Beautiful plants that thrive in shade are not hard to come by, but many gardeners struggle with shady areas in their gardens because of lack of research or a desire to have a certain type of plant. If you can give up on the roses and daisies, which will not tolerate shade, and shop only for proven shade-loving plants, you will find that you can have cut flowers, foliage interest, and flower color through many seasons.
When planting in shade, keep in mind that plants with bright foliage and flower color (including bright whites) stand out most in shade, while plants with darker foliage or flower colors should be massed or grouped to make a bolder statement in the garden.
Fortune's Holly Fern
Fortune's holly fern (Cyrtomium fortunei) is a small fern which grows to 2 feet in diameter. Many shade gardeners are bored with ferns, but the holly-like fronds on this fern make it stand out even in an all-fern garden. Fortune's holly fern thrives in U.S. Department of Agriculture Plant Hardiness Zones 5 to 9 and prefers full to partial shade and regular watering.
Hardy fuchsia (Fuchsia 'Genii') is more frost-hardy than most fuchsias and will thrive in USDA Zones 7 to 9. It is a deciduous shrub which thrives in full to partial shade and has cheerful golden leaves which shine brighly in a shady part of the garden. Hardy Fuchsia has masses of drooping bright pink and purple flowers which attract hummingbirds. It prefers regular water in the garden and can reach 4 feet tall and wide.
Japanese skimmia (Skimmia japonica) is a fragrant, evergreen shrub with clusters of white flowers from pink buds in winter on male plants. Female plants have small clusters of yellowish-white flowers, then if a male is present to pollinate, large clusters of bright red berries in late winter and spring. It prefers partial shade and regular water in the garden, and can reach 3 to 5 feet tall and around. Japanese skimmia grows well in USDA Zones 7 to 9, and because it is a slow grower, it needs little maintenance beyond regular watering.
Color Flash Astilbe
Color Flash astilbe (Astilbe x arendsii 'Beauty of Ernst') is a part-shade perennial with foliage that emerges bright green, then changes to burgundy and purple. It has light pink flowers in summer which harmonize nicely with the purple foliage. In fall, it turns golden and orange as it goes dormant. Color Flash astilbe prefers regular water, grows to 2 feet tall and wide, and can be grown in USDA Zones 4 to 8. It looks best in groupings under trees in a woodland setting.
Double-Painted Lenten Rose
Double-painted lenten rose (Helleborus 'Double Painted') is a double-flowered lenten rose which reaches 3 feet around and loves shade. The flowers glow bright white in winter when they bloom, and the red speckles on the petals mean that this plant looks particularly good near plants with purple foliage such as astilbe or purple heucheras. Double-painted lenten rose thrives in USDA Zones 5 to 9.