Reader Question: Shade Perennials

Today’s Reader Question comes from Monica in Bethesda, MD:

I recently read your article about shrubs for shady gardens and it made me wonder if you have suggestions for shade perennials. I have hosta and pachysandra but I’d like to expand my area for shade perennials.

Monica, there are so many wonderful choices when it comes to shade perennials. Here are some of my favorites:

  1. Ferns – there are ferns that can fit just about condition that you can throw at them. There are short ones like rainbow moss fern that spread like a groundcover, tall majestic evergreen creatures like autumn fern and delicate ones with apple green foliage like lady fern.
  2. Coral Bells – the latin name for these is Heuchera and you can find them in all sorts of foliage colors. The foliage can range from green to chartreuse to purple to marbled. Coral bells are generally grown for their beautiful evergreen foliage but some of them, like ‘Autumn Bride’, provide a nice display of flowers too.

    shade perennials

    Coral bells are often grown for their beautiful evergreen foliage

  3. Astilbe – also known as False Spiraea, these perennials can vary in size from dwarf (like Hennie Graafland) to quite tall (like ‘Bridal Veil’). They come in a variety of colors that can be worked into virtually any shady garden.
  4. Bleeding Hearts – also known as Dicentra spectabilis, these ephemeral beauties begin blooming in April and all but disappear by midsummer. Their gorgeous blooms can either be pink or white and will provide a beautiful show of color.
  5. Solomon’s Seal – Polygonatum odoratum ‘Variegatum’ is a favorite in my own personal garden. I love perennials that are no fuss and take care of themselves once established. Solomon’s Seal will form a small colony over the years and is easily propagated to use in other shady areas or to share with your friends.
  6. Dwarf Crested Iris – Iris cristata is a delightful little spring bloomer that is attractive even when it’s not in bloom. The straight species’ blooms are blue but it is also available in white. This is another shade perennial that will colonize over the years and it is not invasive.

I hope that this list gives you some ideas of shady perennials that will be great performers in your garden. Arum italicum ‘Pictum’ is another great choice and you can use it to fill in the bare spots that are left in the winter by hostas.

I’d love to hear from other Mid-Atlantic Gardening readers about their favorite shady perennials. Leave me a comment below or e-mail me at Happy gardening!

Reader Question: Shrubs that Thrive in Shade


Today’s Reader Question comes from Jesse in Prince George, VA:

I have a shady yard and am looking for advice on shrubs that thrive in shade. I have azaleas but am looking for something a little more exciting.

Well Jesse, it really depends on how much shade you have. As a general rule, if your garden only has morning shade you can grow many full sun shrubs as the afternoon sun is much more intense. If your garden only has afternoon shade, you can consider your landscape to be a shady one. Of course, there are always variables to take into account such as the denseness of your shade and your sun exposure in the winter.

Assuming that you have a shady yard as you indicated, there are a number of shrubs that will fit the bill. Let’s take a look at some of them:

  1. AZALEAS – I know you said that you were looking for something a bit more exciting but have you considered the Encore azaleas? They reliably rebloom in the fall so they offer you two seasons of color. They come in all sorts of colors and heights so there is probably one that will work for your landscape.
  2. CAMELLIAS – I love, love, love camellias but many are only hardy to Zone 7. Since you’re just a couple of counties away from me in Prince George, camellias will offer you beautiful evergreen foliage and fantastic blooms. There are two types of camellias: sasanqua types which bloom in the fall and japonicas which bloom in the late winter and early spring. Instead of making it an either/or decision, why not plant both?
  3. PIERIS – These gorgeous shrubs bloom in the spring and also have evergreen foliage. There are many cultivars available ranging in color from red to pink to white.
  4. shrubs that thrive in shadeHYDRANGEA – Hydrangeas are deciduous but well worth it for their blooms. There are two types of hydrangeas…mopheads and lacecaps. On top of that, many of the older hydrangea cultivars bloom on old wood while the newer varieties bloom on new wood. The newer cultivars can be cut back in the spring without the fear of pruning away your blooms. The picture here is the foliage of ‘Mariesii Variegata’ emerging in the spring.
  5. GARDENIA – In the southern portion of the Mid-Atlantic Gardening region, gardenias appreciate some shade from the afternoon sun. Their blooms are fragrant and make beautiful cut flowers. They can be prone to whiteflies if they are sited in too much sun so take care to plant them in at least light shade.
  6. GOOSEBERRIES – If you are looking to grow a shrub that also produces edible fruit, consider the gooseberry. They won’t thrive in dense shade but if they are afforded good air movement, they will produce a bounty of fruit that can be used in preserves, pies and jams.


Jesse, I hope that I’ve given you some ideas regarding shrubs that thrive in shade. All of these plants are low maintenance shrubs that will thrive with little care once established. If other Mid-Atlantic Gardening readers would like to chime in with their favorite shrubs for shade, leave me a comment below or e-mail me at Happy gardening!

March 22, 2012Permalink 9 Comments

Plant Profile: Lords and Ladies or Arum italicum ‘Pictum’


The frost has killed off the foliage on my hostas and they resemble little more than pathetic blobs of brown mushiness. But a winter friend has reared its head and that friend is Arum italicum ‘Pictum’, otherwise known as Lord and Ladies.

Arum is a fascinating plant in that it is summer dormant and waits until cool weather to emerge. It is a perfect companion plant for shade loving perennials such as hostas, deciduous ferns and astilbes. When the cold weather has become too much for these spring and summer beauties, Arum decides to emerge to take over the show. Its beautiful arrow shaped leaves are mottled with white veins that seem to catch sunlight and reflect it back in the winter garden. It will emerge through fallen leaves so it can be naturalized in wooded areas, perhaps along a garden path or sitting area that is enjoyed on those warm winter days.

Arum is accented with light green to white spathes in spring that resemble those of a peace lily. As summer draws closer, the spathes transform into bright red seed heads that stand out in the shade garden. After this final performance, Arum goes into its summer dormancy and waits again for the cool weather. For this reason. it’s a good idea to mark or otherwise note where your Arum are so that they aren’t uprooted during the summer.

A bonus of growing this plant is that it is also deer and vole resistant. Reported to be poisonous, it’s no wonder why the four legged critters, both above and below ground, steer clear of it. Arum will form quaint colonies over time that are easily separated to either move to other areas of your garden or to share with friends. While they prefer moist but well drained, humusy soil, they will certainly tolerate much less, including the usual drought that the Mid-Atlantic summers offer. This is a must have plant for winter gardens…surely you can find a place in your garden for a plant otherwise known as Lords and Ladies! If you have experience with Arum italicum ‘Pictum’ in your garden, let me know by leaving a comment or e-mailing me at I’ve received some reader questions about deer resistant plants so I’ll be tackling that subject tomorrow. Happy gardening!

November 30, 2011Permalink 5 Comments