Summer Containers For Shade: My Year Of Living Dangerously, But In A Boring Way

This summer I defied Impatiens downy mildew and lived to tell the tale. For two years I have avoided Impatiens (Impatiens walleriana) because of a widespread and devastating blight that has received extensive publicity.

My wheelbarrow container full of Impatiens.
My wheelbarrow container full of Impatiens.

Despite the tidings of doom, my neighbor John planted Impatiens for both of those years with no problems.

 I spread mulch and lined up containers along the edge where our new circle patio is bordered by mainly spring ephemerals.
I spread mulch and lined up containers along the edge where our new circle patio is bordered by mainly spring ephemerals.

You can accuse me of mad recklessness – but I don’t care! Which is not to say I’m encouraging you to do the same.

The flowers here are almost all from regular impatiens, the New Guinea Impatiens are not contributing much beyond foliage.
The flowers here are almost all from regular Impatiens, the New Guinea Impatiens are not contributing much beyond foliage.

The nice thing about Impatiens is that they make nice flowery mounds in the shade, and they are comparatively cheap if you need to buy them as plants. They are pretty undemanding, requiring little more than a little moisture. To play it safe, I mixed New Guinea Impatiens (I. hawkeri – which are blight resistant) in the containers with the regular Impatiens, but I. walleriana was far more floriferous.

Some consider impatiens overused, but who cares? Just because a flower is common doesn’t make it a bad plant.

Another view of the patio with containers along the far edge.
Another view of the patio with containers along the far edge. I kept white as the dominant color, with occasional splashes of lavender or salmon. 

On the other hand, containers cannot get by on Impatiens alone. They need some companions for at least a bit of contrast. New Guinea Impatiens and ‘Babywing White’ begonias failed to stand out at all. Green and white Caladiums were a little better, but still not satisfying.

Flowering Tobacco 'Only the Lonely'
Flowering Tobacco ‘Only the Lonely’

For a while I was excited about Flowering Tobacco ‘Only the Lonely’ (Nicotiana sylvestris). I liked the height, the big leaves,  and the unique flowers.

DSC_0864 flowering tobacco

The excitement died when the blooms sputtered out in late July, however.

Hanging basket with Impatiens and Fuchsia.
Hanging basket with Impatiens and Fuchsia.

Fuchsia ‘Gartenmeister’ did better, and was attractive to hummingirds. I may use more of these next year.

Flowering containers on the back steps.
Flowering containers on the back steps.

A happy discovery was that Sweet Alyssum (Lobularia maritima) will bloom in the back garden from May through mid-July, at least in a milder year. I am hoping they will flower again by September now that I have given them a good shearing.

Fan Flower 'Whirlwind Blue' with a variety of other shade plants.
Fan Flower ‘Whirlwind Blue’ with poking through Impatiens and other shade plants. Oxalis ‘Molten Lava’ is the chartreuse one spilling over in the front. 

In a corner of the back garden I have three containers in deep shade. There I have one plant of Fan Flower ‘Whirlwind Blue’ (Scaevola hybrid). I really like it,and I would plant more of it if I didn’t remember the Great Fan Flower Massacre of 2013. Rabbits, I thought, were the perpetrators, but now I am told it was likely Goldfinches. Either way, a large number of Fan Flowers planted in the wheelbarrow and other containers were absolutely torn to shreds. I am reluctant to go through that horrifying experience again.

On the other hand, Oxalis ‘Molten Lava’, if placed on the edge of a tightly packed container, will spill nicely. That’s another one I may try more of next summer.

What are your favorite plants for containers in shade?

51 Comments on “Summer Containers For Shade: My Year Of Living Dangerously, But In A Boring Way”

  1. Love the variety in your pots. I haven’t gone back to impatiens, and the New Guinea are not as floriferous (great word) and more expensive. Might try again next year I do like them for their reliable color in the shade. I have two mixed coleus pots in the shade that always do great.

  2. Great shade pots. I’ve missed impatiens and will get some next year. The New Guineas are more floriferous in the sun than shade for me. I like to throw in tuberous begonias for their big flowers and fuchsias of all sorts for the hummingbirds.

  3. I love your pots and good for you living dangerously! Impatients really put on a solid show each year and I’m sad downy mildew came along but I guess it really depends on the weather and growing conditions. I have a few doing fine this year as well but also hedged my bets with the new guineas… And also didn’t get as much bloom.
    I’m liking begonias for shade, not so much the wax ones but the (more expensive if course) fancy leaved and cane begonias. Come to think of it now might be a good time to had to the nursery and see if there are any marked down ones which I can get for cheap and overwinter!

  4. Love your living dangerously with impatiens. They were my “old reliables” in the shady parts of my garden every year and provide such welcome bursts of color. Since the blight was reported I’ve done without, but you may have persuaded me to rethink next summer! (I have white nicotiana this year!)

  5. Torenias and anglewing begonias are the only flowering annuals I’m using this year and both are doing well, though the torenias are not as floriferous as I hoped they would be. The blight is rampant here, so no more I. walleriana for me, and the New Guineas want more sun than I have to offer. Your circle patio makes such a happy spot in the garden. I’m imagining a cool breeze and a glass of Sauvignon Blanc.

  6. Aren’t you the dangerous one for daring downy mildew to enter your garden! I love the wheelbarrow!! I have never had a problem with impatiens here. Maybe it’s too hot and dry. I did switch one bed to begonias-a locally grown one that likes heat and a little sun and they always look good. I haven’t tried fuchsias and I’m not sure why not. I have hummingbirds galore and I bet they would love the change.

  7. Ditto on the impatiens. I too added them back this year with no problems. Right now my best bloomers are the impatiens — both kinds — while almost everything else is looking bedraggled. Summer Wave Torenia, usually reliable for me, pooped out along with Isotoma, which was awesome earlier. Perhaps it will revive in fall. Another big success which I will likely repeat is a large tropical fern. Can’t find the name right now but you see them now everywhere including grocery store impulse sales in spring. I admit to be addicted to container gardening, a great deal of fun it is.

  8. Well…now that you have braved using Impatiens, I may plunge back in next season because I love them, simple or not. It’s kind of like geraniums. I like them and make no excuses. 🙂 I like the color of Coleus in my shady pots but they need a lot of water or they wilt which gets kind of old trying to keep them moist if it is really hot and requires watering more than once a day. I’ve also had good luck this year with Begonias. Have a good weekend surrounded by your beautiful garden. 🙂

  9. White impatients make a nice jolt of light in the shade garden. I used a perennial ‘Snow Cap’ which is a creeping broad-leaved sedge that gave much the same affect. I really liked how it spread. I will plant it in the ground this fall hoping it lives. My other favorite of the potted summer is Begonia ‘Golden Lime’. It is a bright, chartreuse angel-winged begonia that is striking. I planted it with Gartenmeister Fuchsia with it’s dark leaves and delicious blooms I didn’t miss any blooms the Golden Lime didn’t deliver. A good combo. I didn’t plant many pots this year because I knew I wouldn’t be home for long stretches.

  10. My favorites were impatiens, RIP (I had the blight for several years, before I even knew what it was. Didn’t matter if the plants were in the ground or in containers.) This year I have one basket of sunpatiens in shade; will see how they do. Meanwhile, I’ve learned to enjoy begonias. But, there is nothing like impatiens. Nothing.

  11. Containers can and often are a bit of a hit or miss for me and I’ve cut right back on them this year. Which is a shame really as they’d have looked after themselves since the weather has been so bad. I have shade loving Begonias in full sun – ha! Full Sun!! I am holding the summer in contempt this year!
    I’ve not seem many impatiens for sale lately, due to the issues with blight, it’s publicised widely here too Jason.

  12. I love impatiens – and was devastated when the blight arrived in Australia. I tried them last summer, but sadly without any real summer warmth (most nights are around 50 and most days are less then 75F) they really didn’t grow for me…it’s not going to stop me from trying again though!

  13. I’m starting to get into begonias, but my most successful shade container, so far, was black mondo grass with golden baby tears. I get impatient with the idea that there are “overused”, and thus “bad” plants. I say go for those Impatiens.

  14. ‘Overused’ Whatever. I adore impatiens — especially the white ones. They are perfect for shady areas. I am really annoyed by the elitism that has crept into gardening. Buy this but not that. Go to this expensive public garden but shun your local park … blah It takes a pretty insecure person to need permission from a style guide to tell them what to love.

  15. LOVE your wheelbarrel with the impatients! My neighbor gave me his from under his porch a few years ago. It is an old one and I have been pondering what to do + I love they way you have displayed yours:-) I grow the old-fashioned Balsam which is similar but taller. I am trying to figure out how to work her in to my scheme. They have a shorter one known as tom thumb that is like the impatients. Your tobacco is a stunner! I have tried to grow some but mine always get lost in my wild garden:-) I need a tall one like yours!

  16. I like using impatiens. I never turn my nose up at common plants. If they succeed in my garden, they are welcome! I love your arrangement around your patio, and the wheelbarrow is quite charming. I have wanted a wheelbarrow full of flowers for a long time. My hubby’s wheelbarrow is not ready for such a use; I guess I will have to buy an old one. As for companions for impatiens in containers. I planted some variegated hostas and ivy in containers with red impatiens, and it looks very nice. The hostas and ivy are permanent, so I just have to tuck in the impatiens each year.

  17. Lovely pots. I love Impatiens too although I haven’ t grown any this year. I specially like the white one growing in the the shade of my silver weeping pear. This year I forgot. I wouldn’ t let talk of blight put me off either. I don’ believe I can’ t grow anything until I have personally killed it. These blight scaremongerers don’ t scare me.

  18. I hope your impatiens do well and don’t get the mildew. Our whole street was planted with impatiens the entire I lived here. All the Norway Maples lining the street were why. Neighbors relied on the annuals until a few years ago when the plants all wilted and died. The neighbors tried the next year and the same thing happened. Then nurseries stopped selling them. I have torenia with hydrangea, painted fern and blue hosta in one of my shade containers.

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