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Shade Loving Plants for the Northwest

By Judy Wolfe ; Updated September 21, 2017

The United States' Pacific Northwest region is a land of rugged mountains, towering trees and annual rainfall amounts that often have gardeners in other parts of the U.S. green with envy. Where there are tall trees, however, there is deep shade, so Northwest gardening presents its own set of special challenges. The right shade-loving plants can have even the darkest spots in Northwest gardens glowing with color.

Giant White Fawn-Lily

The green-and-white mottled oblong leaves of giant white fawn-lily (erythronium oregonum) brighten shady spots even when the plants aren't in bloom. The bell-shaped white or pale pink single flowers with yellow-banded throats appear on 8 to 16-inch stems between March and May, providing early garden color.

Growing from corms, these perennials will tolerate sun but prefer partial to full shade and moist, well-drained soils. They grow wild in the forests of Washington State and Oregon. Plant seeds in pots in the autumn and bury the pots in shady areas. The seeds produce viable corms within two years, but the corms won't flower for another four. Nurseries sell mature corms.

Pacific Bleeding Heart

Native to the United States, Pacific bleeding heart (dicentra formosa) produces clusters of delightful pink and purple heart-shaped flowers above mounds of feathery pale-green leaves between March and June. Plants grow up to 1 1/2 feet tall. The flowers are followed by capsules of shiny black oil-rich seeds attractive to ants.

Pacific bleeding heart loves the moist, rich soil and partly shady to shady locations it finds on the cool damp forest floor. To thrive in your garden, it will need plenty of humus-rich mulch. Propagate the plants with rhizome divisions planted in peat or buy started plants at nurseries. Seeds take years to produce blooms.

Expect nectar-loving hummingbirds to arrive with bleeding heart's flowers. While all parts of this plant are toxic, according to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, they are so only with prolonged skin contact or when ingested in large amounts.

Wild Ginger

Blooming from April through June, evergreen wild ginger (asarum caudatum) is a low-growing perennial reaching up to 8 inches in height. Its leaves produce a pleasant gingery smell if bruised. Wild ginger has dark green heart-shaped leaves that often hide its fragrant yellow-green to purple bell-like blossoms.

Wild ginger requires mostly shady locations and moist soil high in organic material. It grows wild along streams and rivers and in old growth forests. Rapidly spreading, it's an excellent ground cover for shady areas beneath trees where nothing else will grow. Wild ginger grows readily from seed or rhizome division.


About the Author


Passionate for travel and the well-written word, Judy Wolfe is a professional writer with a Bachelor of Arts in English literature from Cal Poly Pomona and a certificate in advanced floral design. Her thousands of published articles cover topics from travel and gardening to pet care and technology.