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.

White Impatiens in wheelbarrow container

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.

Allium ‘Mt. Everest’

I’ve found that some Alliums are surprisingly shade-tolerant. In early summer, there’s ‘Mt. Everest’ and ‘Purple Sensation.’

‘Purple Sensation’ Allium in the Back Garden
Allium karataviense

There’s also the low-growing Allium karataviense, whose blooms are nestled into unusually wide (for an Allium) foliage.

Amsonia ‘Blue Ice’ with Alliums in the background.

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.

Clematis ‘Ice Blue’

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.

North American Goatsbeard in the light of early dusk.

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.

Dwarf Goatsbeard surrounded by Yellow Corydalis

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 Alexander flowers.

Golden Alexanders (Zizia aurea) give a nice pop of yellow in June and July.

Purple-flowering Raspberry

Purple-flowering Raspberry is happy in shade and has purple flowers in mid-summer. The fruit is nothing special, though.

Indian Pink

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.

Great Blue Lobelia with Caladiums.

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.

Bee Balm settling in by the back porch.

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?

18 Comments on “Summer Blooms To Brighten The Shady Garden”

  1. Those white busy lizzies look wonderful and really do shine in the shade. The only spot of shade I had in my last garden was brightened up by various Geranium phaeum. There are some dark lilac ones that prefer a bit of sun, but my white one loved the shade and some of them have lovely lime/gold foliage. Can recommend them in a dry spot under trees. 😃

  2. Lovely to see so many of your shade tolerant plants, many familiar to me from your previous posts. Having read Mary Gore’s article & looking at your garden I am envious of your lovely lush shady gardens. However, like Mary Gore I love Japanese Maples and we have five in our garden that give glorious colour in autumn, and some dahlias are flowering beautifully in the shade of the plum tree. Thanks for an interesting post, it has made me think about shady gardens in Australia.

  3. There’s Ice Blue and Blue Ice? That’s not too confusing. I am very impressed by that clematis that grows in shade! It’s a beauty. The impatiens and the caladiums are the show-stoppers for me; I remember how dramatic they looked in your yard last summer. Thanks for the ideas!

  4. I discovered the Great Blue Lobelia last year. It did remarkably good in my shady garden. I have an Amsonia hubrichtii in shade that does well too. I planted a piece of it in a little more sun last year. I am anxious to see if it does even better there. It might not get the moisture that the other one does. Monkey flower Diplacus aurantiacus does pretty good too.

  5. I find the shade the toughest place to grow flowers. My shade is dry, summer shade. So I only manage early summer flowers like Foxgloves and Tellima grandiflora. I think the Corydalis might be a good choice for me but I have bought too many seeds this year to try it this year, I’ll take a note though. Thanks. Amelia

  6. You have a wide selection of shade-tolerant plants in your back garden. I’m so glad we can return to impatiens which are indispensable. Love the goatsbeard.
    Incidentally, I was scouting front gardens for “Lexington in Bloom” recognition last summer and one of the most stunning displays, in partial shade beneath a tree canopy, were all foliage — white caladiums and purple heuchera.

  7. That’s a stunning Goatsbeard, it seems to be positively glowing! I have the dwarf variety growing with heucheras and ferns, makes quite a nice combo. I like your selection of interesting plants, some I didn’t know about including that very perky Indian Pink, it’s gorgeous.

  8. Mount Everest looks rather big there. I have not tried any of the ornamental Allium yet. I am hesitant to do so, but will eventually. White is my favorite color, but I will not likely start with Mount Everest. To me, Allium looks best in those pinkish purplish colors that I do not know the names of. Since there are none for this year, I have plenty of time to decide.

  9. It’s interesting to me that some of our sun-loving natives, like the Amsonia, have been developed to thrive in shade, too. I wouldn’t have expected that, as both Amsonia species here seem to prefer full sun. I didn’t realize there’s a white Corydalis, either. The yellow is native here, but the white would be fun to try. There are a lot of local gardeners who are going to be trying new things here, given that our extended freeze has destroyed so much. Many will be starting from seed, too, since the garden centers lost unbelievable amounts of inventory. Thank goodness it’s still fairly early in the year, and thank goodness some of the natives appear to have survived rather well.

  10. Great information! Yes, I’ve noticed in recent years that Alliums perform well in a deciduous shade garden–maybe because they get a good start before the trees leaf out. They have the added benefit of repelling rabbits! Indian Pinks are favorites, as are Clematises. I hadn’t even thought to try Golden Alexanders; thanks for the tip. Beautiful plants and photos!

  11. Lots of great info in here! I would not have thought that alliums are shade tolerant so will try that. Question – with indian pink, when you say “snap the stems off,” is that the same as deadheading, or something else? Love zizia and goat’s beard too!

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