The most recent issue of Fine Gardening magazine had an interesting article by Toronto gardener Mary Gore entitled “Continuous Color in the Shade.” There’s a lot to commend in this article, not least the marvelous photos, but among other things it got me thinking about color schemes for shade.
In most shady gardens, color in springtime is not too difficult. There are plenty of woodland flowers that will bloom before the leafy canopy fills in. The bigger challenge comes with summer.
Ms. Gore’s garden emphasized gold and chartreuse contrasting dramatically with many drifts and pops of red. Much of her red comes from an extensive collection of Japanese Maples. There are also quite a few Dahlias – I had no idea that Dahlias were shade-tolerant.
Actually, a number of plants have surprised me by coping, even thriving, in part shade. Much depends on the type of shade you’ve got. Our shade is more dappled, filtering through a high canopy of smallish deciduous leaves. What follows is an overview of blooms that have done well in our shady garden from June through August (I always think of summer as starting on June 1).
In our shade we like the dominant color (other than green, of course) to be white. White glows in the shade, and adds to the cooling effect of shade on a hot summer day. Here is an overview of the white flowers that bloom in shade for at least a part of summer.
The easiest, most long-lasting source of white flowers for shade is the annual Impatiens (Impatiens walleriana), which will keep blooming from May until frost. I like to have lots of white Impatiens crammed into numerous containers throughout the Back Garden. Now that we have blight-resistant Impatiens (Beacon Impatiens), we can plant the old beloved Busy Lizzies without fear.
I’ve found that some Alliums are surprisingly shade-tolerant. In early summer, there’s ‘Mt. Everest’ and ‘Purple Sensation.’
There’s also the low-growing Allium karataviense, whose blooms are nestled into unusually wide (for an Allium) foliage.
Blue Star (Amsonia sp. and cvs.) is another flower that straddles late spring into early summer. Some Blue Star species like A. hubrichtii demand full sun, but ‘Blue Ice’ is a compact cultivar that tolerates shade.
Most Clematis like full sun, but there are a few that prefer or tolerate shade. ‘Ice Blue’ (not to be confused with ‘Blue Ice’) has done reasonably well in our Back Garden.
A couple of related plants that both really like part shade are known as Goatsbeard, the exotic dwarf (Aruncus aethusifolius) and full-size North American native (A. dioicus). Both flower through June and into July in our garden.
Bowman’s Root (Porteranthus trifoliatus) has clouds of star-shaped white flowers, also in early summer.
White Corydalis (Corydalis ochroleuca) has tubular white flowers that last all summer. It spreads slowly, if at all, unlike its cousin Yellow Corydalis (C. lutea) – shown in an earlier photo. Yellow Corydalis is extremely aggressive, so don’t plant it unless you want it to spread all over the shady parts of your garden. On the plus side, it blooms cheerfully and profusely. I’ve tried growing Blue Corydalis, but without much luck.
Golden Alexanders (Zizia aurea) give a nice pop of yellow in June and July.
Purple-flowering Raspberry is happy in shade and has purple flowers in mid-summer. The fruit is nothing special, though.
I’ve written before about Indian Pink (Spigelia marilandica). It emerges late and blooms in early to mid-summer, with some rebloom later in the season – especially if you snap off the stems once flowering is done. With their yellow stars atop red tubes, I find the flowers cheerful and perky.
In my dreams the accent color of our shade garden would be mostly blue. There are not many blue flowers for shade, however. Fortunately, in late summer and fall there is Great Blue Lobelia, which does well in our garden, in the soil and in containers.
Also, I’ve found that Bee Balm (Monarda didyma) can tolerate some shade, and looks good growing against the white walls of our house. A couple of years ago I transplanted some Bee Balm from the Sidewalk Border to this area by the back porch, and it seems to be settling in well.
This is a far from comprehensive list of summer-blooming plants for shade, just some of the plants that have done well in our Back Garden in recent years. I haven’t even touched on woody plants, or foliage plants, which are the primary source of color in the Mary Gore garden in Toronto referenced at the beginning of this post. (We don’t do a lot with colored foliage ourselves, other than our beloved Caladiums.)
So what about you – do you have any favorite summer blooms for the shade?