My Perennial Shade Garden

Pictures of my shade garden perennials.

mouse ear hosta
Mouse Ear Hosta

My front yard has an upward sloping hill with tall hardwood trees. Once the leaves pop out in May most of my front yard is in constant shade. I love trees, and they are beautiful, but planting and growing anything beneath them is difficult.

I prefer to invest in perennials, since I am on a tight budget. Impatiens are the only annual I plant and they like the shade. Usually I can find cheap, multiple impatiens seedlings in tiny containers. It takes time to get them all planted, but once they are in the ground they grow nicely. My recent favorite is the variety with red and white striped flowers.

It took me one full summer to clear out beneath the trees. The following year I added astilbe, hosta, and bleeding heart perennials. Digging the ground where there are many tree roots is tough. I added some new loam at the base of the hill which helped with planting.

Honestly, the astilbe is my least favorite. It’s spindly and small, but I’ll see how it does this year. I don’t know much about it, but it’s not full and pretty like in the pictures I’ve seen. My guess is that the dirt is not suitable.

The Hosta plants always come back and fill out a bit more each summer.  I’m happy to find that they are all growing.  This past winter was a very bad one, and a few of my perennials seem to have died.  I had a big Pampas Grass plant that is totally gone.  Glad I got this picture last summer.

pampas grass
Pampas Grass Bloom

My favorite shade garden perennial is probably the bleeding heart. It seems so fragile. The bright green stems are soft and break easily. The little heart-shaped flowers dangle from thin branches and seem so delicate. Yet it survives the winter and is always one of the first plants to push up in spring.

Usually my lenton rose plants bloom first, but this year one of them took a long time to grow.  Like I mentioned, the winter was especially hard.

My Three Favorite Perennials For Shade

white astilbe
White Astilbe – Shade Lover

It’s not easy to grow a shade garden.  Some hydrangeas will do well in shade, but I am not talking about those here.  This post is about the smaller perennials that can fill a shade garden.  The flower variety of shade loving plants is limited even more than the plants that are available.  Most things that will grow under trees or in gardens that are on the shady side of a house are pretty dull looking in my opinion.  I love a garden with variety, so I am always on the lookout for something new to plant in the yard and I’m always thrilled to find a nice looking, shade loving shrub.

Still, I revert back to my favorite three basic choices when buying for the shade.

#1. Bleeding Heart –  This is an amazing plant.  It is so delicate that it breaks easily, yet sends out long leafy stalks with loads of little, heart-shaped flowers that dangle from the greenery.  It seems so fragile, yet each year it survives the icy cold winters underground and grows back in Spring.

#2. Astilbe  – I think this is a favorite of many when it comes to planting for shade.  I am new to growing this plant, but I plan to have many of them in my garden under the trees.  They have tall feathery flowers in white, red and pink and their leaves can vary from color to color.

#3.  Hostas – Of course.  Who has a shade garden without including hostas?  Last year I planted a variety of hostas in my large, front yard garden.  It’s too early in the season to see them sprouting yet, but I look forward to watching them get larger and larger.  Hostas are mainly grown for the leaf coloring and size, even though they do send up tall shoots with tiny flowers on them.

This little one I found last year at the local nursery is called “Mouse Ear”.

mouse ear hosta
Mouse Ear Hosta

Perennial Flowers That Like Shade

Astilbe koblenz
Image via Wikipedia – Astilbe koblenz

I’d like to write about tall perennials that like shade, but I haven’t come across any. 

The best flower for shade is the astilbe (shown).  It has pretty leaves and shoots up tall, colorful and feathery-looking flowers.  It is available in many colors and I especially love the white.  But the flowers are tall and not necessarily the actual plant.

Other Shade-loving Perennials

Hostas are also well known as shade loving plants, but they grow close to the ground with tall shoots that hold their tiny flowers. This is a little “mouse ear” Hosta I planted.

mouse ear hosta plant
Mouse Ear Hosta

Another favorite for the shade is the bleeding heart.

Bleeding heart plant
Bleeding heart plant

Of course many hydrangeas can do well in partly shaded locations and I plan to try some in my front yard (New Hampshire).  The truth is that most flowering plants need a lot of sun to look good, but arranging the plants I have mentioned here in a grouping beneath trees, or in any shaded area, can be beautiful as well.