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Elegant Shade Plants

Gardening in the shade provides a huge opportunity to create stunning spaces with plants arranged for contrasting texture, foliage, color, and flowers. Using purple foliage can be a strategic way to get the contrast and color variation that will help create a rich and varied tapestry. For dark foliage I suggest Hillside Black Beauty Bugbane (Actaea simplex `Hillside Black Beauty’), a selection of one of our native woodland plants. The deep purple (almost black) foliage is dramatic through the summer in full to partial shade. It likes a bit of gentle morning sun with a moist site and can grow up to 4 feet when in bloom. The spikes of cream colored flowers in late summer have been described as “luminous wands” floating in the late afternoon light offering an incredible sweet, fruity, delightful fragrance.

For contrast, the variegated lily-of-the-valley (Convallaria majalis `Albostriata’) has striking, longitudinally golden/white striped leaves. The pendent, bell shaped flowers are beautifully scented. The plant is easy to grow in shade and it may revert to green leaves – if it does just cut back the green leaves so that the variegated leaves will thrive. It is a low growing plant only about 10 to 12 inches tall. Since the plant is poisonous, gardens used by children should avoid planting it. Lily-of-the-valley flowers are known in France as muguet and are the source of excellent perfume. Flowers were also used in the wedding bouquet of Prince William and Catherine Middleton.

Maidenhair fern (Adiantum pedatum) is incredibly beautiful in a shade garden due to its dainty bright green fronds, dark (almost black), shiny stems, and leaves in a graceful fan-like pattern. The delicate, light, airy texture makes it well suited to planting next to plants with broads leaves to achieve foliage contrast. Plants grow approximately one to two feet tall and wide. In the garden it prefers a rich, loose soil and can be seen as a native plant in the moist forests of Eastern North America.

A low growing ,compact, clump forming plant for shade is the Sugar and Spice foam flower (Tiarella `Sugar and Spice’). The scalloped leaves are topped with long lasting frosted pink blooms that are slightly fragrant. Leaves have central veins with cinnamon-maroon coloring making them quite exquisite. Plants only get 6 to 12 inches tall and the same wide with blooms appearing in April or May. Cutting back the old flowers will help improve the foliage through long seasons since the plants are semi-evergreen.

Hellebores have been a rage among gardeners for a number of years. Many people agree that the best of all is Penny’s Pink (Helleborus x `Penny’s Pink’). The stunning news leaves in spring have pinkish veined centers amid marbled silvery green leaves. The 3 inch rosy pink flowers have beautiful yellow stamens on burgundy stems. Plants grow in solid clumps around 20 inches wide getting up to 14 inches tall. I found plants at a recent plant sale at the American Horticultural Society and was thrilled to add them into a dry part of my shade garden – the plants brought the entire area to life because of the stunning foliage.

Since there are so many plant choices these days, I selected five of my favorite shade plants for your consideration in hopes that it will make it easier when you go plant shopping.


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