Most fledgling gardeners associate shade gardens with a limited selection of plants and are discouraged by what they feel will represent a limited ability to landscape their garden. In particular, shade gardens are often associated with a few ferns and maybe some Japanese maple trees, but planting flowering bushes and plants seems elusive. While it is true that some flowers need full sun, there are a variety of shade plants that grow very well in the shade and can provide your garden with delightful color and interest.
If you are working with a large space, two essential shrubs for consideration are hydrangeas and rhododendrons. Both of these bushes thrive in shade environments, though hydrangeas can also be planted in partial sun. Rhododendrons, and their smaller cousins azaleas, come in a beautiful range of colors: whites, pinks, reds, purples, and yellows. They can grow to be very large, and the fragrant blossoms will bloom from spring to mid-summer.
Hydrangeas prosper well in the shade because in sunny environments they need much more water. Though diligent watering is required, if you forget for a few days, you can usually revive the plant by resuming watering. Hydrangeas grow to be large bushes and are either pink, or quite blue in color. Color depends upon the soil. Metals from the soil can change the crown of blossoms into a deep blue, which is very attractive. Newer variants have white blossoms. All bushes have stalks with a head of small flowers, approximately 1-2 feet (.30-.60m) across. They make for excellent cut flowers, and the blooms can last for longer than a month.
For ground cover, there is nothing prettier than violets in purple, yellow, or white, that will bloom in early spring, and spread readily. They also make attractive leaves that will keep an area green year round with proper watering. Though baby’s tears do not flower, they are also well adapted to shade and make a nice mix with violets.
For larger flowers, one can consider fuchsias, which come in an astounding array of color and size variations. Fuchsias can be upright, and be planted directly in the ground, or they may be hanging. Hanging fuchsias are perfect for either wine barrels or for hanging pots, which can give one’s garden a multi-leveled appeal. With proper care, they will flower throughout spring and summer.
Several small shade flowers are annuals and need to be replaced yearly. Impatiens come in a number of colors, and will bloom from early spring to fall, before the first frost. They grow quickly, and one can often purchase them in multi-packs quite inexpensively at garden or hardware stores. Some environments are so mild that impatiens will bloom virtually year round. There are also double impatiens, which resembles a small rose, and are now a great choice.
Lysianthis, another annual, resembles a crocus, and comes in purple, white and yellow. It really needs full shade to prosper well. It also needs particular attention to watering on hot days. But it makes for a beautiful addition to your shade garden.
Martha Washington geraniums, again available in just about every imaginable color choice are perennials which don't require replanting. They often come in mixed colors like purple streaked with white, or red and white. They will also prosper in partial sun.
If deciduous trees provide the shade in your garden, then during winter through early spring, your garden will have more sun. When this is the case, you can plant the usual winter bulbs of crocuses, irises, tulips and daffodils, which will give much color and interest in the early spring. In even partial shade, most bulbs will receive enough sun to prosper well in your garden.