Shade gardens include plants that need very little direct sunlight. Most shade-tolerant plants bloom for just a few weeks early in the growing season. Gardeners should select plants with attractive foliage so the shade garden looks nice even when the flowers are not in bloom. Many flowering perennial varieties do well in shade gardens.
Coleus plants (Solenostemon scutellarioides), members of the mint family (Lamiaceae), naturally occur in the southeastern regions of Asia. Winter hardy in United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Zones 10 and 11, these plants prefer rich, moist soils that don't completely dry out. Coleus plants grow up to 3 feet in height with similar spreads. Non-showy flowers bloom with white or blue petals. Showy, variegated leaves add interesting texture and color to shade gardens. Plants sometimes become leggy. Coleus plants work well when mass planted in borders and flowerbeds.
The pigsqueak plant (Bergenia cordifolia), also called the bergenia, hails from Russia and generally grows well in USDA Zones 3 to 8. A member of the Saxifragaceae plant family, the pigsqueak forms clumps ranging from 12 to 18 inches in both height and width. This plant requires humusy, moist soils. The tiny, dark pink flowers bloom in April and May, while the heart-shaped, green leaves turn purple or bronze in the winter. This hardy plant has few serious disease or pest problems. Gardeners often plant pigsqueak in shade garden borders.
The wood lily (Trillium luteum), sometimes called the yellow trillium, is a Liliaceae family member native to the Southeastern United States (U.S.). This graceful plant typically thrives in USDA Hardiness Zones 4 to 8. Reaching about 18 inches in height and spread, the wood lily thrives in moist, humusy soils. Dark green, mottled leaves make an attractive background to the lemon-scented, yellow flowers that appear in April and May. Wood lily plants work best when mass planted in shade garden flowerbeds.
Japanese pachysandra (Pachysandra terminalis) is a flowering perennial in the Buxaceae plant family. Indigenous to Japan and China, this plant does well in USDA Zones 5 to 9 when planted in rich, well-drained soils. Japanese pachysandra reaches 6 to 12 inches tall and 12 to 18 inches wide. The small, white flowers bloom in April, while the whorled leaves add attractive texture year round. Leaf blight commonly affects this plant. Gardeners often use Japanese pachysandra as ground cover in shade gardens.
The Chinese astilbe (Astilbe chinensis), a member of the Saxifragaceae plant family, comes from China, Korea and Siberia. Winter hardy in USDA Zones 4 to 8, these plants form clumps about 12 inches in both height and spread. The Chinese astilbe features dark green leaves and pink to mauve flowers that bloom from May through August. This plant prefers humusy, moist soils, but can tolerate some drought conditions. Gardeners frequently plant Chinese astilbe as shade garden borders.
Jacob's ladder (Polemonium), a perennial in the Polemoniaceae family, features purple leaves and fragrant, bold blue flower clusters that appear in April and May. Winter hardy in USDA Zones 3 to 8, this plant needs moist, humusy soils. The Jacob's ladder plant reaches 9 to 18 inches in both height and spread. Powdery mildew and leaf spot sometimes affect these plants in humid weather. Gardeners often use Jacob's ladder plants as shade garden borders.