Ornamental Shade Plants


When first faced with a yard primarily in shade, many people think they can't have a dramatic and beautiful garden. Once they become aware of the many beautiful foliage and blooming plants that thrive in shaded areas, they appreciate the intricate beauty of shade plants and the cool environment their shade garden offers, especially on the hottest days.


Coleus varieties are found in virtually every color--copper, peach, purple, red, orange, yellow, pink and green. They also are available in myriad patterns, featuring splotches, veining and wild combinations of colors. Their size ranges from a mere 10 inches to heights of 3 feet. Available in about 600 varieties, coleus leaves can be fern-like and trailing, elongated, round, lobed or serrated. Leaf size can be diminutive to extremely large. Most coleus plants are at home in the shade, although varieties that can take more sun are being introduced.


Heucheras, once available only in limited colors and in non-heat-tolerant varieties, have become popular shade plants, with plenty of exciting new colors on the market. Gardeners can now choose from hundreds of shades including purple, peach, coral, red, green and silver. The leaves, as well, are taking on all types of new looks: ruffled, straight, veiled or spotted, and many change colors each season. Some think the best features of heucheras, however, are that they are evergreen and remain attractive even during the coldest months.


Hydrangeas are probably one of the most striking shade plants due to their large blooms, their long bloom period and their abundance of blooms once established. Hundreds of varieties exist, including mophead, lacecap, panicle and climbing. Bloom colors can be white, lime and a variety of pink, blue and lavender tones. Many varieties bloom in pink or blue depending upon the acidity of the soil, while most white varieties are not affected by the soil.


Also a plant seeing many new innovations, heucherellas blend the exciting new heuchera colors with the beauty of the dramatic cut foliage of tiarellas. Color options run from lime green accented with magenta to cinnamon accented with peachy orange. Another selling point is their attractive and colorful foliage during winter.


Hundreds of varieties of hostas are available to brighten and enhance shade gardens. Hostas come in a variety of sizes from the cute and diminutive Mouse Ears to the dramatic Sum and Substance, which can measure 3 feet by 6 feet. Shade gardeners can select hostas come in many variegated forms and in colors including lime green, blue-green, gold-green and even white-splashed green. Although they do flower, the true beauty of hostas comes from their foliage.

Toad Lilies

Toad Lilies (Tricyrtis), a fall flowering shade plant, have blooms that resemble miniature orchids. The stunning blooms can be solid colors or speckled, come in a number of colors and are absolutely stunning when viewed up close. Another selling point for toad lilies is that they bloom at a time when many other plants are either looking tattered or have stopped blooming for the season.

Keywords: shade plants, shade garden, plants for shade

About this Author

Ava Middleton is a freelance writer in Memphis, Tenn., who specializes in business and garden writing. She has 10-plus years of experience writing Web and print copy, annual reports, newsletters and more. Middleton received a Master of Arts in journalism from the University of Missouri.