An unapologetic plant geek shares advice and opinions on gardening, the contrived and the natural landscape, as well as occasional topics from the other side of the gate.

May 26, 2009

My Top Ten For The Shade

So many of the new housing developments around here (that were until just recently popping up like spring mushrooms) were built on old farm land with little or no existing trees. I always regret seeing open or green space being eaten up to build rows of uninspiring houses, but I sometimes am envious of those people who have been given a blank slate in which to garden. Then I think about how oppressive that shadeless yard will be in a Southern July and August (or June and September for that matter). Although I do wish for a wee more sun in my own garden, I am thankful for my mature trees and the shade they provide.

Nan at Gardening Gone Wild is hosting a Garden Bloggers Design Workshop - Made for the Shade. I have enjoyed reading the other workshops since I have been blogging, but this is the first one I felt comfortable participating in. At least 3/4 of my garden space is shaded and fortunately some of my favorite plants (regardless of light requirements) are shade plants. I have decided to list my top 10 favorite shade plants, all of which I grow now in my zone 8a garden, though not all of the pictures were taken there. I could not imagine a garden of mine without either one of these plants.

Acer palmatum Japanese Maple
Who doesn't love these trees? I only have two of them, but if I had more room, I'd have more Japanese Maples. In this climate they need light shade to do well. Camellia japonica and Camellia sasanqua I could never live much further north than I do now. Not only would it be too cold for me, but I could not grow these. Ferns
I have several ferns but my two favorites are Ursula's Red Japanese Painted Fern (Athrium niponicum 'Ursula's Red') and the evergreen Autumn Fern (Dryopteris erythrosora). The Painted Fern looks best when you put other things near it, but the Autumn Fern can stand alone. Both of them have been very longed lived for me.
Edgeworthia chrysantha - Paper Bush, Rice Paper Plant
I need this plant because its fragrant cheery flowers bloom in February when I need something fragrant and cheery the most.
Helleborus orientalis - Lenten Rose
Evergreen, winter blooming, flowers for a long time, drought tolerant, shade loving, beautiful, and seeds around nicely - what's not to love?
Hydrangea macrophylla
When I see the first bloom of the hydrangeas, I know summer is here. I took this one yesterday morning. I have more varieties of this plant than any other, or maybe its the Camellias - I'll have to count.
Liriope muscari 'Pee Dee Gold Ingot'
Liriope is common as dirt, but this variety has chartreuse foliage that creates pools of light where none exists. It is also the newest member of my top ten. This one is shown next to another plant that almost made the list, Hardy Begonia (Begonia grandis).
Polygonatum odoratum 'Variegatum' - Variegated Solomon's Seal
Tough as nails, spreads easily and it is beautiful.
Trachelospermum asiaticum 'Ang Yo' - Ang Yo Asiatic Jasmine
I planted only one of these evergreen variegated groundcovers about 10 years ago from a 1 gal. pot. It is now covers about a 12' wide area mingling at the base of the shrubs, never climbing them, but growing like a carpet thick enough to keep weeds out. I was initially concerned about its hardiness, but that was worry for nothing. There is great variation in how it is variegated, the new growth is bronze to pink, and it has been completely stable for me not reverting to green.
While we are on the subject of Asiatic Jasmine, I wanted to mention this one, Trachelospermum asiaticum 'Ogon Nishiki'. I think it translates as Golden Brocade. The new growth is Halloween orange and the older leaves are a golden chartreuse and green. It is not as nice as the 'Ang Yo' in that it is stringy and does not make a thick ground cover. Although it is fun having those colors run around underneath of other things.
Trachelospermum jasminoides - Confederate or Star Jasmine
This is a very sweet smelling close cousin of the above Jasmines and one of my favorite vines. It is featured in this month's Bloom Day post. Our computer desk is just on the other side of the one pictured here, and its smell is nearly overwhelming as I type this.

There were so many others I wanted to talk about and feel guilty not mentioning, but a Top Ten list is not a Top Sixteen or Twenty-Three. What's on your list?


  1. Evening Les, my goodness, where to start? Autumn fern, saw a brilliant stand of Autumn ferns on my study trip at Meadowlark Gardens. Really nice.
    The Asiatic Jasmine is really interesting, we are always looking for groundcovers for the Learning Garden, think it will work in 7b?
    Love Japanese maples and Camellias. We just bought a Pee Dee Ingot for the LG, hoping it does well.
    On my personal list I would have to include the Edgeworthia, a Daphne Odora aureo margenta, many of the hostas and heucheras that have wonderful variations of foliage color....too late in the evening or I could go on and on.

  2. I'm with you, give me shade any day. I like all you highlighted (not familier with the jasmines) plus the heucheras, hostas, pulmonarias, and toad lilies. Your camelia is awesome!

  3. My Confederate Jasmine is in full bloom and smells wonderful right now! Has been putting on a show and scent for about two weeks thus far! Love the stuff so it would have to be my number one shady pick! Hosta, liriope come in second and third... If only the deer would stay away from the hosta....

  4. Hey Les, this top ten list is fantastic. I have been trying to improve my green thumb, recently my house has been a plant graveyard. I have switched to more low light plants because our patio gets quite a bit of shade and indirect light. Thanks for the recommendations, I will have to keep these in mind the next time am at the garden store. You can post this to our site and link back to your site. We are trying to create a directory for top ten lists where people can find your site. The coolest feature is you can let other people vote on the rankings of your list.

  5. super great list......will repost this in the morning hours!

  6. Great showing Les! Makes me wish I had more shade in my yard; or just some at all!!

  7. Thanks so much for the gorgeous gallery of shady characters, Les. I'm so envious of your ability to grow Liriope 'Pee Dee Gold Ingot'; I've tried several times and just can't get it to settle in. And oh, your Edgeworthia is stunning! I'm really glad you joined us this month for the GGW Design Workshop.

  8. Janet,
    When we first started carrying Asiatic Jasmine, we listed it as zone 8. We have planted on the Peninsula in some of the jobs we've installed, even up to Williamsburg and we have found it definately hardy to 7b.

    I had a hard time keeping Toad Lily off of the list. I just could not think of something else to take off.

    I feel sorry for people who live places too cold to enjoy Confederate Jasmine.

    Good luck with your green graveyard and I am glad you like some of the suggestions. I'll think about the link.

    Thanks for stopping by.

    With all of the plants you have mentioned getting, I know I am jealous of your space. My next yard will have to be mowed by a herd of sheep or a tractor.

    Thanks for the opportunity to participate.


  9. Alot of your favorites are in my garden too Les. I am fortunate to have a variety of conditions from Full Sun-Full Shade in my own yard. But that golden Lirope really caught my eye as well as the Asiatic Jasmine. My favorites would be Heuchera 'Plum Pudding', Solomon's Seal, Hydrangeas and Ferns. :)

  10. I like your opening simile – perfect! I’m a big one for mature trees too. We fell in love with the wooded lot backing onto playing fields as much as the 1920s house on it.

    Thanks for the shady plant tips as that would be our yard too. That Lenten Rose is gorgeous – lovely shot! I want it, but I’m guessing “winter blooming” doesn’t do Maine.

  11. Racquel,
    I have managed to kill Plum Pudding and have been reluctant to plant any more Heucheras. With so many new ones out these days, I am going to have to try again.

    I saw some photos from a blog in the Canadian Rockies (not Vancover) and Hellebores were coming up under the melting snow. Maybe they should be considered early spring for you and not winter.


  12. The Lenten Rose is a striking beauty, the first time I saw a picture.

    Never seen Maples in full colour except in picturs, and two must make for a great character.

  13. One shade plant I love but don't see that often is Indian Pink--Spigelia marilandica. It's really red with a bright yellow center.

    I loved your list. I'm tempted...!

  14. Very informative and helpful. I've grown all of these except for the paper bush and I've wanted it for some time now. I wonder if it would do well in dry shade?

  15. Anil P,
    Thanks for stopping by and for coming so far from your home.

    Merrily Marylee I love S. marlandica!

    I think it should be OK in dry shade, once it is established. Mine is on a small slope and stays fairly dry, but has done well, other than being butchered by my crazy nieghbor.