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Five Unexpected Alternatives for Shade Gardens

Five Unexpected Alternatives for Shade Gardens

By Susan Martin for Proven Winners
Photos courtesy of Proven Winners and Walters Gardens

If you garden in the shade and are tired of planting the same kinds of plants every year, here are some new ideas to give your shade garden a little more spunk.

We totally get it. You live on the shady side of the street. Your garden is not in the bright sunshine like your neighbors where they happily grow overflowing baskets of colorful Supertunias that bloom all summer long. No worries! You have options that do not involve cutting down trees to bring in more sunlight. There really is life beyond hostas, yews, and impatiens (though they are certainly beautiful too) in the shade. If you are looking for something different this year to enhance your shady landscape, here are five alternatives you may not yet have considered:

Diamond Frost® Euphorbia
You may be familiar with other kinds of Euphorbias that need blazing hot sun to survive, but the annual Diamond Frost Euphorbia is nothing like their sun-loving cousins. While it certainly will grow in sun, it will also grow and bloom in part sun and open shade. This is truly a plant you can grow almost anywhere. Its habit will be a bit more open in shade, but that only adds to the wispy charm this plant brings to combination containers. Try pairing it with Surefire® Begonias and ColorBlaze® Coleus, which also thrive in part shade conditions.

‘Bottle Rocket’ Ligularia
To make a statement and add some much needed height to your garden, plant ‘Bottle Rocket’ Ligularia. This zone 4-9 hardy perennial thrives in part shade and moist soil, forming a sizeable clump of large, leathery, toothed leaves held on stout stems. If given at least 4-6 hours of direct sun per day, you’ll also enjoy its spiky yellow blooms in midsummer, though it could be grown for its distinctive foliage alone. ‘Bottle Rocket’ has the extra advantage of tending not to wilt in the heat like some other Ligularias do. Try planting it near your pond paired with Siberian irises, ostrich ferns and ‘Pardon My Pink’ Monarda

‘Jade Peacock’ Tiarella (Foamflower)
A super easy perennial to pair with your hostas, ferns, and sedges is the Foamflower or Tiarella, which is hardy in zones 4-9. ‘Jade Peacock’ is an especially floriferous selection, blooming even in full shade early each spring, and its spiky white flowers are lightly fragrant too. The emerald green leaves are accented with a striking near-black center blotch. Try pairing it with a deep purple variety of coral bells like Dolce® Brazen Raisin™ to accent the pretty coloration of the foamflower’s foliage. It also looks great when planted en masse around large hostas like Shadowland™ ‘Seducer’.

‘Aphrodite’ Calycanthus (Sweetshrub)
Here’s a shrub you may not have heard of before, but certainly deserves to be planted in more gardens. Sweetshrub grows in both sun and part shade and is hardy in zones 5-9. The variety named ‘Aphrodite’ is especially prized for its larger, fragrant, wine red flowers that appear in early summer and persist for several weeks. The more sun you can give this plant, the more flowers it will reward you with, though it will bloom with only morning sun. It also stays a bit shorter (about 3-4 feet) and the habit is more open when grown in shade. Try underplanting it with Dolce® Cinnamon Curls™ coral bells.

Sky Pointer® Ilex (Japanese Holly)
You may be familiar with hedging type hollies like ‘Blue Prince’, which are grown for their evergreen foliage and red berries in winter. Sky Pointer grows in similar conditions, preferring partial shade to full sun in summer and some protection from sun and wind in the winter months. But its unique architectural habit is what sets it apart as it forms a 4-5’ tall, narrow pillar. Use it as an accent plant in the landscape to balance the more mounded shapes of hydrangeas and hostas in zones 6-7.

Find more unique plants for your shade garden at

Contributor Bio: Susan Martin is a lifelong gardener and perennial specialist with 17 years of experience in the Horticulture Industry including new plant development, garden design, communications, sales and marketing. She is a native of Michigan where she has been gardening since the age of four in both sandy and clay soils in zones 4-6.

Patent Information: Diamond Frost™ Euphorbia 'Inneuphdia' USPP17567 CPBR2830; 'Bottle Rocket' Ligularia USPP24486 CPBRAF; 'Pardon My Pink' Monarda didyma USPP24244 CPBRAF; 'Jade Peacock' Tiarella USPPAF CPBRAF; Dolce® Brazen Raisin™ Heuchera 'Inheubrara' USPPAF CPBRAF; Shadowland™ 'Seducer' Hosta USPP22413; 'Aphrodite' Calycanthus USPP24014 CPBRAF; Dolce® Cinnamon Curls™ Heuchera 'Inheuredfu' USPPAF CPBRAF; Sky Pointer® Ilex crenata 'Farrowone' USPP20049

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