We love big, old, beautiful shade trees. Nothing beats the dappled shade they throw on cool pathways in the heat of the summer. Gardeners often find it a challenge to landscape under big trees when they’re used to sun-drenched gardens filled with flowers. The trick to shade gardens is playing with foliage textures and contrasting colors to move the eye through the landscape.

Let’s start with the basics: texture. Take two popular shade plants, the fern and the hosta. The fine texture of the fern is balanced by the thick, wide hosta leaves. This creates visual interest. Use deep greens to create a place for the eye to rest when using more colorful accent plants. To add color, consider the Autumn Brilliance fern, with bright orange new growth, and complement it with a Hosta like Abiqua Drinking Gourd, which features powder blue cupped leaves. Round out the community with silvery-blue Brunnera (pictured) and speckled Lungwort, both add spring floral displays to the landscape.

Then throw in some masses of color. In sunny gardens this might be Coneflowers, Daylilies, or Salvia, planted in groupings for impact. Shade plants tend to have smaller, dainty flowers, sometimes tucked into the foliage. They’re beautiful up close, but often lack the impact from a distance. Instead, try a plant with a colorful leaf. New hybrids of Coralbells are bright, striking, and come in a huge range of colors. Check out Midnight Rose, Caramel, and Berry Smoothie (pictured). Chartruese brightens up shade gardens, making neighboring colors more vibrant. It’s available in Coralbells, Bleeding Hearts, and a graceful, weeping Hakone forest grass. Limit your palette to three or four colors and use them throughout the landscape for a cohesive look.

Layer seasonal flowers for a changing garden: Spring: Anemone, Barrenwort, Bergenia, Bleeding Heart, Brunnera, Columbine (pictured), Foam Flower, Lenten Rose, Lungwort, Rhododendron, Azalea Summer: Astilbe, Bugbane, Coralbells, Hosta, Ligularia, Spiderwort, Hydrangea Fall: Japanese Anemone, Toad Lily, Hydrangea Foliage color change can add seasonal interest, too. Mukdenia, Oakleaf Hydrangea, and some Astilbe all turn to vibrant reds in the late summer and fall. These are some of our favorite flowers for shade, but not all of them will work at every site. Keep an eye out for wet or dry spots in your landscape. Watch how the sun moves throughout the day, and take note of sunny or especially shady patches. Snap some photos on your phone, take a few measurements, stop by and see us. Our perennial experts are happy to help you design a shady retreat with plenty of personality and color.

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