Great foliage is important in a shade garden. Many plants that thrive in the shade tend to have no flowers or short blooming times or sparse flowering because of the low light. The flowers may come and go, but good foliage is visible for the season. The feathery plumes of the astilbes look great while they are flowering, but their lacy foliage looks great for even longer (this is probably truer in a northern climate).
Plants with leaves of different textures, habits and colours provide interest. If you are craving more colour, many of the newer Heuchera (coral bells) combine a rainbow of leaf colour. I’m partial to using a low key combination of different green shades, combined with silvers such as the perennial Brunnera macropylla ‘Jack Frost’ (Siberian bugloss). This picture from last summer also shows the Adiantum pedatum (Northern maidenhair fern) to the left, Convallaria majalis (lily of the valley) behind and Matteuccia struthiopteris (ostrich fern ) in the back corners. I like the feathery texture of the maidenhair fern next to the heart shaped silver veined leaves and the broad lily of the valley leaves with the vase shaped ostrich fern. These plants all do well under the shade of a willow tree with some dappled light.
Alternating perennials that are vase shaped, rounded, tall or sprawling adds excitement to the shade garden. Repeating these combinations around the garden ties it together. If you are looking for more foliage ideas, here is another post I wrote which has many foliage pictures.
What are your favourite perennial foliage combinations? When you go to buy a plant, which is more important to you, the leaves, the flowers, the plant form, the scent, or is it something less concrete like past memories you associate with the plant?