Perennials for Shade

One of the areas we try to specialize in here at Pondside is perennials for shade.  In spite of the fact that there exists an enormous vocabulary of these plants for our area, most nurseries carry only a few.  Perhaps it’s because hostas have become so popular and ubiquitous, and they’re so easy to propagate and grow.  Make no mistake, hostas are incredibly useful plants, and we carry plenty of them.  But there’s so much more.


Hellebores are fantastic plants for our area, welcome for their early and long-lasting bloom and their handsome, deer-resistant foliage.

We love epimediums (like this Epimedium x versicolor ‘Sulphureum’) for tough spots in dry shade. They are pest resistant and the delicate spring flowers are followed by dense foliage that is beautiful and weedproof all season.

There are spring ephemerals, many of them natives, that bloom and produce their foliage before the trees leaf out in late spring.  There are wonderful bog plants, like primulas, for damp situations.  There are epimediums in pink, yellow, purple or white, with flowers like miniature sprays of orchids.  There are heucheras, dicentras, pulmonarias, brunneras, iris, hellebores, cimicifugas, and many more.  There are even grasses that will grow in the shade.  And of course, there are hostas too!


Dicentra spectabilis ‘Goldheart’ is a golden-leaved form of the classic Bleeding Heart that adds zip to a spring shade garden.

Most gardeners seem to have some shady area they’d like to plant, even if it’s just the north side of a house.  It’s important to know exactly what kind of shade you have before you shop for plants.  Is it dappled shade under deciduous trees with a high canopy or dense shade under low-hanging evergreen branches?  Moist shade along a stream bed or dry shade behind a barn?  Is the soil deep and loamy or shallow and rocky?  If beneath trees, are they oaks (not so bad) or maples (not so good) or black walnuts? (not so good at all).


Pulmonarias are great plants for covering ground under shrubs. This is ‘Blue Ensign’. And yes, it’s really really blue.

If you have moist shade with rich soil… well, congratulations, and have a blast, because there are loads of fantastic shade plants that will thrive in your conditions.  If dry shade is your lot in life, we sympathize.  You have a challenging situation, and your plant palette will be much more limited, but we still have some suggestions for you.

Whatever the conditions, shade gardening offers the chance to grow some wonderful plants and to create spaces that are lush, peaceful and relaxing.  Consider it an opportunity rather than an impediment.

Another workhorse for dry shade is the American native, Iris cristata. Easy and prolific.