Shade plants often feature beautiful foliage to balance their lack of flowers. Low light levels don't always allow plants to produce the showy flowers seen on their sun-loving brethren. Unique shade plants include cultivars that you rarely see in home gardens. Hostas, impatiens and begonias are your typical shade garden plants because of their easy care and interesting flowers. But you can design with unique shade plants that provide all the benefits of traditional shade plants plus beautiful foliage.
Monkshood is a tall, stately plant that works well as background border in the shade garden. Monkshood prefers consistently wet soil and tolerates partial shade, needing only two to four hours of sunlight a day. This plant produces delicate violet flowers in late summer that resemble large snapdragon blooms. All parts of the monkshood plant are poisonous and should be used with care in the garden around children and pets. Monkshood can handle cool weather to provide blooms well in the fall months. It grows in USDA Hardiness Zones 4a to 9b.
Heuchera presents unique green foliage that resembles a wide geranium leaf. Heuchera has more than 50 varieties, with foliage spanning a wide range of green, some with purple hues. This plant tolerates a wide variety of conditions from full sun to full shade. Heuchera flowers on long spindly stems adorned with bell-shaped small flowers that rise 2 feet above the foliage mass. Flower colors include pink, red and white as well as muted shades in between. Heuchera grows best in well-drained soil and produces delicate flowers that don't compete with the dramatic foliage. It grows in USDA Hardiness Zones 4a to 9a.
Ferns often are forgotten as a unique addition to the shade garden. Their delicate leaves provide graceful foliage requiring minimal care. Ferns grow abundantly in forest and woodland environment, thriving in the moist shady conditions under the canopy of mature trees. Vibrant green leaves grow well in both full and partial shade. Ferns tolerate damp soil but need high organic content for best results. Ferns multiply readily in humus-rich environments. Lady fern grows over 2 feet tall and offers abundant foliage in deep shade gardens. Japanese painted fern features blue-green foliage, maroon stems and grows up to 18 inches. These two varieties grow in USDA Hardiness Zones 4 to 8, but there are other varieties that can tolerate colder or more tropical climates.
Despite the funny name, toad lily offers gardeners an elegant addition to the shade garden. Toad lily features a pointed flower petal similar to an orchid. Petals have various hues in pink, purple and yellow. This plant can grow to 3 feet in height and needs plenty of space to spread. Stems and blooms drape gracefully to accent other plants in the garden. Toad lily prefers evenly moist soil and blooms during the early fall months. It grows in USDA Hardiness Zones 4a to 9a.