Shade gardens don't have to be a sea of green foliage. Perennials that flourish and flower in shade may not be as abundant as flowering perennials that thrive in sunny areas, but the available specimens for shade range from summer-bloomers to tropical, winter-blooming varieties.
The term "full shade" refers to garden areas that receive fewer than two hours of direct sunlight per day. Plants that grow best in partial shade need about two to four hours of direct sunlight daily.
Perennials that flower reliably in shady conditions and come in a variety of cultivars may be worth returning to again and again for low-light garden areas.
Astilbe (Astilbe spp.) and its numerous cultivars may be the place to start your search for flowering perennials for shade. Astilbe flowers look like plumes or feather dusters and come in colors ranging from white to red. They appear in spring and summer. The plants grow 6 inches to 5 feet tall, depending on the variety, and do best in moist, hummus rich soil. Astilbe grows as a perennial, or is hardy, in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 3 through 9, depending on the variety. One cultivar to try in shade is 'Drum and Bass' (Astilbe 'Drum and Bass'), which has plumes of pink flowers and is hardy in USDA zones 4 through 9.
Hardy begonia (Begonia grandis) features showy, pink flowers from summer through fall. Perennial in USDA zones 6 through 7, hardy begonia needs partial to full shade and moist soil with good drainage.
If you live in a mild climate, then try Dragon Wing Red begonia (Begonia 'Bepared'), which has red blooms from late spring until winter and thrives in loamy soil with good drainage. This frost-tender cultivar is hardy in USDA zones 10 through 11.
Vibrantly Colorful Varieties
Not many shade perennials also have vibrant, brightly colored flowers, but the ones do can really make a splash.
'Arc en Ciel' Cinquefoil
With its showy flowers, the cinquefoil cultivar 'Arc en Ciel' (Potentilla 'Arc en Ciel') adds summer color to partial- and full-shade areas of a garden. The flowers are bright red with yellow edges, creating contrast. This mounding plant grows 12 to 16 inches tall and is hardy in USDA zones 4 through 8.
Grow bush lily, also called fire lily (Clivia miniata), for its brightly colored, trumpet-shaped flowers that are yellow, orange or red. Although it doesn't provide summer blooms, it makes up for it with colorful flowers in late winter and early spring. Its strap-shaped leaves grow 2 to 3 feet long, forming low mounds. Bush lily requires bright, indirect light, such as in some shady spots. Flame bush lily (Clivia miniata 'Monya'), however, requires full shade and features large, deep-orange flowers. Bush lily and Flame bush lily are hardy in USDA zones 9 through 11.
Entice butterflies to your shade garden with shade-loving flowering perennials.
Butterflies are attracted to the long-flowering lyre-leaf sage cultivars 'Burgundy Bliss' (Salvia lyrata 'Burgundy Bliss') and 'Purple Knockout' (Salvia lyrata 'Purple Knockout'). 'Burgundy Bliss' has white or lavender flowers from early summer through late summer and is hardy in USDA zones 4 through 9a; it grows in shade, partial shade and partial sun. 'Purple Knockout' has lavender flowers from midsummer through early fall and is hardy in USDA zones 5 through 9a; it grows in shade to full sun. A spot that has moist, sandy soil with good drainage will keep these sage cultivars growing well.
Turtlehead 'Hot Lips'
The turtlehead cultivar 'Hot Lips' (Chelone lyonii 'Hot Lips'), which requires full shade, is a butterfly favorite when its pink flowers appear from late summer to fall. It grows 2 feet tall. Hardy in USDA zones 3 through 8, it does best in moist or wet soil.
Moist, shady woodland gardens are perfect spots for some foliage plants, and well-selected flowering perennials add color and interest among their greenery.
Hellebore (Helleborus orientalis), hardy in USDA zones 4 through 9, has bell-shaped flowers that appear in spring and range from white to purple. This perennial grows 1 to 1 1/2 feet tall in clumps. Grow hellebore in partial to full shade in moist, humus rich soil with good drainage. A hellebore hybrid, the creamy-white flowering Ivory Prince Lenten Rose (Helleborus x hybridus 'Walhelivor'), also hardy in USDA zones 4 through 9, grows in full shade and areas with filtered sunlight.
'Burning Hearts' Bleeding Heart
'Burning Hearts' bleeding heart (Dicentra 'Burning Hearts'), which is perennial in USDA zones 4 through 9, adds the deep-red accents of its flowers to woodland shade gardens from spring through late summer. The delicate, heart-shaped flowers hang in clusters above the plant's blue-green leaves. Grow 'Burning Hearts' in a partial- or full-shade spot with moist or wet soil.