Shade in the Landscape: Be Creative

August 12th 2015
Glen Goldberg

Shade in the Garden

If you are lucky enough to have beautiful old trees on your property, you are undoubtedly thankful for the shade but have often longed for a more vibrant garden. It is a common desire that our clients bring to us. Our designers know an exceptional landscape can be achieved by using different textured and colored perennial plants to create a beautiful outdoor space.

Few shade-tolerant plants have striking flowers, so we concentrate on the following:

  • Textures – broad leaves, narrow leaves, small leaves; we place plants with different foliage next to each other for an interesting contrast.
  • Colors – leaf colors can be outstanding in shade perennials.
  • Groupings – we plant perennials in groups so that their outstanding features stand out.

Newer varieties, such as Endless Summer, offer enormous, colorful blooms every few weeks in summer and fall.

Plants That Grow In Shade


Hostas are known for their attractive shade-loving foliage. So many varieties are available with large leaves, small leaves, broad leaves, narrow leaves, solid green, different shades of solid blue, bright (almost yellow) leaves, and variegated. The flowers are enjoyed in some gardens but are easily pruned out if you prefer. For maximum impact, plant them in groups.

Bleeding Heart

Bleeding Heart are low, delicate shade perennials with blooms that appear in early spring with attention-getting, heart-shaped flowers on arching stems. Attractive bluish-green foliage emerges first, and flowers of the bleeding heart may be pink or white. The foliage of these shade perennials is feathery and beautiful and creates movement with the slightest breeze. An herbaceous perennial, the bleeding heart plant dies back to the ground as the heat of summer arrives.


Turtlehead is a rather showy fall flowering perennial with pretty pink flowers. It’s on the tall side and is less common than many others. This plant is one to consider if you are looking for late-season blooms.

Japanese Forest Grass

Japanese Forest Grass is a graceful, colorful ground cover for shady areas. Slender stems hold bright golden-yellow foliage having the effect of a tiny bamboo. Excellent in containers or color accent in borders. This is a grass that does well in the shade. Note that there are varieties with different colored foliage.

A few other plants that grow well in the shade

Spotted Dead Nettle (Lamium) is a lovely perennial ground cover with silvery foliage to brighten a shady area.

Liriope is a low, grass-like plant which is very hardy. It will bloom in the summer with purple, spiked flowers. It is also available with white flowers. We like this plant a lot.

Astilbe is an old shade standby. The flowers are showier than many others, so consider adding a few. It comes in many sizes and flower colors.

Ferns are available in shades from light to deep green to the colorful fronds of the Japanese Painted Fern. They are smaller ferns available and some that are quite large, making this a versatile choice for your landscape.

A good landscape design will incorporate texture and color in any garden. We think of a shady area as a challenge, not a problem. With the skillful use of plants that grow in shade-including annuals, groundcovers, perennials, shrubs, trees, and evergreens-combined with elements like benches, outcroppings, and containers, our designers create personal retreats for our clients every day. 

Interested in making a change in your landscape? Give us a call.