Made For The Shade

Embrace the dark side with a spectacular display of perennials perfect for those low-light spots in your landscape

When you’re made for the shade, you must gobble up every drop of sunlight. How better to do this than by unfurling broad leaves to catch the rays? 

Hosta cultivars range from those with massive leaves of green, blue or variegated to those with teensy leaves such as the whimsically named ‘Blue Mouse Ears’. All thrive with plenty of moisture in summer. They are extremely cold hardy, making them perfect for dramatic container plantings. Tubular flowers arise on tall stalks in summer some are even lily scented. These perennials die back in fall, so tuck bulbs around them for late-winter interest.

Reward each plant with a layer of compost in October and March, water deeply when summer arrives in force (with a soaker hose if time is precious) and your shade garden will shine year after year.

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 Pig Squeek
Pig squeak and I didn’t make that up is the rather old-fashioned common name for Bergenia, another easy-to-grow, large-leaf perennial. Spring flowers of pink, red or white nestle among its leaves. Add Bergenia to containers for textural contrast; some cultivars have bronze foliage in winter, which is particularly eye-catching in the season’s soft light. And if you rub the leaves, guess what? They squeak!

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Bear's  breeches
Bear’s breeches (Acanthus) also shows off large, glossy leaves, along with vertical flower spikes that add height to the shade garden, an element sometimes difficult to incorporate. In mild winters, bear’s breeches is evergreen, adding winter foliage. 

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Brunnera Macrophylla 'Jack Frost'
Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’ has silver, heart-shaped leaves with green veining. In early spring it produces spraysof tiny blue flowers. Related to forget-me-nots, this hardy  perennial is much better behaved. It looks great blooming with yellow daffodils and purple hellebores. Give it plenty of compost and extra water during dry spells.

Primroses and their relatives are noted for their gorgeous flowers. In early spring you’ll seeflocks of the rainbow-hued types in garden centers and even grocery stores. I find that these little nuggets of color struggle in the garden when summer arrives. My solution is to grow a few in containers that I keep in the shade andstand in saucers of water when it gets very hot. Pampered, they reward me with blooms for months each year.

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Primula Pulverlenta
For the garden, search out the less common primulas, such as the candelabra types with their twirling tiers of flowers. Of the several species in this category, I like Primula pulverulenta, its flowers come in rich tones and its stems and leaves are covered with white flecks that remind me of icing sugar. In general, species primulas are easy to grow from seed. They are sensational planted in large swathes in the filtered light of deciduous trees. Rich soil and plenty of water keeps them happy, so if you have a shady, damp area, this group of perennials is for you.

garden, flower, Made the shade
Deer fern
To create an attractive shade garden, add plants with finely cut leaves. The many species of ferns fill this role with grace and ease. I wouldn’t be without our modest B.C.-native Deer Fern (Blechnum spicant). Its long evergreen fronds are cut to the central midrib, creating a feather-like quality. A bulkier evergreen fern, our native sword fern (Polystichum munitum, matures into a substantial clump, perfect for screening a building foundation where it doesn’t mind shade and a little summer drought once established. This is just a small sampling of perennials for shade. Not only will you be amused by their wizardly names (in honour of mice, bears, pigs and deer, not to mention swords and candlesticks!), you’ll be captured by their beauty. Arrange round leaves with pointed leaves, variegated foliage with bronze, and glossy with dull for a year-round magical display.

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