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Zone 6 Shade Garden plant help!

We have a long, raised-bed shade garden that's been mostly neglected. We're trying to bring some life to it but I'm having trouble finding plants that will add interest in a part to mostly shady space. I'd love recommendations for perennials that either flower or add ornamental interest. I don't like shrubs in general and have no need for winter interest since in winter it's buried in snow.

Plants that are already there that do ok are:



lady's mantle

herbs - lavender, thyme, oregano & sage (in the sunniest part of the bed)

lamb's ear


wild geranium

There is more sun in the spring before the trees leaf out. I plan to dig a muscari border this fall for this spring and add some daffodils. I'd love some higher height ornamental grasses, but they all say full sun. Are there any that can take shade?

Also, we have woodchucks and bunnies and chipmunks who apparently like the lady's mantel I've planted. Not enough to decimate it, but enough to frustrate me :(

Comments (21)

  • 8 years ago

    It's not really tall, but hakonechloa is a grass that does great in shade. I have "all gold." I also like Stachys "hummelo" which is blooming beautifully right now--it's a type of lambs ear but doesn't spread. Astilbe is a shade classic and some have brighter/more interesting blooms. Japanese painted ferns if you like them. There are lots of varieties of heuchera with interesting foliage. You can always add a few annuals for color.

    Be careful where you plant the muscari. If you don't have a good plan for covering the foliage with perennials, it will look scraggly and floppy for a lot of the year. I love muscari and planted tons three years ago, but ended up digging out most of them this year because they looked so bad the rest of the year.

  • 8 years ago

    lalala is right about the grass. Hakonechloa All Gold or Aureola look great in shade. I would also consider Aralia 'Sun King' That will grow to about 4' tall and maybe 3' in diameter. It's a shrub, but deciduous. For lower growing plants I really like Pulmonaria 'Rasberry Splash'. Coastal Maine BG really uses these a great deal in their shade gardens. If you don't already have one you should really consider a Hydrangea arborescens 'Annabelle'. This is one that you cut back to about 12-18" in the Spring and right now it dominates a border. You really should consider some of the beautiful variegated Hosta such as June (medium), Liberty (medium/large) or montana Aureomarginata (large). These will look great all season long. Lastly, don't forget Epimediums. These delicate looking flowers are tough as nails, really don't need any water once established, have beautiful blooms in Spring and excellent foliage the rest of the year. E. Pink Champagne or E. Domino are both great plants. Here's a picture of E. Pink Champagne.


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  • 8 years ago

    Thank you for the ideas.

    I know that hostas are the obvious answer, but I have a sea of hostas in other parts of my yard so I'm looking for something different.

    I like the looks of the Hakonechloa! Very nice. I'll need to keep me eyes open for it or figure out where to purchase online. The Hydrangea arborescens 'Annabelle' is also gorgeous and I have seen many around town.

    Oh! I just looked up the Pulmonaria - that's lovely. I love having several options to choose from. Yay! Can any of the above suggestions take FULL shade?

  • 8 years ago

    Pulmonaria can definitely take full shade as can Hakonechloa. Of my previous list, ferns, heuchera, and astilbe are all good for full shade. Annabelle is hardy but will flower more and flop less with a little sun. Pulmonaria blooms in early spring so could be nice intermixed with summer-interest perennials.

  • 8 years ago

    I love the hakonechloa grass! Another good (although small) grass is carex, although I only have experience with Ice Dance.

    Tiarellas and heucheras have lovely foliage. I have some euonymous in part shade that does very well. And foxgloves are nice too. You can either plant biennials and let them seed. or use the perennial digitalis grandiflora. It's not quite as tall or showy as the biennial, but it has a nice soft butter color and blooms for weeks in my garden. Columbines are nice for spring. Ditto the astilbes and pulmonarias mentioned above. Spirea is also nice, especially the gold/chartreuse-leaved ones in part shade.

    And I have to echo Steve on the hostas! You can never be too rich or too thin or have too many hostas, lol! So many gorgeous ones out there you can have tons and not have any monotony, IMHO.

  • 8 years ago

    Hmmmmm, you have me thinking with the spirea. I have a huge inherited one that gets full sun, but I thought it doesn't bloom in shade. I love spirea and love that the bees love it (I really am all about encouraging as many pollinators as I can).

    I planted some astilbe bulbs(?) last year and they didn't do much this year :( Same with the lily of the valley I planted. Any tips with those?

  • 8 years ago

    My spireas are in half sun, half shade, so maybe that helps mine bloom. Honestly, I like them for the foliage color more than the blooms. I have Gold Mound, and some are in morning sun/afternoon shade, and others in morning and mid-day sun and late afternoon shade. I have to move one of them (dreading that, as it's pretty big and has been in that spot for ten years!) and I'm considering moving it into a spot that is full (although bright) shade. For my purposes, I wouldn't miss the bloom if the foliage did well in the shade.

    Despite many warnings, I planted some lily of the valley YEARS ago. People kept telling me it would take over the world (and I have indeed seen gardens where it is out of control - or should I say its IN control, lol) but mine never seemed to do much of anything. Which was kind of okay with me. I adore the blooms and the scent, and as long as I had a few blooms to stick in a little jar on my counter every spring, I was happy. After 15 years, last year was the first time it spread, by about double, which still was very much under control, but it did alarm me a bit. I decided to nip it in the bud, and last year and this year ripped out about half of it after bloom. I hope to stay on top of it this way. I guess this is a long, roundabout way of saying, don't worry about your lily of the valley! It might just take some time but it will probably get going at some point, so just keep an eye on it.


  • 8 years ago
    last modified: 8 years ago

    Of the plants mentioned above, I grow Annabelle hydrangea, hakonechloa grass, Tiarella, Heuchera, Hosta (I bought June due to Steve's gorgeous photos, but have a bunch of others as well), Astilbe, Pulmonaria, and Epimedium, and like them all.

    Here's another thread from a few weeks ago that asked about shade groundcovers, but some of the plants discussed weren't groundcovers and you might want to check them out.

    shade plants thread

    Some other plants to look at:

    variegated Solomon's seal (Polygonatum)

    Veronica Georgia Blue

    Actea (AKA Cimicifuga) such as Brunette

    Iris crestata

    Leucosceptrum japonicum Gold Angel

  • 8 years ago

    I second actea (cimicifuga) polygonatum and pulmonaria. I love that golden hakonechloa grass paired with a green and gold hosta. Did anyone mention Dicentra? Geranium maculata? O -- what about hellebores? My shade gardens are my favorites -- so many beautiful textures and foliage colors!

  • 8 years ago

    mayalena, that's exactly what I have - hakone grass with Captain Kirk hostas. Also in the bed are Gold Mound spireas, Gold Splash euonymous, boxwood for winter, some purple-leaved heucheras, and some unknown dark green inherited evergreen hollies. Sometimes I just stand and look and admire the foliage and textures!

  • 8 years ago

    Sounds gorgeous, Dee!

  • 8 years ago

    I saw in mentioned above but I'll also suggest Huchera. If you check you'll find that there are quite a few varieties with wonderful colors and leaf sizes and shapes, from deep purples to golden yellow. And they have a neat growth habit.

  • 8 years ago

    I've had good luck with the following ... pardon any repeats! Barrenworts, astible, heuchera, labrador violets, sweetspire, hosta, and various ferns. Also Wegiela 'My Monet' in the part that gets more sun. Columbines also do well in that sort of place, though once they are done blooming they get pretty tatty looking. Ajuga ground cover is nice, too.

  • PRO
    8 years ago

    A few suggestions that will add a little pop to your shade garden.

    Hakonechloa 'Nicholas' will give you wonderful fall color

    Pieris japonica 'Cavatine' is neat and compact Andromeda that reachs 2' x 2'.

    No mention of Hellebores? So many wonderful varieties that thrive in the shade.

    Even though you said shrubs may not be of any interest we have to suggest the shade loving Mahonia japonica. Fragrant blooms any time from fall until early spring and great year round foliage.

  • 8 years ago

    I'd like to second the hellebores - IF (and this is a pretty big if) the bed is in an area where you're likely to see it in the winter months. I've probably posted about this more than a few times, but I was growing hellebores for 3 or 4 years before I even knew they flowered. This was a very long time ago, when they were relatively unknown in New England, and I'd bought one as a foliage plant for a dark wooded area of my yard - I never ventured into that corner in winter.

    There are lots of great hellebores - H. foetidus and x hybridus (aka orientalis) are the most forgiving, in my experience, but H niger, the Christmas rose, is also tough as nails where it's happy. You just can't beat them for a) glossy evergreen foliage and b) winter flowers.

    They self-sow at a perfect rate, at least here on Cape Cod - never aggressive, but they pop up here and there, just when you think you need some more of them.

  • 8 years ago

    Check out Carolyn's Shade Gardens. Her blog is full of unusual shade plants for all conditions. Just be sure to check the zones because she's in PA.

  • 8 years ago

    Watch the muscari. I wanted "a river of blue" and I planted muscari. They multiply.

    Their foliage is ratty green then ratty brown then ratty green again.

    Several clumps would be manageable but if a "river of blue" is what you imagine

    I suggest scrapping the idea.

  • 8 years ago

    We already have muscari in other parts of the garden and the foliage doesn't bother me. I am planting it as a spring border.

    I would love to plant some Hellebores. Where and when do you find them? I've only found them once and it was a few years ago. Any recommended nurseries on the North Shore? Or online sources?

  • 8 years ago

    All good ideas offered above. Let me add two more that work for me: If you have enough moisture at the site, I recommend ligularia. I have two varieties, and tho' the flowers are fun, I prefer the bold foliage. For a groundcover to fill in spaces, I recommend sweet woodruff. Perky foilage with white bloom. (It might even be the solution to hiding the pouting muscari foliage.

  • 8 years ago

    I love ligularia, too. One of mine, which I think is L. dentata 'Dark Beauty' grows at the top of a shady wall where it's actually quite dry - I think the moisture needs are directly proportional to the amount of sun it gets.