Shady corners of a garden present their own challenges and opportunities. It's a way to find out how to grow some unusual flowers that you may not have known about before; or use the space as a chance to highlight the beauties of greenery. In either case, there is no excuse for not filling your shade garden with color and variety!


Some flowers wilt in the hot sun but thrive in the shade. Some of the most common and hardy shade-tolerant annuals, which can be grown all over the United States, include impatiens, begonias, and pansies. Northern gardeners can also cultivate bleeding heart, astilbe, and lily-of-the-valley.


Nothing says spring in the Northern states like the first shoots of snowdrop, hyacinth, daffodil and tulip. These bulbs are easily naturalized (that means planting them as they might grow in a wild meadow rather than in beds or rows), and look especially fetching under the spreading branches of trees that will leaf out later in the spring. Southern gardeners who love these flowers should plant them in pots, because the hot summer comes early.

Greenery with Color

It sounds like an oxymoron, but green plants can also be colorful – think croton, coleus, and caladium, which add red, yellow, and orange to a shade garden. The leaves of these plants provide patches of color that will brighten up any shady spot. They are also perennials, and will flourish year after year in southern gardens; in the north, plant them in pots so you can bring them indoors for the winter.  

Shades of Green

Take a close look at your garden and you will see a multitude of greens in various shades. There is the lime green of potato vine, the medium green of philodendron, and the dark green of ferns. Some plants, such as hosta and prayer plant, display stripes or splotches of different greens on the same leaf. Use this green variety to your advantage in a shade garden by planting just greens; see how many different shades you can combine. The result will be a harmonious blend of slight variations in color.

In southern gardens, ferns by themselves can be interesting to arrange, with their many varieties not just in the color green but also in textures and shapes. The macho fern lives up to its name – it's large, dark green, and grows quickly. The maidenhair fern is the exact opposite: delicate, wispy, and lighter in color. The cinnamon fern is brushed with subtle touches of rust, and the lettuce fern has crinkly edges like its namesake. Plant several ferns in a grouping for a long-lasting shade feature.

Tropical Shade Plants

Bring a touch of the exotic to your garden with a taro plant. The taro, also called elephant ear, gets quite tall and bears enormous leaves that give it its common name. It sprouts from a rhizome, and may become invasive in southern areas if allowed to grow unchecked.  Other tropical plants that grow freely outdoors in the South may be potted up in the North and brought in for the winter. Many people are familiar with the wandering Jew as a houseplant in the North; down South it can be seen sometimes as a groundcover that adds a welcome touch of purple to the shady landscape.

Shade garden plants need the same attention to soil, fertilizer, and water requirements as those growing in the sun; however, in the shade you will not usually need to water so often or so deeply. Check the individual requirements of your plants and locate similar plants in the same area for ease of care.

Elephant EarCredit: Patricia RockwoodCredit: Patricia Rockwood