Plant Combinations for Shade

Perennial Combinations for ShadeMarch 19, 2019 – The Gardener’s Journal – Shade gardening presents a unique set of challenges. Soil is the key to growing healthy plants. Is your garden dry or moist? Most shade gardens are engulfed in trees that compete with perennials for moisture. Healthy, moisture retentive, well drained soil is one of the single most important elements of successful gardening.






Creating healthy soil in sandy or heavy clay soil is as easy as adding compost or worm castings. This improves the soil structure and fertility. By adding compost or worm castings yearly you will begin to see your plants grow better. Choose perennials that are best suited to your growing conditions will help ensure better gardening success.

I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to choose perennials with outstanding foliage. Foliage provides texture and colour in the garden and bridges the gap when the flowers are not blooming. Perennials chosen first for their foliage will build the foundation of a shade garden that has all-season beauty. Choosing plants with interesting foliage will create the biggest impact. Foliage with colour and textural interest interest will light up a shade garden. Most shade perennials will benefit from some degree of sunlight.

Perennials for Shade

(Plant List: Heuchera ‘Forever Red’, Heucherella ‘Solar Eclipse’, Heucherella ‘Pumpkin Spice’, Hosta ‘Maui Buttercups’, Gooseneck Loosetrife ….)

At the Plant Paradise Country Gardens botanical gardens we have created plant combinations for shade that provide continuous bloom and colour all season long. The shade gardens begin flowering early spring with ephemeral plants and Helleborus. Many shade perennials are ephemeral plants, such as Trilliums and Dodecatheon (Shooting Star). They bloom in the spring and then after flowering they will eventually go summer dormant. Their leaves will die back and the plant seems to disappear only to return the following spring.

Perennials for Shade

(Plant List: Hosta ‘Barbara Ann’, Dodecatheon meadia, Fern ‘Burgundy Lace’)

For early spring blooms, Mertensia virginica (Virginia Bluebells) is one of the best Ontario native, spring ephemeral plants. We plant them between Hostas and other shade perennials for early spring interest. The emerging foliage of the Hostas and other shade perennials will hide the decaying leaves of the ephemeral plants.

Perennials for Shade

(Plant List: Phlox divaricata ‘Blue Moon’Hosta ‘Liberty’,  Mertensia virginica, Dicentra ‘Goldheart’…)

Heuchera provide all season foliage interest and beauty with the added benefit of flower blooms. Different leaf textures and colours along with different plant shapes all help to create an exciting garden.

Plant Combinations for Shade

(Plant List: Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola‘,  Heuchera ‘Forever Purple’, Heuchera ‘Paris’ (in bloom with coral-red flowers), Polygonatum ‘Variegatum’, Chelone, Dicentra ‘Goldheart’…)

Tiarella, Brunnera and Epimedium make a wonderful plant combination for early spring blooms in the shade garden and create all season interest with their interesting foliage.

Plant combination for shade

(Plant List: Tiarella ‘Sugar and Spice’, Epimedium ‘Pink Champagne’, Brunnera ‘Jack Frost’…)

Stylophorum diphyllum, commonly called the celandine-poppy or wood poppy, is a native North American plant that will self-seed happily in a woodland forest. We have found it to tolerate dry conditions extremely well. It is easily removed where you do not want it. To prevent self-seeding remove the finished flower heads so prevent it going to seed. Great Solomon’s Seal makes a great backdrop in the shade garden and it tolerates extreme dry conditions.

Shade Combination

(Plant List: Stylophorum diphyllum (wood poppy) with Great Solomon’s Seal (Polygonatum biflorum)

The book, Spectacular Plant Combinations for the Perennial Garden has a whole section dedicated to beautiful shade combinations. Photographed on location at Plant Paradise Country Gardens.

Spectacular Plant Combinations for the Perennial Garden


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Lorraine Roberts
Lorraine Roberts is a lifelong organic gardener, environmental advocate and educator for sustainable gardening methods, horticulturist, garden designer, photographer and author of two books: A Recipe for Continuous Bloom & Spectacular Plant Combinations for the Perennial Garden. Lorraine and her husband Robert are the creators and owners of the multi-award winning botanical garden and organic perennial nursery - Plant Paradise Country Gardens located in Caledon, Ontario, Canada. Every spring you'll find Lorraine in the greenhouse potting the thousands of perennials they grow and sell at Plant Paradise Country Gardens.

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