about 12" tall, making it perfect for containers and border gardens.

Ferns are a classic shade favorite, often becoming the backdrop for your favorite blooms. Not only do ferns add background and contrast to your shade garden, but also make for fabulous additions to any cut flower arrangement.

Lamium is a low-growing perennial favorite that is extremely adaptable and versatile. Lamium forms a low, spreading mat on the garden floor that blooms in the late spring garden.

Woodland Wildflowers are the perfect choice for gardeners with partial to full shade and moist, rich soil. Trillium, Foam Flower, Virgina Bluebells and Solomon’s Seal are just a few of many show-stopping woodland plants, that will thrive in almost any shady garden.

  1. Japanese Sedge Grass Everillo filling out a container planting

    EverColor 'Everillo' Sedge Grass shines with golden foliage that lights up the shade garden. Part of the popular EverColor Series, foliage emerges lime green and shifts to a sunny ye...

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    EverColor® Everillo Sedge Grass Everillo Japanese Sedge Grass PP#21002 Carex oshimensis EverColor® Everillo PP#21002
    As low as $24.98 Sale $12.49
    Per Plant - 3.5" Pot
    EverColor 'Everillo' Sedge Grass shines with golden foliage that lights up the shade garden. Part of the popular EverColor Series, foliage emerges lime green and shifts to a sunny yellow, adding vibrant texture and year-long color to the landscape. A versatile, low-maintenance groundcover or edging plant for wet or dry shade. Perfect for edging woodland pathways and shady planting beds. Add 'Everillo' to containers and window boxes for evergreen color and lush texture. Deer resistant. (Carex oshimensis)
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  2. Pink Ajuga Pink Lightning, Ajuga reptans, Bugleweed

    'Pink Lightning' Ajuga is a fast-growing groundcover with a unique look. Soft, sage green leaves are trimmed with cream edges, creating a beautiful backdrop for the bubblegum-pink fl...

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    Pink Lightning Ajuga Pink Lightning Bugleweed PP#22255 Ajuga reptans Pink Lightning PP#22255
    As low as $10.98 Sale $5.99
    Per Plant - 3" Pot

    'Pink Lightning' Ajuga is a fast-growing groundcover with a unique look. Soft, sage green leaves are trimmed with cream edges, creating a beautiful backdrop for the bubblegum-pink flower spikes that appear in late spring. Attractive to butterflies and hummingbirds, 'Pink Lightning' will spread rapidly when well-watered. (Ajuga) PP#22255

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  3. Coral Bells Champagne Heuchera with flowers - Photo courtesy of TERRA NOVA® Nurseries, Inc.

    'Champagne' Coral Bells has it all, with a compact form and foliage that changes from peach to gold and then to champagne-gold over the season. Its colorful foliage is accented by bu...

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    Champagne Coral Bells Coral Bells Champagne PP#27567 Heuchera villosa Champagne PP#27567
    $27.98 Sale $13.99
    Per Plant - 3" Pot
    'Champagne' Coral Bells has it all, with a compact form and foliage that changes from peach to gold and then to champagne-gold over the season. Its colorful foliage is accented by burgundy stems of light peach bell-shaped flowers that bloom most of the summer. A perfect choice for a border or container, or plant them in groups for pizazz! (Heuchera)
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Bulbs For Shade

anemone in bloom

Anemones offer quick-blooming, unique flowers in the shade garden or containers.

Although there aren’t as many shade-loving bulbs to choose from as perennials, you’d be surprised at the spectacular color you can add to your shady spot (even in containers!).

Caladium Bulbs are some of the easiest bulbs to grow in the shade. Simply drop them into the soil once the ground temperatures are above freezing and in just a few weeks you’ll be experiencing huge, vibrantly-colored foliage. Caladium are also perfect for containers.

Begonias offer huge, spectacular blooms in the summer shade garden. They thrive in containers and can be brought inside as a house plant when frost threatens at the end of the season. Begonias like regular feeding and care, but are definitely worth the effort!

Anemones are an extremely unique-looking flower that can be planted in the fall or spring. Large, velvety blooms create a dramatic statement in any shady spot and are magical in containers.  

  1. Cascading Begonia Mix

    The Cascading Begonia Mix produces blooms of peach, pink, yellow, red and white that tumble down the sides of patio pots and hanging baskets, creating an upbeat display of season-lon...

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    Cascading Begonia Mix Cascading Begonia Mix Begonia Cascade Odorosa Mix
    As low as $19.98 Sale $9.99
    Per Bag of 3
    The Cascading Begonia Mix produces blooms of peach, pink, yellow, red and white that tumble down the sides of patio pots and hanging baskets, creating an upbeat display of season-long color. Perfect for shadier spots that need a lively burst of cheer and charm, begonias scalloped petals play perfectly off their lush and lasting foliage. Extremely easy to care for. (Begonia)
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  2. ‘Red Flash’ Fancy Leaf Caladium, Caladium Red Flash, Red and Green Foliage

    The large multi-colored leaves of ‘Red Flash’ Fancy Leaf Caladium add lush, long-lasting, tropical color to the shade garden. Each heart-shaped, olive green leaf is painted with ...

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    Red Flash Caladium Red Flash Caladium Caladium Red Flash
    $16.98 Sale $8.49
    Per Bag of 3
    The large multi-colored leaves of ‘Red Flash’ Fancy Leaf Caladium add lush, long-lasting, tropical color to the shade garden. Each heart-shaped, olive green leaf is painted with a burst of red veining and a splattering of pink freckles that respond with vigor as summer’s heat and humidity build. An exotic foliage accent that’s sure to attract attention – particularly in your containers, beds and borders! (Caladium)
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  3. Gloxinia Mix - Red & Purple in a container

    Each cluster of bell-shaped blooms in this Gloxinia Mix struts its stuff for up to ten weeks! With a mix of vibrant purple, magenta, and white-edged bicolor blooms, this spring-plant...

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    Gloxinia Mix Gloxinia Mix
    $39.98 Sale $29.99
    Per Bag of 3
    Each cluster of bell-shaped blooms in this Gloxinia Mix struts its stuff for up to ten weeks! With a mix of vibrant purple, magenta, and white-edged bicolor blooms, this spring-planted tuber is suited to pots and borders alike. And, with a little care, the plants can be kept for many years. (Sinningia speciosa)
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  4. Caladium Bulbs Carolyn Whorton, Caladium, Fancy Leaf Caladium

    Only 18" tall, 'Carolyn Wharton' Caladium has speckly pink leaves with wide green margins. An excellent container plant in shady areas, use foliage-rich caladium to provide a sense o...

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    Carolyn Whorton Caladium Carolyn Whorton Fancy Leaf Caladium Caladium Carolyn Whorton
    $16.98 Sale $11.99
    Per Bag of 3
    Only 18" tall, 'Carolyn Wharton' Caladium has speckly pink leaves with wide green margins. An excellent container plant in shady areas, use foliage-rich caladium to provide a sense of inviting relaxation in your outdoor rooms and patio sitting areas. (Caladium)
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Wildflowers For Shade

Foxglove is a spectacular addition to any meadow or garden and thrives in partial shade.

Wildflowers are a little trickier – most wildflowers prefer full to partial sun (at least 8 hours per day), but there are several varietiesthat thrive in shadier areas.

Sweet Alyssum is a quick-blooming annual that has been a staple of the meadow and garden for centuries. 

Foxglove is a spectacular cottage garden favorite that looks fantastic in shady gardens or cut for spectacular summer bouquets.

Big Leaf Aster is a native wildflower that offers up delicate color in the fall garden, giving pollinators something to feed on after much of the garden has gone dormant for the season.

Blue Columbine’s lacy foliage provides the perfect backdrop for rich, blue and white spurred blooms. This native wildflower blooms in the late spring.

We bring all of our shade-loving wildflower favorites together in our Partial Shade Mix, which includes 26 varieties that can be planted in just 4 or more hours of sunlight per day.

  1. Partial Shade Wildflower Seed Mix with Forget-Me-Nots, California Poppies, and Catchfly

    Partial Shade Wildflower Seed Mix is a colorful, varied mix of 26 annual and perennial wildflowers. A complementary color palette of pinks, reds, blues, and golds will brighten up an...

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    Partial Shade Wildflower Seed Mix Partial Shade Wildflower Seed Mix
    As low as $10.95
    Per 1/4 Pound
    Partial Shade Wildflower Seed Mix is a colorful, varied mix of 26 annual and perennial wildflowers. A complementary color palette of pinks, reds, blues, and golds will brighten up any part-shade garden or meadow for many seasons to come. Hearty blooms will attract pollinators from summer through fall. Plant in an area with at least 4 hours of sun per day. This mix contains 100% pure, non-GMO and neonicotinoid-free seeds, and is guaranteed to grow.
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  2. Blue Forget Me Not Seeds, Myosotis sylvatica

    A popular wildflower around the world, Forget-Me-Not’s soft blue blooms with charming yellow centers delight in the early season garden or meadow. Whether you’re planting to cele...

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    Forget Me Not Seeds Forget Me Not Myosotis sylvatica
    As low as $31.95
    Per 1/4 Pound
    A popular wildflower around the world, Forget-Me-Not’s soft blue blooms with charming yellow centers delight in the early season garden or meadow. Whether you’re planting to celebrate the life of a loved one, or simply love watching the delicate blue blooms sway gently in the breeze, this wildflower always brings a sense of joy to the landscape. Forget-me-nots tolerate shade and partial shade, as well as moist soil and humid environments. All of the seed we carry at American Meadows is non-GMO, neonicotinoid-free and guaranteed to grow. Perennial.
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  3. White Sweet Alyssum Seeds, Lobularia maritima

    This quick-blooming, fragrant annual has been a staple of the meadow and garden for centuries. Although blooming mostly white, Sweet Alyssum will sometimes surprise with a touch of p...

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    Sweet Alyssum Seeds Sweet Alyssum Lobularia maritima
    As low as $15.95
    Per 1/4 Pound
    This quick-blooming, fragrant annual has been a staple of the meadow and garden for centuries. Although blooming mostly white, Sweet Alyssum will sometimes surprise with a touch of pink blooms. Growing to be 8-16” tall, this smaller beauty can be planted in the front of the garden or meadow or even in containers. Sweet Alyssum is deer resistant and tolerates partial shade. All of the seed we handle at American Meadows is non-GMO, neonicotinoid-free and guaranteed to grow. Annual.
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  4. Foxglove Seeds, Digitalis purpurea

    A famous medicinal (used for heart medicine), Foxglove is native to England; blooms in light shade up to 5 ft. Biennial....

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    Foxglove Seeds Foxglove Digitalis purpurea
    As low as $35.95
    Per 1/4 Pound
    A famous medicinal (used for heart medicine), Foxglove is native to England; blooms in light shade up to 5 ft. Biennial.
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Now that you’ve defined which type of shade you have and browsed through a wide variety of shade-loving plants, all that’s left is the fun part – selecting your plants and getting them into the garden.

Happy Gardening!

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