Ornamentals: Perennials for Shade Gardens

Astilbe koblenz

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Gardening in a shady yard can be a challenge, but there are many flowering plants bloom abundantly in partial shade. Areas that receive 2 to 4 hours of dappled sunlight each day are considered partial shade gardens, according to the University of Illinois Extension. Choose plants that are ideally suited for this condition, observe a few simple tips, and your shaded beds will be as lovely as any that receive full sun.

When I first set out to bring color to a shaded backyard, I feared I was limited to daylilies and hostas. These are most definitely good staples for the Midwest shade garden. I soon found to my surprise and delight that many other perennials do well in shaded locations.

One good choice is bleeding heart, which has fern-like foliage and is named for its flowers that look like a heart with a small drop of pink, white or purple blood at the base. They bloom summer through fall and require little care.

Virginia bluebells also grow well in shade gardens. They display clusters of pink and blue flowers each spring and the compact foliage remains attractive throughout the growing season. Bethlehem sage also blooms in pink, but its flowers gradually turn blue.

Columbine is a woodland flower that comes in single and bi-color varieties. Blossoms are yellow, white, pink, blue, and purple. It blooms from late spring into early summer. Columbine is a self-seeder, but its offspring are notorious for popping up in unlikely places, making it ideal for informal gardens.

Poker primrose blooms in early summer in shades of red and purple.  The plant grows 6 to 12 inches high depending on the variety, with distinctive flower spikes that last more than a month and attract butterflies to the garden.

Astilbes produce flower plumes in white, pink and red in early summer. The deep-lobed, fern-like foliage is attractive prior to and after the flowers have bloomed. The plant grows up to 4 feet tall and the flowers stay in bloom for a few weeks, then fade very slowly as they dry.

Lily of the valley produces fragrant bell-shaped white blossoms in May and spreads prolifically to fill heavily shaded areas. While I find it a joy to grow, be aware that it is quite aggressive and will spread far beyond its original location. For this reason, it makes an excellent groundcover in places where little else will grow.

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