hardy plants for light/medium shade?

kristin_c(Pugest Sound 8)May 26, 2014

My new (to me) house has a well established shrub garden on the north side of the house. It receives several hours of filtered afternoon shade, enough for the mockorange shrub to bloom although not profusely. The soil is slightly heavy but good and has good drainage (on a light slope). There are already Arum italicum and a big Aruncus, some feralized harebells, and a carpet of Spanish bluebells in spring.

In some of the gaps that weeds are currently colonizing, I'd like to add perennials, but I want plants that fit in well with a wilder look -- this is an area where I'd prefer to encourage tough desirable plants and generally keep the chaos down to a dull roar.

I'm drawing a blank on good prospects except for common violet, which I'll probably add toward the front where I want groundcover. Naturalizing or self-sowing plants are a plus. Any suggestions? I had a shady garden years ago but I've forgotten most of what I put in it.


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As a person living in California I often have zone envy. Many beautiful plants cannot thrive in my area. One that always makes me jealous is Cimifuga. Google it there are different cultivars. I also hear the PNW people talk about Corydalis. Check it out.

    Bookmark   May 26, 2014 at 11:38PM
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This post was edited by emmarene on Fri, Jun 13, 14 at 16:46

    Bookmark   May 27, 2014 at 1:03AM
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docmom_gw Zone 5 MI(5)

Ferns, hosta, Virginia Bluebells, Hellebore, Bloodroot, Trillium, Solomon's Seal, Jack-in-the-Pulpit, Bleeding Hearts, Hardy Geranium, Aconite, Snowdrops, Mayapple and more. Most of these are natives and none will take over your space. Some will reseed if they like the spot. Many are woodland plants, so will appreciate a thick layer of shredded leaves left as mulch to keep their feet cool and moist.

Good luck.


    Bookmark   May 27, 2014 at 6:18AM
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Puget Sound? You can have ANYTHING YOU WANT. including Meconopsis, the blue corydalis, and talk about zone envy >> Synelesis, Glaucidium, the choices are endless. Check out THE EXPLORER'S GARDEN by Dan Hinkley..and yes I believe he lives in Puget Sound, or there abouts

    Bookmark   May 27, 2014 at 12:27PM
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and yes I believe he lives in Puget Sound, or there abouts

LOL!! Makes him sound like an octopus or something......he lives alongside Puget Sound on a bluff just a couple of miles away from me. A gorgeous garden but almost full sun. The shady glens of Heronswood are far in the past.

For tough plants that suit a more wild look/appearance, I'd consider native ferns, tiarella/fringecup, saxifrages, wild ginger, Oxalis oregana, star flower, Pacific bleeding heart. All of these are PNW native perennials common to a woodsy/shady setting and tough as nails. Not exotics but heavy duty, carefree plants.

btw, even here in the PNW Himalayan blue poppies are NOT easy to grow. Usually treated as an annual.

    Bookmark   May 27, 2014 at 6:23PM
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interesting>>I thought that the blue poppy did well there. I guess even your summers are too sticky?

    Bookmark   May 28, 2014 at 9:22AM
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No, it's just that this is a very difficult plant to grow. Many forms are monocarpic so die after flowering anyway. We have cool enough summers and plenty of shade but a lot is from large conifers and other big native trees and it is dry. And we tend to have very dry summers as well. In the right soil conditions with at least partial shade and adequate water folks do grow it but many still treat like an annual and replant every year.

    Bookmark   May 31, 2014 at 3:11PM
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kristin_c(Pugest Sound 8)

Somehow I didn't get email updates on this thread until GardenGal's last post! Thanks for all the suggestions and I will take them on board.

    Bookmark   May 31, 2014 at 3:20PM
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Mandyvilla(7a No.VA)

Watch bluebells and mayapple, lovely, but ephemeral (completely disappear after blooming so you can easily lose track of them). Some great suggestions given. I would like to add: climbing hydrangea, monarda, cardinal flower, astilbe, most lilies tolerate shade, autumn joy sedum did well for me, coral bell, lung wort (a favorite of mine), painted ferns....so many choices!

    Bookmark   June 12, 2014 at 12:20AM
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Birdsong72(7/Northshore NJ)

As posters have cited, you can just about grow anything in light/medium shade. Don't let it intimidate you. This shot has the sunniest spot in my garden (in the foreground with the coreopsis flowering)

This post was edited by birdsong72 on Tue, Jul 1, 14 at 12:24

    Bookmark   June 30, 2014 at 12:51PM
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Birdsong72(7/Northshore NJ)

Mandy, speaking of climbing hydrangeas - how do you like mine?

Can't get the pic to rotate properly, though the source pic on my hard drive is 'portrait'. That's an 80' oak it's climbing on.

    Bookmark   July 2, 2014 at 8:17AM
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geoforce(z7a SE PA)

My favorite plants for shade are epimediums, hellebores, and pulmonaria. Mix in a few of the sinarisaema group of aroids and some of the asiatic mayapples and perhaps Amorphophallus konjac for its fantastic foliage. Maybe Begonia grandis for the late season bloom.

All of these should be easy in your area.

    Bookmark   October 5, 2014 at 3:14PM
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shillanorth Z4 AB

Siberian bugloss,(brunnera) particularly the variegated type or the Jack Frost cultivar can really light up a shady garden and still be a player once the lovely, forget-me-not type flowers have faded.

    Bookmark   October 5, 2014 at 3:31PM
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That hydrangea looks EXACTLY like mine only mine is climbing a tulip poplar.

    Bookmark   October 5, 2014 at 4:01PM
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pinusresinosa(MN Z4)

I see lots of wonderful suggestions for perennials and I was hoping I could add something to the conversation. I love viburnums for a lot of reasons, but even in my harsh climate there are many types that do really well in slightly or medium shaded areas. In your area (where I grew up and miss it often!) you pretty much can have almost any type of viburnum you want and it'll thrive.

There are so many cultivars out there and many are wonderful. I found this little gem- which would grow well in your area but not mine so I'm going to live vicariously through you right now! I know that viburnums are known usually for their blooms, fruit, and fall color. This one here seems to be a winner in new growth and evergreen foliage. Let it sort of grow without a lot of trimming and I bet it'll help add a backdrop to your new perennial bed that will have the look you're looking for.

Here is a link that might be useful: Viburnum Handsome Devil

This post was edited by pinusresinosa on Tue, Oct 21, 14 at 8:01

    Bookmark   October 21, 2014 at 8:00AM
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I have beautiful lilies in light shade with some sun. I have better success there than in full sun. They have to be staked, however, because they lean toward the sun.

    Bookmark   November 11, 2014 at 4:35PM
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mikebotann(8a SE of Seattle)

Hardy Geraniums work for me to keep out the Chickweed, Shotweed, and other weeds that thrive with little or no mulch.
Planted en mass it gets rid of the chaos most gardens have and unifies the design. Some forms are more compact than others. Here's the one I've been using for years. Wish I knew the name of it. It transplants easily and selfseeds sporadically. Never too much.

    Bookmark   January 1, 2015 at 12:00PM
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Barbara Lycett Landscape Design

We are so lucky to live in the Pacific Northwest, where we can grow a wide variety of plants that tolerate shade AND we have some fantastic specialty growers who supply us with these plants. Check out the Northwest Horticultural Society (NHS). They host some of the best plant sales in the region. The next one is March 7th.http://www.northwesthort.org/event/2014-spring-plant-sale-2/

    Bookmark   February 20, 2015 at 2:23PM
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