In the Pacific Northwest, many homeowners have a shady spot in their garden. An old, second-growth cedar or fir might take up an entire corner, a neighbor’s giant magnolia or purple leaf plum might create a wide, encompassing shadow. So what to do. With some fresh compost and occasional supplemental water, you can grow a lovely shade garden. And it doesn’t have to be all ferns and salal either. Many perennials offer brilliant foliage color that contrasts nicely for a vibrant, engaging effect. Here are some of my favorite shade perennials that deserve more attention.
Heuchera ‘Georgia Peach’
Is that orangey-red color stunning or what? There are a ton of heucheras on the market now, unfortunately, they all seem to cost and arm and a leg, so what I do is narrow the field to a few favorites. I like ‘Plum Pudding’ because I think it’s the truest and most reliable purple color and I like ‘Georgia Peach’ for the same reason. Plus, contrasting it with other shade plants is easy. Its color is so deep and rich, it pops against almost anything. This evergreen grows to about 12″ tall and puts out tall spikes of teeny flowers that hummingbirds love. To keep it happy, give it a few applications of fish fertilizer in spring and summer.
Brunnera macrophylla ‘Hadspen Cream’
There’s another slightly more known Brunnera called ‘Jack Frost’ that has cold silvery variegated foliage. With its light blue flowers in April and later fat spade leaves, it makes a bold statement in the dim of shade. But I also like ‘Hadspen Cream’ because the variegation is yellower and therefore, softer in beauty. I’ve also found it’s easier to design with in terms of color. It has the same cool blue flowers as ‘Jack Frost’ that light up a shady space. Grows to about 12″ tall with flowers branching out above. This photo shows it emerging, not fully grown yet. Herbaceous.
Hosta ‘Fragrant Blue’
I love hostas. They come in so many patterns and colors. And they’re so tough. Yes, slugs might chew little holes into their leaves but a bit of Sluggo or beer will solve that problem. I have several favorites but one I think should be used more in garden designs is ‘Fragrant Blue.’ This positively glows in the shade with a creamy, greenish-blue color. The white fragrant flowers are nice but the real reason to grow this plant is the big impact it has despite its small size. Grows to about eight inches tall. Herbaceous.
Another cheery plant with delicate, two-toned flowers of pink and smokey blue. The white speckles on the foliage adds even more interest, and once this plant takes off, you’ll have lots of babies to either cover your bare ground or pass on to friends. The foliage looks a little tired by the end of summer. In late winter, I cut it all back and voila, it grows in a tight happy mat. Herbaceous.
Heuchera ‘Lime Rickey’
This Heuchera is worth growing just for that glowing chartreuse foliage. The fact that it stays compact and has delicate white flowers are extra pluses. Plant it next to a dark hellebore and you’ll have an instant contrast of color.
There are more and more hellebores coming on to the market every year, but if you need a reliably pretty one to start out with, consider the straight Helleborus orientalis. It blooms for over a month, after which time its flower stalks turn brown as it puts out new leaf stalks. But a quick pruning of those dead flowers makes room for those stems to grow into dark, glossy, almost tropical looking foliage that stays fresh well into late fall. It’s known as an evergreen but not really because in winter the leaves look ratty. Again, a quick cutting allows its fresh blooms to shine. What a great plant.