Ask two gardeners for their definition of "shade," and you will likely get two different answers. There is the deep shade under the canopy of large trees, and then there is a dappled shade that catches glimpses of sunshine now and then. Whatever your definition, there are lots of perennial plants to help you add life and light to even the darkest corner of your garden.
The maidenhair is the soft, frilly fern that is so popular with gardeners, not the maidenhair tree from which we get ginkgo biloba. This plant loves the shade and somewhat acidic, well-drained, compost-amended soil. It doesn't particularly care for heat, so give it extra water on hot days. The maidenhair fern is hardy to USDA Zones 3 to 8.
The bleeding heart is a perennial plant that blooms in the spring with either white or pink, tiny heart-shaped flowers. This plant will die back after flowering, so plant it between others that will bloom later or next to maidenhair. It likes the same type of soil as the maidenhair fern. Hardy to USDA Zones 3 to 9.
The crested iris, a dwarf variety, is basically a wildflower that will grow wonderfully in a shady rock garden or under the canopy of a large tree. This plant, growing 4 to 6 inches in height, blooms in the spring and is very easy to care for. Plant it with the bleeding heart and maidenhair, as it enjoys a slightly acidic soil, rich in humus. This plant is hardy to USDA Zones 4 to 8.
Foxglove should be planted on the periphery of your shade garden as these plants do like a bit of sunshine. Spring bloomers, foxglove comes in several varieties, in different colors from which to choose. The strawberry foxglove attracts hummingbirds to its striking rose-colored, tubular flowers. The foxglove is hardy to USDA Zones 3 to 9.
The hosta is another very easy to care for plant that thrives in the shade. A member of the lily family, the hosta's foliage can range from yellow-green to blue and in solid colors or variegated. Some sunshine is preferred to maintain color in the showier varieties. The Regal Splendor variety is one you might choose for an area of the garden that gets light shade. Hosta is hardy to USDA Zones 3 to 9, depending upon variety.
Lily of the Valley
Lily of the Valley is popular for its adorable, white bell-shaped flowers that bloom in the deep shade. An added bonus is the wonderful fragrance of the plant when the flowers are in bloom. Not particular about the type of soil it sits in, this plant is perfect in a tucked-away corner of the garden that needs some color and texture. Hardy to USDA Zones 2 to 7.
Generally, phlox does best when planted where it gets lots of sun. The woodland species, however, thrive in the shade. Look for Chattahoochee or Louisiana varieties for lovely purple/blue flowers that will grow from 6 to 8 inches in height. Hardy to USDA Zones 3 to 8.
If you are looking for a ground cover for your shade garden, especially in the winter when everything else dies back or turns brown, pachysandra is worth considering. This plant will require a bit closer attention to watering than the others. Hardy to USDA Zones 4 to 9.
The periwinkle (Vinca minor) is a fast-growing plant when given a constantly moist soil. Another good ground cover for shady gardens, the periwinkle blooms with blue flowers in spring and summer and is hardy to USDA Zones 4 to 9.
The umbrella plant is native to the swamps of Madagascar, so it needs plenty of water. It will grow to a height of 3 to 5 feet, providing a pretty backdrop to lower-growing perennials in the shady landscape. Hardy to USDA Zones 8 to 11.