While these plants are lovely, there are in fact many plants that bloom very well in the shade. I am including perennials, and shrubs for your consideration.

Everyone will recognize the closeup of a Virginia bluebell (Mertensia virginica) in the above image. It's wonderful, however it goes dormant after flowering, and needs company. I grow it among hostas to extend the season of interest, however here are some other choices that linger longer.

Polemonium caeruleum (Jacob's Ladder)

This is, forgive me, a way cool plant. One great aspect of it is that, even out of bloom, it is very attractive because it looks like a fern.


And then, it blooms and the effect is magnified.

Jacob's Ladder blue

It also comes in white.

White Jacob's ladder

This plant is very flexible. Hardy in zones 3 to 7, it blooms in light shade, partial to full shade, and full shade. And it is readily available by seed in both colors.


Heuchera is a classic plant that has morphed into many varieties with a wide range of colors of both leaf and flower. While there are a few heucheras that bloom well in sun ('Firefly' being one), most heuchera struggle a bit in full sun and prefer partial shade to full shade. The original ones were primarily green or brown with white flowers, but the range has moved from those shades to almost black, with raspberries and oranges and coffees. They are hardy in zones 4 to 9. Unfortunately, as they have become more popular, they have also become quite pricey - I have seen tags with close to $20.00 on them, so I suggest that you wait for sales or discounts, and then divide your purchases. Heuchera plants are very easy to divide.

If you would like to try to grow your own, which is absurdly easy, I recommend the above mentioned 'Firefly', for which seed is available on Watchdog 30 company J.L. Hudson. I have been growing it for many years. It is a durable heuchera, making it through several winters. To energize it, I simply dig it up, break off the dead sections, divide the balance and plant with lots of compost. Please note that almost all heucheras develop dead sections, so it is important to check each spring and remove the offending sections.

Heuchera 'Firefly'

Digitalis grandiflora (Foxglove)

Most digitalis plants are biennial, so people are understandably reluctant to grow them. However, digitalis grandiflora, commonly called yellow foxglove, is a plant that blooms beautifully in shade, and if cut back, will rebloom, and if my perception is correct, increase. It is a clump-forming plant, hardy in zones 3-8, with a height of 2 to 3 feet and a spread of 1 to 1.5 feet.

It is, in fact, extremely easy to grow. It prefers rich soils and consistent moisture but grows very well for me in full sun and part shade with no additional moisture. And if you remove the spent flowers you will be rewarded with a second more modest bloom. I do remove the spent flowering stems since they are less than beautiful, but be sure to leave a few seeds if you want the plant to increase. It will not become aggressive. At the end of the season, cut it back to the basal foliage.

yellow foxgloves

Primula japonica

Primula japonica, also known as Japanese primrose or candelabra primrose, is probably the easiest primrose to grow because it tolerates heat better than the others. It is tolerant enough that, with tons of watering, I was actually able to grow it in a mostly sunny location. In more than half shade, which I now have, this plant thrives. Unlike the yellow color that most associate with primroses, this plant comes primarily in white, burgundy and pink. At times it is difficult to get the individual colors, since they tend to be sold in mixtures.

This is a moisture-loving plant, and particularly thrives if you keep it in a moist area or are generous with watering. It tends to seed, so you will have more each season.


Polygonatum (Solomon's Seal)

There are a number of variations on this wonderful plant. My personal favorite is Polygonatum odoratum 'Variegatum' (the formal name is even longer, but I'll spare you). Why did I choose this one? It has a lovely variegation, and it has a scent The variegation makes it stand out very well in shaded areas.

Golden Angel (Leucosceptrum japonicum)

Now you see why they call it Golden Angel, or Japanese shrub Mint (it is indeed native to Japan), which is interesting, because mint implies aggressiveness, which this gentle plant is not. I have had two now for several years. I am in zone 5b/6a, but it is hardy from zones 3 to 8, and can indeed bloom wonderfully is just about full shade. The leaves are about 5 inches long and 3 inches wide. It blooms with bottle brush shaped spikes later in the year. Its chartreuse color makes it a nice alternative to the perhaps too frequently encountered Hakone grass.

I find that it requires little or no maintenance, and effectively grows into a small shrub that I could easily accommodate into my garden, since the height and spread are between two and three feet. It is technically a woody based perennial.

Gold Angel shrub mint

Hydrangea quercifolia (Oakleaf hydrangeas)

Oakleaf hydrangeas, like heucheras, have morphed from relatively simple plants to a host of cultivars. 20 years ago, the cultivar that was ubiquitous was "Snow Queen" an improvement on the native plant. But due to the fact that Michael Dirr (who has written an entire book on hydrangeas) scouted around, and found several spontaneous cultivars, we now have 'Alice', 'Harmony', 'Roanoke', 'Sikes Dwarf', 'Snowflake'. I could go on and on. The biggest difference between the plants is size. Snow Queen is relatively compact and upright while Snowflake is double and quite large and wide.

Oakleaf hydrangea is different from macrophyllas (best described as an Endless Summer type) in that the leaves are an important component. As the name implies, they are shaped like oak leaves, so that the plant, unlike macrophyllas, is quite striking when out of bloom. Oakleaf hydrangeas supposedly bloom on old wood, but I am finding, year after year, that without protection, 'Snow Queen' blooms very well. I did not protect that cultivar this past winter, and it is blooming its heart out.

As an additional note, I personally find that a fairly mature 'Snow Queen' makes an excellent support for clematis. I have dark purple clematis that was established in my yard by a former owner, and when I installed a 'Snow Queen ' in front of it, it willingly climbed the shrub. They flower at the same time, making a beautiful contrast.

Do be careful about size when it comes to oakleaf hydrangeas. Some are compact, but some are enormous, and must be spaced accordingly.

oakleaf hydrangea

Hydrangea shishiva (Chishima)

This is a lesser-known hydrangea that has only recently come to notice. There is not yet the variety in the marketplace of, for example, paniculata, which is everywhere that you turn. This hydrangea is of Japanese origin With delicate rose/mauve flowers, this plant blooms repeatedly. It was out of cultivation for a while, but now has returned and there are several sources. This picture, from my garden, shows it in a pot because at the time it was listed as being only zone 6 hardy. I learned that it was in fact zone 5 hardy and just overwintered three successfully in the ground. I did bury them in compost.

mountain hydrangea

Hybrid Musk Rose 'Ballerina'

Ballerina is a hybrid musk rose hybridized by Ann Bentall in 1937. Ms. Bentall was the right arm of Joseph Pemberton, who produced many of the hybrid musk roses that we enjoy today. It is not well known, but hybrid musks generally need less light than most roses, and will bloom nicely in areas of dappled shade. To test this, last year I installed two 'Ballerina" in my back yard in a place that receives perhaps two hours of direct sun and then is in dappled shade most of the day. The two I planted did so well that I ordered a third. In my experience, this rose gets absolutely no disease.

Ballerina is a stunner, growing Between 4 and 6 feet high and wide. It has single blooms that are medium pink in color and blooms in flushes. It makes a great hedge and can also be planted in a container. It is striking enough to use as a specimen.

Note that I arbitrarily chose Ballerina, but there are several hybrid musks that tolerate a good deal of shade. If you are seeking a healthy, beautiful and reblooming rose for an area with limited sun, I would encourage you to investigate these roses. Most roses that grow in considerable shade are once bloomers - gallica and alba roses being good examples. Hybrid musks are a beautiful and healthy exception.

hybrid musk rose

There are several viburnums that bloom in shade. I have obtained several for my garden, and can attest that they bloom under mature trees if they receive some dappled sunlight during three to four hours of light.

Viburnum prunifolium

This stalwart American native, hardy in zones 3-9, has a height of 12 to 15 feet and a spread of 6 to 12 feet. It blooms from May to June with pleasant white flowers. Maintenance is nonexistent. I had one in full sun in a high pH environment and it did very well. I now have another (actually, it is the cultivar 'Autumn Rouge for it reddish fall color) in mostly shade and it is thriving. It was recommended to me by Gary Ladman of Classic Viburnums and I have been very happy with its performance

It attracts bees and butterflies, the flowers are lovely. and the pink and purple fruit is edible. The fall color is very handsome. It is a very good plant for a hedge and it tolerates, clay, a high pH, drought and can be planted within the range of walnut trees. It also is tolerant of air pollution. It also makes a fine hedge.

viburnum prunifolium

Viburnum acerifolium

If you have a full shade location, you might want to consider Viburnum acerifolium. It is native to the northeastern United States but grows well elsewhere. The maple-leaf viburnum (Viburnum acerfolium) is the top choice if you have a very shady location. This shrub thrives in the mountains of the northeastern United States and is distinctive for its leaves, which look like those of a maple tree. It does grow very slowly, and requires acid soil, which you can amend with Ironite if your soil is more neutral, as I do. It will only reach about six feet under the best of circumstances, making it quite small for a viburnum. One outstanding trait is the gorgeous fall color, which is bright pink to a grape juice purple. The spring flowers are white.

maple leaf viburnum

As you can see, there is no need to restrict your shade plants to hostas, daylilies and ajuga. There are many other alternatives that will give greater interest to your garden.