Made For The Shade

By Jesse Hensen

Often overlooked in designing gardens is the opportunity to develop striking visual interest in shady spots. Because most flowering plants prefer bright, sunny locations, it is often assumed that shaded areas will end up with uninspired swaths of deep, dark greens with little—if any—interesting features to tempt visitors. But there are wonderful choices of plants to include in shady nooks to spark interest and invite attention.


Brunnera Macrophylla
For a truly striking plant that can be seen from a distance and just begs for a better look, try one of the fancy-leaved forms of Brunnera macrophylla . Large, heart-shaped leaves form rounded clumps that are 12 inches to 15 inches tall with about a 24-inch spread, and perform easily and beautifully in deep shade or partial shade. My favorite is Brunnera “Jack Frost,” with bright, silver leaves and contrasting green veins. The silver coloring “pops” out from surrounding green-foliage plants. In early spring, as the new leaves are just emerging, large clusters of blue forget-me-not flowers are displayed above the clumps. The flowers don’t last long, but bloom at the same time as many of the spring bulbs, such as daffodils and hyacinths, combining nicely for early-season interest. The Perennial Plant Association selected Brunnera “Jack Frost” as its Perennial Plant of the Year for 2012. All of the fancy-leaved forms of Brunnera grow well through most of the U.S., hardy from cold zone 3 through zone 8.

Carex Siderosticha “Banana Boat”
Ornamental grasses don’t generally perform well in the shade, but many of the grass-like sedges love the darker areas in the garden. The new Carex siderosticha “Banana Boat” has wide, bright-lemon to banana-yellow leaves that will brighten any shaded or partially shaded garden. It grows in a grassy mound and creeps slowly to make a dense mat of bold foliage, 6 inches to 12 inches high. This beautiful new selection is so showy that it is even being used in mixed containers with flowering material. It is easy to grow and hardy from cold zones 5 through 9.

Polygonatum Odoratum “ Variegatum”
“Variegated Solomon’s Seal,” Polygonatum odoratum “Variegatum,” offers a different look for the shaded garden, with an upright, arching form, unbranched stems, and attractive, bright, white-edged leaves. The more vertical aspect gives a distinct break in a mixed border that is filled with the more-conventional rounded forms of most perennials. It grows 18 inches to 24 inches tall, and colonizes nicely without being invasive. Small, bell-shaped flowers are borne on the leaf axils beneath the arching stems in mid-spring, offering a sweet fragrance as an added bonus. The leaves turn an attractive yellow in the fall. This is an easy-to-grow, long-lasting perennial with no serious insect or disease problems, and hardy through most of the United   States, zones 3 through 8. The only drawback to this wonderful perennial is that it is often hard to find in garden centers and nurseries. That situation will hopefully be rectified this year though; the Perennial Plant Association has selected Polygonatum odoratum “Variegatum” as its Perennial Plant of the Year for 2013, so retailers are much more likely to include it in their offerings.

For the home gardener or for the landscape-design professional, there are wonderful choices of perennials that can brighten and add interest to the darker, shadier portions of a landscape. These are only a few of many available choices for gardens today.

Jesse Hensen is the Vendor Relations/Customer Service Manager for Eason Horticultural Resources, a wholesale plant-broker company in Ft. Wright, Ky. He can be reached at (859) 578-3535 or via email at .