Perk up the dark corners of your landscape with a generous helping of bleeding heart, Dicentra spectabilis. These hardy perennials develop graceful, arching branches of heart-shape flowers, each one with a tiny teardrop at the base. Bleeding heart thrives in low-light conditions with rich, slightly moist soil. The plants pop out of the ground in the early spring, eventually growing 2-4 feet tall. Besides its lovely flowers, bleeding heart also produces pretty, divided, blue-green foliage. Bleeding heart goes dormant in middle to late summer and doesn’t reappear until the following spring. Zones 3-9
Keep fuchsia slightly moist at all times and fertilize twice a month with a liquid plant food. Protect hanging baskets from high winds that will quickly dry out and kill your plants. Cool, shady locations are the ideal environment for all members of the fuchsia family. Most fuchsia species form small shrubs in mild climates, but some are treated as annuals and grown in hanging baskets that showcase their eye-popping pendulous, flowers. Colors include red, pink, white, violet, purple, and an assortment of combinations. Hang them from low tree branches or plant them in tall urns so you can best admire the plant’s color and beauty.
Astilbe flowers come in white, red, pink, orange, and violet, and generally start to appear in late spring and early summer. They thrive in a rich, loose, organic soil. Zones 4-9 No shade garden is complete without astilbe. These rugged perennials thrive in moist shade, providing you with a summer’s worth of big, bold, frilly flower heads. And even when not in bloom, the plants’ mounded, fernlike foliage is worth the price of admission. Heights vary by variety but most types grow 2-3 feet tall.
New Guinea Impatiens
Large, colorful disclike flowers often perched atop handsome variegated leaves make New Guinea impatiens a must-have annual plant for your shade garden. New Guinea impatiens grow 12-18 inches tall and seem to do a bit better in containers than they do when planted directly in the garden. But, grown either way, they add tons of spectacular color to the dark corners of your landscape. Colors include pink, red, white, orange, lavender, and bicolor. The leaves can be dark green, green with red veins, or cream and green. It’s possible to grow New Guinea impatiens from seed, but it’s a lot easier and faster to buy young plants in the spring at your local garden center.
With a name like toad lily, you might not expect much in terms of beauty, but this hardy perennial turns into a prince in the late summer, producing jewellike white flowers generously splashed with purple spots. Capable of blooming in full shade, toad lily, Tricyrtis hirta, will slowly naturalize a small area, carpeting it with a late-season flourish of color. The plants grow 24-36 inches tall and do best in a slightly moist, organic soil. Zones 4-8
The plants grow 6-12 inches tall and thrive in both containers and borders. Extra showy, double-flowered varieties are also available. Talk about easy! Wax begonia, Begonia semperflorens, is a totally no-fail annual that grows easily in any shady or partially shady spot. These mounded, compact plants have thick fleshy stems with bronze or green leaves. Wax begonias are almost always in bloom, sporting clusters of white, pink red, or bicolor flowers right up until frost.
Both single- and double-flowering varieties are available. Impatiens grow well in containers, too. Just keep them out of direct sunlight and keep the soil barely moist at all times. In some regions, impatiens have suffered from outbreaks of downy mildew disease. If your garden has been affected, switch to New Guinea impatiens or wax begonias, which are immune to the problem. America’s No. 1 go-to flower for shady locations, impatiens will transform any dark corner into a flower festival. In fact, many gardeners use impatiens as a quick-growing summer groundcover for hard-to-plant locations under tall trees. Growing 12-18 inches tall, impatiens bloom in white, pink, peach, yellow, orange, lavender, and bicolors.
It’s impossible to have a bad day when you wake up to a shady border packed with the happy faces of viola. These joyous spring bloomers (close cousins to pansies) almost seem to smile at you whenever you approach. Growing just 4-8 inches tall, viola produce a seemingly endless supply of irresistibly perky flowers. Colors vary, but most varieties show off bicolor flowers in shades of white, blue, purple, yellow, orange, red, or lilac. Violas, and pansies, look a lot alike and are often sold interchangeably. The main difference is that violas are more perennial in nature, often lasting more than just a season or two. Zones 3-9
If you look closely down the throat of a torenia bloom, you’ll see stamens forming a wishbone shape, which is how the plant got its common name: wishbone flower. Torenia only grows 6-12 inches tall, but this hardworking little annual puts out a big show of jewellike, trumpet-shape flowers throughout the summer. The plants prefer slightly moist soil, but are surprisingly tolerant of dry spells. In warm climate regions, be sure torenia is planted where it won’t be harmed by the hot afternoon sun. Remove the faded flowers as they appear to promote additional bloom.
Want to add color to your shade garden? Start from the ground up with quick-growing creepers like ajuga. Ajuga reptans will quickly carpet an entire area with bright foliage and cheerful flowers. Growing 4-6 inches tall, ajuga is a tough perennial that spreads out a little more each year. Ajuga has bright green, bronze, or tricolor foliage, and every spring it pops up spikes of blue, purple, or white flowers. Plant it in full or partial shade in rich, organic soil that drains quickly after heavy rains. Ajuga also grows well in containers. Zones 4-9
In the early spring, you can depend on the attractively spotted or splotched leaves of lungwort, Pulmonaria saccharata, to give your garden an early jolt of color. After the leaves are established, the plants send up graceful stalks of bell-shape, pink flowers that mature to shades of baby blue, which means that you might find both blue and pink flowers on the same stalk. Lungwort grows 12-18 inches tall and will slowly spread through your garden without becoming invasive. Zones 3-8
With colorful flowers and foliage, you can’t go wrong with forget-me-not, Brunnera macrophylla. In early spring this woodland wonder develops clouds of small, bright blue flowers atop a mound of silvery, heart-shape foliage. It’s the perfect partner for early-spring bulbs, such as daffodils and tulips. Forget-me-not prefers rich, slightly moist soil and grows 12-18 inches tall. The nice thing about this pretty perennial is that even when the flowers fade, you can enjoy the brightly colored foliage all summer long. Zones 3-8
You might already know that hostas are one of the best plants for shady gardens because of their richly patterned foliage. But you might not remember that many hosta varieties develop masses of fragrant, pendulous, white, or lavender flowers from midsummer to fall. Not only do hosta flowers add a much-needed dose of color to the summer border, they are also prized by hummingbirds who feast on the nectar-rich blooms. Read the plant tag before you buy to find varieties that bloom profusely.
Prized for their colorful foliage, coralbells (aka heuchera), were once primarily grown for their graceful spikes of pink, white, or red bell-like flowers that appear during June and July. Coralbells thrive in full or partial shade and grow 12-24 inches tall when planted in rich, slightly moist soil. Certainly you can’t ignore the plant’s amazing foliage in shades of red, bronze, green, plum, or chartreuse, but the flowers are what made this easy-care perennial popular in the first place. Zones 4-9
The sunny yellow, rounded blooms of globe flower, Trollius chinensis, are a welcome addition to any partially shady garden. A lover of cool, boggy locations, globe flower grows 2-3 feet tall and produces ball-like yellow or creamy orange flowers in May and June. Globe flower does best in regions with temperate summers where it can also be grown in full sun. Shear the plants back after the flowers fade to promote a second wave of bloom. Zones 3-9
An early riser, doronicum or leopard’s bane, shoots up bright yellow daisylike flowers just as spring is getting underway. This eager perennial makes a wonderful companion for spring-flowering bulbs, such as scilla, daffodil, and tulip. The plants thrive in partial shade and grow anywhere from 1 to 4 feet tall, depending on variety. Doronicum likes rich, slightly moist soil, and is easy to grow. Zones 5-9
Just when you thought winter was never going to end, the beautiful blooms of hellebore burst into bloom. Commonly called Christmas or Lenten rose, hellebores are one of the first perennials to bloom in the spring, often before the snow melts. Most varieties grow 12-18 inches tall and develop downward-facing white, pink, green, or purple blooms that are often delicately etched in a contrasting color. Although most varieties have single flowers, a few also offer showy double blooms. Hellebores thrive in partial to full shade in rich, slightly moist soil. Zones 4-8
No story on colorful shade plants is complete without including coleus, even though their flowers are insignificant. This amazing annual comes in a crazy quilt mixture of foliage of different colors and shapes that you can play with in your garden. In the past few years, sun-loving varieties of coleus have been developed, but there’s an equal number of easy coleus that prefer life on the dark side. Coleus will occasionally flower, producing a narrow blue spike in late summer, but the plants do better if you clip it away as soon as it appears. Coleus grows 12-36 inches tall and add tons of color to your shade garden right up until frost.