Layering Greens In The Shade – Bringing Color To Shady Areas

By Mary Ellen Ellis | August 30, 2020
by Mary Ellen Ellis
August 30, 2020

Shade is always tricky for a gardener, but there are lots of solutions. If you are the type of gardener who loves flashy color, growing in a shady patch can be frustrating. I have learned to enjoy the different shades of cool green, not to mention foliage textures, that thrive in the shady areas of my garden. Embrace the green in these puddles of shade.

How to Layer Greens in the Shade Garden

A lot of the plants that do well in shade don’t produce bright, colorful flowers. They tend to be plants more known for their greenery. I learned long ago to embrace that aspect of a shade bed and make the most of it. In fact, bringing color to shady areas is still possible with layering greens and adding just a pop of colorful flowers or foliage.

The key to any bed focused on just green is to layer textures and heights. If the shade is around a tree, for example, plant something tall near the trunk, like a ring of ferns. Add another ring of a lower plant and finish with groundcover. Choose plants with different textures of foliage, from feathery ferns to big-leaved hostas and with various shades of green.

Favorite Shade Plants with Interesting Foliage

Shade plants are easy to find if you are willing to dig a little deeper and forgo some of the sunnier blooms. Here are some of my favorites that won’t have you wishing for more color:

  • Hostas – There are so many varieties of this shade-tolerant plant, and while they do produce small purple blooms, the leaves steal the show. You’ll find every shade of green from light lime to deep green, large and compact varieties, and even solid, striped, and variegated hostas.
  • Coleus – This annual is also known for its foliage and comes in a variety of shades, even reds and purples. Coleus is only hardy in hot climates, so bring it in for winter or treat it as an annual.
  • Ferns – These are the workhorses of my shady spots. I love a tall ostrich fern to anchor a corner. They are very low maintenance, spread to fill in spaces, and come in a range of heights and textures.
  • Shady groundcovers – Even grass doesn’t do well in shade, so to fill in spaces, I use groundcovers. Some of those I have had success with include pachysandra, periwinkle, and lily of the valley.

Colorful Flowers for Shade Beds

A little pop of color here and there adds some interest to a shady bed and some flowers fit the bill. Just don’t expect the major showiness of sunny blooms. I like to plant native woodland wildflowers for a little spring color such as hepatica, trout li ly, and wild geranium.

I also use annuals sparingly for more color. Some of those I find work best in the shade are:

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