new! slideshow of my 54 top shade plants

under apple peak 2
SHADE IS A TRICKSTER, CAPTURING AND RELINQUISHING territory as years pass and woody plants grow—or are damaged or lost. Twenty-five years into gardening on one site, some former “shade gardens” here now bake, and even more spots that were sunny—well, you get the changeable, unpredictable picture.

Thankfully, for the latter areas, I have old clumps of lower-light plants to divide, including those in this new slideshow of my top 54 shade subjects. I included some woodland-garden shrubs and trees for those seeking to manufacture some shade of their own—or wanting to add more understory structure to what nature has provided.

a mostly alphabetical tour of 54 favorites for shade

plant profiles of shade subjects



Bulbs and bulb-like plants


Deciduous Shrubs

Deciduous Tree

more help in the shade

  1. Pam/Digging says:

    Thanks so much for joining us this month on the Roundtable, Margaret. While your list of shade plants is vastly different from those appropriate for my part of the world (central Texas), I am very inspired by the post you linked to, 10 Tenets of Underplanting. Beautiful images, and now I want a Glenn and Charles to come make mosaics under my trees!

  2. Cary says:

    Thanks so much Margaret for this walk. My beautiful inherited gardens are in SE Connecticut, officially zone 6A, but seem very much in tune with your 5B bloom schedule timing. You have helped me identify many rare species planted on this property with your slideshow, and I am very grateful. My lovely neighbor across the street is very knowledgeable also and between the two of you, I am succeeding at identifying plants that are new to me. (Potatoes buds are about to pop. Am wondering how tall it is possible to hill potato vines? I guess we will see!) Enjoy this gorgeous day. Many thanks to you.

  3. Thank you so much for an incredibly generous post. With so many plants to choose from on you lists and the array of beautiful photos in your slideshow, shade shouldn’t be a ‘second cousin’ for anyone.

    1. Margaret says:

      Nice to see you Pam (despite our regional differences, tee hee) and hello also to Susan and Scott, from nearer by.

      I got a little carried away — and actually left things out despite this giant heap! I think I stayed up a little past my bedtime and lost all ability to “weed” the photos (there might have been a glass of wine involved), but it was fun and got me thinking, too.

      So nice of the GDRT to have me.

  4. Kara says:

    Wow. I have a TON of work to do, I guess! Beautiful selection! I have a large shade garden, planted under 80′ tall beech trees. I have many of the same things, but notice some things you have that I ABSOLUTELY must have! Here’s a link to my recent pics (most are growing in the shade). I think that album is public, so anyone who is interested can see it.
    You can see I’m obsessed with large leaved plants – although I’ve not been successful with astilboides yet – I grow Darmara Peltata (they have been in for 10 yrs and are now huge), and have an ocean of petasites (this is not a plant for everyone as it’s quite thuggish, but the leaves now are about 28″ across – they are stunning and give great scale growing under the beech trees). I also have a Palownia which I cut down to the ground every year so it will not flower, but instead create the ginormous, fuzzy leaves that I love (that’s in the sun though). You have inspired me this morning – to at least go take more pictures – but there are things I need to move, etc. THANK YOU for the wonderful article!! :)

  5. Terryk says:

    Wow, what a treat this slide show was. There were some I seemed to have missed since following your blog. I want everything and wish I had the strength and years to add the all to the garden.

  6. Melissa says:

    Oh wow! this is perfect timing as I am beginning to prepare the beds for a new shade garden today! Still haven’t finished deciding what to plant yet so this will be a huge help!

  7. Anne Schreck says:

    All I can say is Wow Margaret. Stay up late and drink wine anytime if it leads to such a great resource. Now I know so much more about what I can do with my shady areas!

  8. Melanie Watts says:

    I’m planning a new shade bed, it gets early morning sun. Despite many of the plants you describe are not hardy in my garden I enjoy looking at your photos Margaret and reading your descriptions. I have my books at hand and I’m finding that the species you describe may not be hardy but another in the same genus may be. Like you I’m getting more intrigued by foliage rather than flowers.

  9. Terri H. says:

    P.S. I never even heard of hostas til I moved to Illinois. But here in the northern end of the state, they seem to be the #1 groundcover planting. There are plenty that are fine with full sun also, and the best thing about them is they hardly need any attention at all!

  10. Marian says:

    This is a great list of wonderful varieties and some shrubs I have never met. I am moving from 6b to 5a and I notice you didn’t include astilbe, wood anemone, lily of the valley, siberian iris or tradescantia? Would these grow in your area and maybe in a 5a? I am please to see that I should take my quersifolia and paniculata hydrangeas with me. Thanks as always

    1. Margaret says:

      Hi, Marian. I can definitely grow all the plants you mention, yes, and have a couple of them here in Zone 5B.

  11. Margaret.
    Thanks so much for posting your top shade plants!…I am always looking for tough and beautiful periennials for my sun dappled woodland gardens in the mid Atlantic area on the Eastern Snore of Maryland….Your blog has been so helpful to me in the second year process of starting my 3rd garden in a mostly wooded area that I love but it can be challenging to find interesting , native and unusual plants that tolerate alot of shade and look good among the woodland trees…….Your list is a keeper for me.

    Stephanie Simpson
    Queenstown, MD

  12. Deborah says:

    Thanks for another wonderful slide show. What you do with shade is amazing, and I’m looking forward to checking out the Roundtable links also. I just went to a Pruning workshop on Saturday at the Landis Arboretum taught by their arborist Fred Breglia, and came home to examine our trees with a new eye. Most of the big old trees that are the anchor for my shade garden have what Fred would call ‘structural defects’ because they have multiple co-dominant stems. One in particular we will need to have evaluated for safety. Another whole aspect to shade gardening!

  13. Linda Ganci says:

    Hi Margaret,

    Enjoying all of your slideshows alot! I have planted 2 Lindera benzoin shrubs to attract the Wood Thrush for the fall red berries to my garden. They are unsexed, so do I have to hope I am lucky to have both a male and female ? The second shrub I planted I added the petals of a sweetly scented rugosa rose bloom to the planting hole for good luck.
    Where can I get some duckweed for my frog pond outside od falling in the Ten Mile River?

    Thanks, Linda

  14. Genevieve says:

    Margaret, Margaret, what an overachiever! 54 plants! Seriously, what a great selection of drool-worthy specimens. I’m in a different climate, so I’m going to be researching to see whether a few of your faves, like that glorious Uvularia, will grow here for me!
    Thanks so much for joining us in the Roundtable!

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Genevieve. The merrybells is a divine thing, yes. I so need to divide it and spread it around, thanks for the reminder. :)

      Welcome, Linda. I get the floating pond plants from Pondplants dot com by mail. They have various choices.

  15. Debbie/GardenofPossibilities says:

    Margaret, WOW! What an amazingly comprehensive post. I was so happy to see your photo of Corylopsis spicata in all its glory. I planted a small one 2 years ago and while it flowers in the spring, it’s not very impressive yet. It’s so small, and with those downward facing flowers, it’s difficult to really appreciate it. I can’t wait until it gets larger like yours. I do love the ridged, pleated look of the leaves, though.

  16. Ivette Soler says:

    OMG Margaret – this is a tour de force! I am bookmarking it to refer to forever – thank you so much for participating!

  17. Beautiful, beautiful photos – so very inspiring and I’m having a bit of zone envy (I’m in high and dry Denver). Thank you for contributing to the Roundtable today; you’ve created a wonderful package here that will be bookmarked by many (including me!) for future reference.

    1. Margaret says:

      Thank you, Jocelyn, and also to Ivette. I had fun going through plants and missed a lot of them…but I think I got most of my favorites. Funny what happens after a few decades of gardening: you end up with a lot of plants!

  18. Janeen says:

    I adore Hakone grass, but live on the edge of zone 4B. I’m flirting with trying it anyway, in a protected area. Does anyone have any zone 4 experience with it?

    Beautiful photos, Margaret. I always get pulled in.

  19. Exactly the kind of post I prefer! I see a few favorites (which makes me feel smug) as well as some new ones to try. I tend to fall back on foliage in the shade, but am thinking I need to add more flowers and may start with one of the primulas you recommend.

    Thanks for adding knowledge and a fresh perspective to this month’s GDRT topic!

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Susan. The primulas are all little charmers (though kisoana is a little thuggish, and japonica’s leaves can get quite big–so if either colonize happily, they will take up some room. (Not a bad thing.)

      Welcome, Marcella. Glad to see you, and glad you liked the show!

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