Summer Containers for Shade

Recently there has been a strong movement towards perennials among the containers in our shady back garden. They got tired of buying hordes of annuals in spring, and then again in summer. Oh wait, that was me that got tired.

It took me a while to orient myself to perennials in shade containers because I have always had the mindset that containers should be about blooms – especially in shade where blooms are somewhat limited after spring. But I came to feel that it would be better if these containers were more dynamic, changing gradually in tune with the seasons.

hosta patriot

Several Hosta fortunei ‘Patriot’ have found their way into the larger containers. They remind me of the white and green Caladiums I like, but you don’t have to overwinter the tubers or buy new ones every year.

The ‘Patriots’ above are sharing their pots with orange New Guinea impatiens (Impatiens hawkeri), and Sweet Alyssum (Lobularia maritima). The Sweet Alyssum is no longer blooming, obviously. In a week or so I will cut it back in the hopes that it will bloom again in September.


Another perennial plant that looks awfully good to me in containers is Japanese Forest Grass (Hakonechloa macra ‘All Gold’). Now if only I can keep the rabbits from eating it.


Of course, I am not abandoning annuals. Some containers are still all-annual, or just about. Above, for example, there’s a ‘Perfume Deep Purple’ Flowering Tobacco (Nicotiana x sanderae) with more New Guinea Impatiens. Although the Creeping Jenny (Lysimachia numularia ‘Aurea’) is also perennial, having been planted last year.


Here’s our wheelbarrow planter. You can see from this and other pictures that I haven’t removed all of the white Pansies (Viola x wittrockiana) and Johnny-Jump-Ups (Viola tricolor) that were planted in spring. Instead, I’ve just mixed in a few more heat-tolerant Impatiens.

In terms of perennials, you can see there is more Creeping Jenny and a couple of Hosta ‘August Moon’. ‘August Moon’ may not have been the best choice for a container, even a big one. A lot of Hosta dividing could be in my future. Also, I prefer the coloring of ‘Patriot’.


Another perennial I am trying out in the shade containers is Golden Globe (Lysimachia procumbens), which you can see here with some blue Pansies. It’s very handy to be able to move containers about and use them to fill holes created by the ephemeral flowers so common to shade gardens.


Perhaps you remember the big old concrete fountain that was monstrously heavy and had a few other practical problems. Well, it has been reborn as a container. It’s full of the little regular Impatiens (Impatiens walleriana) and New Guinea Impatiens.

There’s also another ‘Patriot’ Hosta, a small Variegated Dwarf Solomon Seal (Polygonatum humile) that’s very hard to see, and a Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis). The Cardinal Flower is a bit of an experiement.


I’ve been thinking about what I want to do with these containers going into next year. The idea of filling them with early spring bulbs, like Snowdrops (Galanthus) and Triandrus or Cyclamineus Narcissi, is very appealing.

In terms of overwintering, all of the perennials discussed here are very hardy (up to zone 3), so I don’t expect to give them any coddling.

Have you been trying anything new with your containers in shade?

33 Comments on “Summer Containers for Shade”

  1. I love experimenting with containers, and I periodically break the bank when I fall for some outrageous perennial combo. I really liked the Patriots with the red Impatiens. To my eyes, I didn’t mind the Alyssum being done blooming, at all! I like that fine, green foliar contrast against the other two. 🙂

  2. I’ve been trying to improve the pots on our summer. shaded terrace; I have Miscanthus ‘Morning Light’ in two of the pots and Heuchera; I think you are right that the way to go is either mixed annuals and perennials or perennials alone. Love the Hostas, might try that too.

  3. Jason, your containers look great. I went the opposite way, breaking down and getting some annuals for pots this year. Saw a gorgeous shade container yesterday at the local shop where I was having my oil changed, of all places, filled with different heuchera and hosta.

  4. So they stay all winter? I haven’t done much of that since I usually put them back into the ground for protection, or they’re in such a bad spot they just die anyway when the weather gets rough.
    This spring all the containers seemed a lot of work, maybe it’s time to go with the perennial investment!

  5. I have reduced my potted plants because they dry out so quickly in summer here, but I still have a mix of annuals and perennials … I can never resist the pots of spring pansies and summer petunias when I see them at the markets…..

  6. I guess maybe I should give perennials in pots another thought. I’ve thought about it, but then I keep thinking they won’t make it through the winter. But you’re right: Perennials that are hardy to zone 3 should be able to survive a zone 5 winter in a pot. Maybe I could put them along the south side of the house. Thanks for the inspiration! Your examples are fabulous!

  7. A great idea Jason. Will you have to protect the pots in winter? I have some containers that look remarkably like terracotta, but are in fact plastic, so they can stay out all year. That Patriot hosta is lovely and the white flowers all show up very well in shady spots. I have so little shade, but I do also have a Hakonechloa in a pot in a semi-shady area. Yours looks happier than mine though!

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