Shade gardens have moved beyond ferns and hostas to include a wide variety of blooming plants as well. Know how much shade you have to choose the right plants--part shade is classified as two to six hours of direct sun; light and full or deep shade is no direct sunlight, such as under evergreen trees. Treat dappled sun conditions (like those created by a canopy of trees or pergola) as part shade when choosing plants.
Focal plants are those plants that draw attention to your garden. There are no strict rules on garden design, so you are free to choose focal plants that fit your growing zone, soil conditions and personal taste. Choose focal plants based on uniqueness, such as the striking beauty of the foxglove or an old-fashioned bleeding heart. Other choices could include astilbe, cardinal flower, bellflower, snapdragon, begonia, columbine, monkshood, pansy and viola.
Filler plants are what separates the "garden" from a nice landscaping job of a few pretty plants. Fillers create texture, complement your focal plants and add interest to the garden. Depending on your design, you can have one type of filler or multiple. Plants used as focal plants in one side of the yard can serve as fillers in another. Once again, it depends on personal taste and design. Annuals such as pansy, viola, Johnny-jump-ups, begonia and impatiens give a show of blooms all season. Perennial fillers could include columbine, Siberian bugloss, Bethlehem sage, Solomon's seal, and Virginia bluebells. Don't overlook hostas and plants such as coleus with its interesting foliage colors.
To finish out a garden design of any type, you need to choose a ground cover for edging the garden along paths and borders. Low-growing plants that creep along under your other plants give a filled-in, finished look. Also use ground covers in hard-to-mow areas instead of grass. Some shade-loving ground covers include alyssum, periwinkle, bugleweed and creeping penstemon.