Made for the Shade

As spring gives way to summer, temperatures begin to rise to the point that shady nooks in the garden become the perfect places to escape the heat. However, in these sunless areas, the excitement of the summer garden seems to go away because few plants worth buying survive to shine in the shade, right?

Wrong. The shade garden can actually be a surprisingly colorful place. Whether set in beds or placed in pots, there are plenty of plants that show off their best where the sun is a stranger. Need examples? Here are eight special beauties made for the shade.


Left: Indian pink is a hummingbird favorite in the shade. Right: Toad lily/Persian Shield blooms mingle well with the shimmering foliage of Persian shield.

Persian Shield. For gardeners who like a mouth full of syllables, it is also called Strobilanthes. This fancy foliage plant has become a workhorse in gardens where the sun doesn’t shine. Silver, pink, purple — these are the rich colors that streak the leaves of this treasure. Although it will radiate in the shade, if this plant receives just a bit of morning sun, its colors tend to intensify.

Sweet Woodruff. Actually an herb, if this low-growing, spreading groundcover is allowed to spill over the rim of a potted planting, it will visually soften the edges of the container in a natural setting. Sweet woodruff’s tendency to crawl can also be useful covering unsightly tree roots. Springtime will find this herb heavily dotted with small, star-like blooms. The leaves can be snipped back at any time, but don’t toss the fragrant clippings away — the strongly scented leaves can be used in potpourri.

The feathery flowers of this flashy perennial come in a kaleidoscopic range of colors that include varying hues of white, red, purple, peach and lavender. One of the easiest shade perennials to grow, it is bothered by few pests and diseases, and doesn’t need to be staked or deadheaded. Even when the pretty blooms are past their prime, they can be useful additions to dried arrangements.

Polka Dot Plant. This attractive annual looks like the victim of an explosion in a paint factory with its leaves being splattered with drops of green, pink and white. Some newer cultivars are even speckled with red. Also known as hypoestes, this short growing (12 to 18 inches) beauty is a carefree show-off for partially shaded sites.

Impatiens. Here is the poster child for shady plantings. Easy to grow, a wide range of flower colors, long bloom time, no need to prune — these are the traits that have endeared impatiens with shade gardeners for years. Although they look great planted directly into the garden, they can add style to containers, especially when flowers of different colors are mixed together. In addition, New Guinea impatiens deserve special consideration for their colorful foliage and large flowers, but keep in mind they blossom best in areas that receive at least some morning sun.

Toad Lily. The common toad lily (Tricyrtis hirta) flowers late in the garden, usually around September, but its delayed flower show is worth the wait. Its 2- to 3-foot arching stems explode with rows of small, orchid-like, speckled blooms that come in shades of white, pink and purple, and they last for several weeks. This is an ideal flowering perennial to mix with Persian shield, hostas and ferns.

Torenia. This cutie is short in stature but long on showing off. The 8-inch tall plants will flop and flow through a container, and are adorned with small, tubular blossoms in shades of blue, purple, yellow or white. Planting a mix of these colorful annuals is one way to provide visual variety, but also keep in mind bi-color cultivars such as ‘Happy Faces’, ‘Gilded Grape’ and ‘Lemon Drop’.

Indian Pink. Botanically known as Spigelia marilandica, this little pretty is native to the Southeast. Topping out at about 12 to 18 inches in height, it is a clump-forming perennial that salutes the late spring with clusters of bright, five-pointed stars sheathed in sizzling scarlet tubes that are hummingbird magnets. It shows off best in light shade.

L.A. Jackson is the former editor of Carolina Gardener magazine. If you would like to ask him a question about your garden, go to his website at:

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