10 Neat Things About What to Plant in the Shade
by Dorothy Dobbie
June 23, 2013

1. Bergenia cordifolia (pig squeak).

This shade lover makes a nice contrast with hosta with big shiny leaves and outstanding springtime spires of pink or white flowers. Rub the leaves with your fingers and you'll understand the common name. It's an evergreen plant in warmer zones and even stays green under the snow. It was used for earaches, urinary problems and to cure kidney stones.

2. Astilbe chinensis (false spirea).

The feathery flowers and ferny leaves of this plant make a decided contrast with hosta and bergenia. The common name, false spirea, is also applied to Sorbaria sorbilfolia, which is a shrubby, 1.5-metre-tall plant that looks a lot like sumac. Oddly, this plant is often called goatsbeard, another shade plant more properly called Aruncus dioicus. Astilbe has been cultivated in the garden since the 18th century and prefers a semi-shady, moist spot in the garden. There are hundreds of cultivars in colours ranging from white to pink to mauve to red and in heights from 12 inches to four feet tall.

3. Lamium (deadnettle).

Why "dead" nettle? Because they won't sting you as will regular nettles. A member of the mint family, it has square stems. There are several varieties, but I like 'Pink Nancy' best. This plant makes a good ground cover (it's a mint family member, remember) with variegated leaves of silver or cream and green. Some have yellow flowers, some white and some pink in springtime.

4. Pulmonaria (lungwort).

This plant has spotted leaves that are roughly the shape of a lung, which is why they were used to treat ailments of the lungs such as coughs, asthma and colds. Some pulmonaria get pink flowers in spring that fade to blue. The common variety, with its white spotted leaves, lights up a dark corner. Lots of varieties here, too, including 'Silver Bouquet' with long slender leaves of a milky green colour and green edges. Some others are heavily splashed with white spots. Pull off the faded flowers and leaves that grow on the flower stalk for a tidy, attractive plant all summer.

5. Heuchera (Coral bells).

The child's poem says that coral bells ring when the fairies sing. They may or may not do so, but they still bloom along a slender stalk, only now the flowers are being outdone by the fantastic foliage that ranges in colour from plum to peach, to flaming orange and back to purple, along with all sorts of greens and silvery variegations. No shade garden should be without coral bells.

6. Polygonatum (Solomon's seal).

The botanical name comes from the Greek for "many knees", which refers to its multiple jointed rhizome. The common name is said to again be named for the roots that have depressions that look like a royal seal. Whatever the reason for their name, I love them because the flowers look like pearl drops along their reaching stems, which also support pinnate leaves. The most beautiful of these arching plants is the variegated one, its leaves outlined in white.

7. Epimedium (barrenwood, bishop's hat, fairy wings, horny goat weed).

Dwellers of the forest floors in China and Japan, these delicate plants have been gaining popularity in North America, forming a beautiful groundcover. Sometimes the new leaves are tinted in bronze, copper or reds and there are many colours of the delicate flowers. Some plants turn purple or crimson in fall and they are all evergreen. As for its rather sexual common names (it is also called rowdy lamb herb and randy beef grass) it is so named because a Chinese goat herder noticed an increase in mating behaviour among his flock that grazed on the plant.

8. Browallia speciosa (amethyst flower).

This plant has a lovely blue flower that will bloom most of the season in a shady spot or a container. Grown as an annual in these parts (it's hardy only to zones 9 and up), some species of browallia blossoms can be as large as two inches across, but it is the blue flower colour with its white eye that is most appealing, although they also come in white and purple.

9. Ajuga reptans (carpet bugle).

An unsung hero in the garden. Ajuga is a delightful groundcover that produces spikes of blue flowers in spring over shiny, medium-sized, bronze to purple textured leaves. It forms a pretty mat in places where other things won't grow and it offers eye relief for showier plants. It likes moisture but can handle drought.

10. Brunnera macrophylla (Siberian bugloss).

The foliage of this plant is outstanding. 'Jack Frost is a favourite, with its heart-shaped silver leaves and veins etched in dark green. The word 'bugloss' doesn't refer to losing bugs. Instead, it's a combination of the Greek words for ox and tongue, so-named for the shape of its leaves. It flowers in spring with small blue star like blossoms looking a lot like forget-me-not.

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