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Shady Characters (Flowers for Shade Gardens)

Maria is a master gardener and master of public health. She & her husband, known online as The Gardener & The Cook, live in coastal Alabama.

This article will take a look at great selections for flowering plants in shady gardens.

This article will take a look at great selections for flowering plants in shady gardens.

Most of these plants and flowers can easily take morning sun or dappled light, but all require protection from the harsh afternoon sun.

Some are woodland plants, such as Lenten Roses, Snow Drops, and Narcissus. Some are bedding plants, or foliage plants, while others are shrubs. All of them can be worked into your landscape if you have the conditions they require, and will bring you months of visual pleasure.

This article is limited to shade-loving flowers. These are just a few of my favorites.

All Gerbera Daisies are beautiful, but this their bright colors really brighten up a darker shady area. These beauties can take morning sun, however.

All Gerbera Daisies are beautiful, but this their bright colors really brighten up a darker shady area. These beauties can take morning sun, however.

Gerbera Daisy

Gerbera daisies (Gerbera jamesonii) are lovely, and make great cut flowers. They do need some bright sunlight, but only morning sun or dappled light. I have seen full sun recommended for them, but when I tried it, they struggled. Moving them to a place protected from afternoon sun proved to remedy the problem.

I have had success growing them the last few years. If you provide them with good, well-drained soil that ranges from neutral to acidic, they will perform beautifully for you from spring through early winter, depending on how cold your winters get.

They typically need about one inch of water per week, and often wilt in the hottest part of the day, then bounce back at the end of the day.

This cheerful yellow Gerbera is blooming its little heart out for me.

This cheerful yellow Gerbera is blooming its little heart out for me.

Foxglove garden

Foxglove garden

Foxglove

Foxglove consists of a group of plants, some of which are biennial, perennial, and even shrub species. The most popular of this group of plants seems to be Digitalis purpurea. This one is biennial, meaning it grows a clump of foliage in its first year, blooms in the second year, then dies.

These stunningly beautiful, bell-shaped flowers can grow quite large, so plant them about two feet apart. They may need to be staked.

Here in the southeastern United States, they should be protected from the afternoon sun, but do need some light. Dappled or filtered light is best. I’m told they can take full sun in the northern states, but having never gardened there, I cannot speak to that.

Floxgloves need rich, well-drained, slightly acidic soil with a pH of 5.5 to 6.5. They don’t seem to mind humidity, but do not like for their soil to become too dry. They should receive about one inch of rain per week.

About Those Perennial Foxgloves

There are cultivars of short-lived perennials. One is Digitalis x mertonensis . It is a cross (hence the “x”) between D. purpurea and D. grandiflora, and has pink flowers.

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Beware

While beautiful, foxglove is a seriously dangerous plant to grow, especially if you have children, grandchildren, or pets. It is toxic to both humans and pets. Not only the flowers, but also the leaves, stems, and seeds contain chemicals that can affect the heart. When handling the any part of a foxglove plant — even the seeds — wear gloves.

Always wear gloves when handling the seeds or any part of a foxglove plant.

some-shady-characters

Waxed Begonia

Another old favorite is the waxed begonia (Begonia Semperflorens). The ones I have seen lately are labeled “wax begonia” instead of “waxed”. I’m not sure when the name changed, but I grew up knowing them as “waxed”. Either way, they are called these names because of the waxy appearance of their leaves.

They are available in white, pale pink, bright pink, true red, and an orange-red, with either green leaves or a reddish-bronze color leaves. There is even a cultivar with double blooms which is truly beautiful.

Many of today’s varieties are said to grow quite well in full sun. My one attempt to grow them in full sun was not a happy one. I bought a lot of them, and soon had a lot of dead begonias. Since then, I have placed them where they get only morning sun.

Whether They Are Annuals or Perennials Depends…

In most of the U.S., they are thought of as annuals, but when we lived in central Florida, I had some that survived the mild winter. If you live in a colder climate, you can pot them and take them indoors over the winter.

Plant them in spring after the chance of frost has passed. They prefer fertile, well-drained soil.

If they become leggy, as they probably will in mid-to late summer, just clip off the leggy stems. New growth will quickly sprout from the crown.

This pink variety is one of my favorites, and it performs very well in my shade garden.

This pink variety is one of my favorites, and it performs very well in my shade garden.

In Zones 8b and 9a, shamrocks stay pretty all year, except for times of severe drought or a very hard freeze.

In Zones 8b and 9a, shamrocks stay pretty all year, except for times of severe drought or a very hard freeze.

Shamrocks

Would you believe, all shamrocks are clovers, but not all clovers are shamrocks? While the name “clover” can refer to any of the almost 300 species within the Trifolium genus, a plant called “shamrock,” does have more specific parameters.

The word "shamrock" comes from the Gaelic word seamróg, which literally translates to “little clover” in English. The term “trefoil” has also been assigned to this plant group — with "tri" or "tre" indicating three, and "foil" or "folium" meaning leaf. So, all plants that have a three-leafed structure are trefoil plants.

The leaves of Shamrocks are pretty on their own, but the flowers come and go regularly, year ‘round in warm climates.

The leaves of Shamrocks are pretty on their own, but the flowers come and go regularly, year ‘round in warm climates.

Which is Really a Shamrock?

While not all botanists agree, most do agree that "shamrock" most likely refers to either the white clover (trifolium repens) or the suckling clover (trifolium dubium).

For many years, the shamrock, with its three-leaf structure has been a symbol for Ireland and St. Patrick’s Day. This, of course, has to do with the lore around St. Patrick, a Christian missionary who used the shamrock in his mission to demonstrate the principles of the Holy Trinity. It was a perfect analogy: three leaflets united by a common stalk. This is not the only flower to be connected to religiosity. Consider the legend of the dogwood -- but that's a topic for another article.

Purple Shamrocks

There is another more aggressive wildflower, Oxalis regnellii triangularis, it has purple leaves, and when it blooms it has purplish-pink flowers.

Lovely Purple Shamrocks – I have to get some of these.

Lovely Purple Shamrocks – I have to get some of these.

Double impatiens look very much like tiny roses

Double impatiens look very much like tiny roses

Impatiens

This is an old standby for most shade gardeners. I think I have grown impatiens everywhere I have ever lived except Florida. That was only because the developers built our neighborhood in a former pasture, and bulldozed all the trees.

Impatiens are so very easy to grow and they provide a punch of glorious color. They are hard to resist. That is, if you have shade or dappled light.

Impatiens are available in many colors ranging from white to red, and every shade in between, plus coral and orange. They self-seed so you will have them coming back year after year. In the photo below you can see where I am “catching” the seeds from a favorite color.

Here I used a lightweight organza bag to collect seeds from this impatien plant.

Here I used a lightweight organza bag to collect seeds from this impatien plant.

This pink bromeliad is one of the most beautiful and prolific of the group – at least according to my experience with them.

This pink bromeliad is one of the most beautiful and prolific of the group – at least according to my experience with them.

Bromeliads

In the Bromeliaceae family, there are about 75 genera and approximately 3,590 known species. Native to the tropics, they can be grown indoors, but this article is about outdoor plants.

Only in Zones 9a and farther south can they be grown in the ground outdoors. Even in Zone 9a, it can be risky as that area is known to have a hard freeze occasionally. In 9a, a hard freeze is considered to be 4 hours or more at or below 32°F (0° C).

Bromeliads reproduce by growing pups, as shown in the next photo. It belonged to my former neighbor, and was growing in a pot in her sunroom. Mine was grown from one of her pups.

I have had several types of bromeliads in the past. The pink one in the photo above Aechmea fasciata,

was by far, my favorite. Another one, (Vriesea splendens), common name, Flaming Sword, is shown in the photo below. It did not thrive for me as the pink one did, but I was just learning to grow these lovely tropical plants.

My former neighbor’s pink bromeliad (Aechmea fasciata). My plant came from one of her pups.

My former neighbor’s pink bromeliad (Aechmea fasciata). My plant came from one of her pups.

Vriesea splendens, common name, Flaming Sword

Vriesea splendens, common name, Flaming Sword

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 MariaMontgomery

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