A properly planted perennial shade garden possesses a charm of its own, with quiet harmonies of color and texture that are so different in charac­ter from its sunny counterpart. Shade gardens provide a cool refuge from the glare of summer. Limited sun­light is often viewed with mixed feelings by those who maintain a garden in shade, especially if they are trying to grow plants that will not do well in a shady site. Luckily, many colorful and interesting plants that will tolerate shade conditions are available. When you begin to plan your shade garden, it’s important to have a clear understanding of the type of shade you have.  There is a great difference between the heavy, almost total shadow cast by buildings and dense evergreens, and the dappled shade of deciduous trees.

In addition to the amount of sunlight, the other factors that have to be taken into account are soil tex­ture and moisture. Remember that although many plant varieties will grow in a shady location when the shade is caused by a large established tree, soil moisture becomes the limiting factor to good plant growth. Typically the area under the entire tree canopy contains the tree’s root system and is very dry. Imagine drawing a line from the outermost edge of the tree canopy to the ground. This is the drip line, and the area from that line to the trunk of the tree won’t receive as much sunlight or water as the area outside of the drip line. Tree roots tend to grow out from the trunk twice as wide as a drip line. 

Thorough soil preparation is essential and the incorporation of humus, in the form of composted organic matter, will benefit the soil. Compost should also be used as a mulch to conserve moisture and as a protective cov­ering during winter. 

Evergreen trees such as Spruce and Pine are the hardest to grow below, as the dense needles block most, if not all, of the natural light and water. Very rarely do you find plants surviving below an evergreen.  It is best to plant outside the drip line on these trees.

Here are some beautiful shade-loving perennial combinations we love. 

‘Ice Dance’ Sedge & ‘Amethyst Myst’ Coral Bells

 ‘Sweet Tea’ Heucherella & Evergold Sedge

‘June’ Hosta & ‘Halcyon’ Hosta

 ‘Blue Angel’ Hosta & ‘Lady in Red’ Fern

Variegated Solomon’s Seal and ‘Royal Heritage’ Hellebore

‘Aureola’ Hakonechloa Grass & ‘Rozanne’ Geranium

‘Obsidian’ Coralbells & Northern Sea Oats

New shade-loving perennials are constantly being introduced and may be right for your garden. With that in mind, remember that there is a solution for you, no matter what type of light, moisture or soil you have.