What Perennial Flower Grows in Shade?

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Many odes are sung to the textural interest and lush foliage that characterize a shade garden, but these attributes only go so far. If you dream of filling low-light areas with flowers, don't despair. Perennials with brilliant or curious blossoms thrive in shade gardens in most regions of the country , so take the time to dig up plant ideas before you dig up the garden.

The Shades of Shade

Not every low-light area falls into the same shade category, so it's useful to understand the ways gardeners and experts use the terms.

  • Heavy shade You'll find heavy shade where sunbeams never, ever get invited, like on the north side of the house or a tree.  Heavy shade is an area that maintains the same low-level light all day long, every day, and you'll be hard pressed to find many flowering perennials that thrive here.
  • Open shade Think of the east side of a tree, where the dawn's early light sneaks in. Open shade allows early sun into the area, but only for a brief time each day.
  • Bright shade More sunlight filters through a tree's branches on the southern and western sides of a tree.  This results in shade that is several levels more "lit" than other shade. 

Warm Weather Shade

Bear's breeches (Acanthus spinosus) offers the typical attractive foliage you find in shade gardens, but with a twist. Interspersed among the arching, glossy green, thistle-like leaves -- and rising high on spikes above the foliage -- you'll find star-white, snapdragon flowers hooded by purple bracts. Grow these amazing flowers in open or bright shade in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 5 through 9.

A native plant and one tough cookie, Indian pink (Spigelia marilandica) wakes up your open shaded area with its crimson tubes of flowers, each topped with a brilliant splash of yellow. Don't be in a hurry with this perennial, since it establishes slowly but surely in open shade in USDA plant hardiness zones 5 through 9.

If you've never heard of Cobra lilies (Arisaema spp.), prepare for an eye-popping surprise. These lilies have shock value, with stripes and colors straight from a child's dreams, and thrive in open shade in USDA zones 4 through 9. Try Jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum), with its green and black stripes, or green dragon (Arisaema dracontium ).

Mild Weather Shade

Japanese anemone (Anemone hupehensis var. japonica 'Pamina') is a dramatic member of the buttercup family with its deep rose petals and yellow center. Growing to 3 feet tall with a 2 to 3 foot spread, Japanese anemones do best in open or bright shade in USDA plant hardiness zones 5 through 8.

You'll have to figure out yourself if bugleweed (Ajuga reptans 'Catlin's Giant') is beautiful enough to use as ground cover in those low-light areas where grass won't grow, but it's ready if you are. This plant spreads thick and fast, offering bronze rosettes of leaves and indigo flowers. It is low-to-no maintenance for deep shade in USDA plant hardiness zones 5 through 8.

Cool Weather Shade

Even those who live in chilly regions can create colorful and lively shade gardens. Crested iris (Iris cristata) is the only iris that likes the shady side of the garden. This perennial stays small at 12 inches tall, but offers the traditional sword-shaped leaves and a mass of blue, lavender or white blossoms. Plant it in bright shade in USDA plant hardiness zones 3 through 8.

Fill your shady areas with flowers the color of sunshine by installing perennial primroses. Cousins oxslip (Primula elatior) and cowslip (Primula veris ) fill bright shade with bright yellow tubular flowers in USDA hardiness zones 4 through 8 and 3 through 8 respectively.

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