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Shady Ladies for the Dark Side

Not everyone is blessed with a garden that enjoys full sun most of the day.   However there are plants that do well and even thrive in that shady spot on your lot.  Shade comes in various degrees of dark.  Partial sun and partial shade mean that plants get 3-6 hours of sun with some relief from the hot afternoon sun.   Dappled shade or light shade translates into sun streaming through the leaves of a high branched tree or a small-leafed one like the thornless honeylocust or maybe there is some dappled sunlight beneath shrubs or tall perennials.  Plants receiving less than 3 hours of direct sunlight are considered to be in full shade.  Such conditions occur when a site is  shaded by buildings or by mature, densely leaved trees all day. Here are 6 of my favourite plants that will do well in varying degrees of shade if all other growing conditions they like are met.


Annual Shade Loving Plants


Impatiens or Busy Lizzie (Impatiens walleriana), currently the most popular annual in North America, this plant is actually a perennial which we grow here as an annual.  Available in a wide range of single and double booms of different colours and varying shades of foliage, these dainty plants have a delicate appearance, adding a bright spot of colour to window boxes and containers.  Impatiens requires moist, fertile, well-drained soil.  Plant them in medium or partial shade and don't allow hanging baskets to dry out.  Impatiens is a great houseplant as well.  


Lobelia or Edging Lobelia (Lobelia erinus) is another perennial grown as an annual.  Cultivars can be low growing for borders or trailing which are perfect for window boxes, containers and baskets.  Grow Lobelia in deep, moist fertile soil in partial shade.  Be sure Lobelia doesn't dry out or it will quickly die.  The masses of tiny, two-lipped flowers in shades of blue, violet, pin or red with tiny white or yellow 'eye's mad a stunning display.  


Perennial Shade Loving Plants


Bleeding Heart (Dicentra spectabilis) is an old-fashioned perennial with tall, arching green or pin stems festooned with rows of blooms in late spring and early summer.  Heart-shaped pink outer petals with inner white petal 'drops' really do look like dangling bleeding hearts.  The plant will continue to hold its foliage until fall and even re-bloom in August if kept in a moist, shady spot.  Hot summer weather and dry soil do cause it to die down to the ground in the summer and not emerge until the following spring.   Bleeding heart is very winter hardy but plant it in a sheltered area away from drying winds and the chance of early spring frosts.  It is a good choice against foundations or in shrub borders.  Try the cultivar 'Gold Heart' with its pink blooms and gold leaves.  


Hostas (Hosta), sometimes known as plantain lilies, are grown mostly for their foliage but are far from boring.  You can choose from hundreds of cultivars ranging from the tiny to the gigantic.  The leaves may be thick or thin, crinkly or smooth, with colours ranging from blue grey to lime green.  Some are striped or have margins of yellow or cream.  The tall, thin spikes of little pale flowers bloom in shades of lilac to deep purple but are not showy.  They will, however, attract hummingbirds to your garden.  There are many Hosta societies throughout the world, including the Ontario Hosta Society based in Mississauga.


Flowering Shrubs


Rose Daphne (Daphne cneorum) is a small, semi-evergreen, mounding shrub producing tiny fragrant pale pink, deep rose or while flowers in May.  The small, glossy dark green leaves are attractive as well.  Rose daphne will retain its foliage in winter and thrive if there is good snow cover and if planted in middle or light shade in most, pH neutral soil, preferably in an eastern exposure away from strong westerly winds.  Try the cultivar 'Eximia' which has crimson buds or the variety variegata with yellow-edged leaves.  The plant looks splendid in a shady rock garden.


Shrubby Cinquefoil (Potentilla fruticosa) will brighten up your garden with small, yellow, cup-shaped flowers all season long.  This compact shrub grows up to 3 feet tall and 5 feet wide in partial shade.  The greatest bloom occurs in mid-spring wand is less profuse from then on until the fall.  Shrubby cinqefoil is a tough plant, withstanding dry conditions and minus 35 degrees Celsius winter temperatures!  The darker cultivars show their best colour in shade.  Try ' Boskoop Red' which has flame coloured flowers that fade to red.


Finally, don't despair if you have a site with full shade.  Primroses, Bethleham sage and ostrich ferns do well in shade.  However, only really tough ground cover plants such as pachysandra will survive in deepest shade and they do tend to take over the garden, crowding out other plants.  


Marg Chambers