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Top 10 Shade Garden Perennials

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Shade gardeners often lament that there are limited plant choices for the shade garden. Untrue. Many plants that are known as sun lovers, like daylilies, actually enjoy the relief of partial shade, especially in hot areas. While Hostas now come in a wonderful array of colors and textures, you can add color to your shade garden with the following plants that aren't strictly shade plants, but which make wonderful shade or partial shade garden plants. When choosing plants for shade, you have to expand the box.

1. Aconitum fischeri - Monkshood

Aconitum fischeri - Monkshood
Photo: © Marie Iannotti (2008) licensed to About.com, Inc.
Monkshood likes full sun, but is fine in partial shade. The blooms, which really do resemble monks' hoods, hang along spiky stalks and can last for up to 2 months. Very pest and disease resistant. Note: All parts of this plant are poisonous. USDA Hardiness Zones 2 - 9

2. Aquilegia - Columbine

Aquilegia - Columbine
Photo: © Marie Iannotti (2008) licensed to About.com, Inc.
Butterflies and hummingbirds can't resist the delicate, nectar filled blossoms of columbine. The bi-colored bell-shaped flowers come in a wide variety of colors, although you'll often find them for sale mixed. They are prone to leaf miner, but you can always cut the foliage back after it blooms. USDA Hardiness Zones 3 - 9

3. Astilbe - False Spirea

Astilbe
Photo: © Marie Iannotti (2008) licensed to About.com, Inc.
Astilbes are one of those near perfect flowers. The fern-like foliage stays attractive all season. The flower plumes, in shades of whites, pinks, purples and reds, bloom once but last the whole season as they fade. Except for dividing your astilbe plants every 3 years or so, they require no effort. A similar great plant to consider is Aruncus or Goat's Beard. USDA Hardiness Zones 4 - 9

4. Belamcanda chinensis - Blackberry Lily

Belamcanda chinensis - Blackberry Lily
Photo: © Marie Iannotti (2008) licensed to About.com, Inc.
Belamcanda has the sword-shaped leaves of its cousin, the iris, but its flowers are distinctive. Small, flattened, star-shaped flowers often in orange but available in a range of colors, with or without spots, bloom for only one day each, over a period of several weeks in summer, then fade to rounded seed pods. USDA Hardiness Zones 5 - 9

5. Cimicifuga racemosa- Bugbane, Black Cohosh, Black Snakeroot

Cimicifuga racemosa- Bugbane, Black Cohosh, Black Snakeroot
Photo: © Marie Iannotti (2008) licensed to About.com, Inc.
Black Cohosh can easily reach 6 - 8 ft. in one season and adds great height and texture to the shade garden. The dense, deeply cut foliage gives rise to even taller stalks of bottle-brush white flowers in late summer or fall. USDA Hardiness Zones 3 - 9

6. Dicentra - Bleeding Heart

Dicentra - Bleeding Heart
Photo: © Marie Iannotti (2008) licensed to About.com, Inc.
Delicate Bleeding Hearts are work horses in the garden and they welcome the relief of shade. The common variety Dicentra spectabilis can be ephemeral in hot areas. The fringed varieties will repeat bloom throughout the summer. Dicentra cucullaria, Dutchman's breeches, is another spring charmer with white blossoms resembling pantaloons. USDA Hardiness Zones 2 - 9

7. Epimedium - Barrenwort

Epimedium - Barrenwort
Photo: © Marie Iannotti (2008) licensed to About.com, Inc.
Epimedium is often dismissed as a slow growing ground cover, but they desesrve more respect. The spring blooming flowers come out in clusters and the foliage, which starts out almost lime green, changes to a rich red in fall. They'll tolerate full sun to full shade and even the dry shade under trees. USDA Hardiness Zones 5 - 9

8. Primula - Primrose

Primula - Primrose
Photo: © Marie Iannotti (2008) licensed to About.com, Inc.
Primulas are one of the first flowers to bloom in spring. Even their name tells you they are a spring flower. Primulas can handle some sun in the spring, but once things warm up, they'll require at least partial shade. They also have a preference for moist, but well-drained soil. Colors are usually vibrant, sometimes bi-colored. USDA Hardiness Zones 3 - 9

9. Thalictrum aquilegifolium - Meadow Rue

Thalictrum aquilegifolium - Meadow Rue
Photo: © Marie Iannotti (2008) licensed to About.com, Inc.
Meadow Rue has columbine like foliage, with fuzzy white, pink or purple clusters of summer blossoms. Thalictrum takes care of itself and doesn't like fuss or being moved, but they thrive in partial shade. They reach heights of 3 - 5 feet. USDA Hardiness Zones 3 - 9

10. Spring Blooming Woodland Flowers

Polygonatum biflorum (Solomon's seal)
Photo: © Marie Iannotti (2008) licensed to About.com, Inc.
For full shade and a woodland look, you can't beat these delicate flowers. They emerge in early spring, burst into bloom. Some will disappear as the weather warms, but don't worry, they'll be back next year and they will eventually spread and multiply.
  • Siberian Bugloss (Brunnera macrophylla) - A close cousin of forget-me-nots. Zones 3 - 9
  • Bluebells (Mertensia) - Ephemerals that dazzle with flurries of blue flowers, then disappear. Zones 3 - 9
  • Solomon's Seal (Polygonatum biflorum) - Especially the variegated version with white edging. Zones 3 - 9
  • Lungwort (Pulmonaria saccharata) - An early bloomer with white-spotted foliage. Zones 3 - 9
  • Wake Robin (Trillium grandiflorum)) - An early charmer with parts of 3. Zones 3 - 9
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