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GardenSMART :: 8 (lesser known) Shade-Loving Perennials

8 (lesser known!) Shade-Loving Perennials

By Kate Karam, Monrovia
Photographs courtesy of Monrovia

No more just walking past that dim, dark space on the way to your sun-loving borders! Here are 8 of our favorite unusual shade-lovers to try.

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Shade is one of the garden’s great opportunities. It’s lush with layers of different hues of green, alive with birds and other critters, and you probably won’t spend much time weeding there. Many perennials bloom reliably in full shade and when not in bloom, their foliage adds color, form and texture. Others, such as hostas and ferns, provide classically-beautiful leaves. And, where planting is really a challenge, such as under shallowly-rooted trees, there are groundcovers that can be used effectively.  Here are a few tough, hardy, easy-to-love shade lovers you might not have considered.

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Jeweled Chain Fern (Woodwardia unigemmata)
Bold, long fronds emerge with a striking red tint. Thrives in consistently moist soil. Reaches up to 2 ft. tall and 6 ft. wide. Zones: 8 – 10

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Pink Elf® Saxifrage (Saxifraga fortune)
Sprays of pink flowers on dense short stems above low mounds of colorful foliage. Reaches up to 1 ft. tall and wide. Zones: 6 – 9

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Chinese Fairy Bells (Disporum longistylum 'Green Giant')
Fragrant, creamy-white flowers unfurl like nodding bells each spring. Reaches up to 6 ft. tall and 4 ft. wide. Zones: 7 – 9

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Windcliff Fragrant Pachysandra (Pachysandra axillaris 'Windcliff Fragrant')
Groundcover with uniquely fragrant white flowers appear in early spring, repeating in autumn. Reaches up to 4 to 6 in. tall. Zones: 6 – 9

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Fireworks Rodgersia (Rodgersia 'Fireworks')
Use in damp woodland or bog gardens for a showy display of flower spikes and bold foliage. Reaches up to 5 ft. tall and wide. Zones: 5 – 8

Three more to consider:

(Tiarella 'Jeepers Creepers' P.P.# 13,437)
Improved shade tolerance and lightly fragrant, creamy-white flowers in spring. Reaches up to 8 in tall and 12 in. wide. Zones: 4 – 9

  • Northern Sea Oats (Chasmanthium latifolium):  Thrives in moist sites, though tolerant of dry shade. Useful on a shady slope. Reaches up to 3 ft. tall and 2 ft. wide. Zones: 4 – 9
  • Beesia (Beesia deltophylla):  Thrives in dappled to deep shade, perfect for understory or woodland garden. Reaches 24 in. tall and wide. Zones: 6 – 8

F.A.Q.s

Q.:  What do we mean by “full shade?”
A.:  Areas that gets less than one hour of direct sunlight and are too dark to be considered dappled shade, are full shade. If your space gets no direct sun (such as under a thick canopy of trees or in the shadow of a tall wall) most of these plants will still grow, but won’t love it there.

Q.:  Snails. Slugs. Help.
A.:  Guess who else loves it cool and shady? You may have to try a combination of approaches from hand-picking to copper rings to nematodes to keep the little slimers at bay. You may never win the war, but with some care, your tender plants can live to battle another night.

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