Intriguing Leaves of Shade Plants

Here are some photos of  interesting leaves of some shade plants in my garden. The garden looks especially appealing when neighbouring plants have some variety in leaf texture, shape, colour surface or size. It draws your eye along, noticing the different consistency of the foliage, coarse or fine, rough or smooth, patterned or solid, large or small, and flat or wavy. I particularly like plants with lacy leaves next to large, solid ones.

Shiny leaves near matte textured leaves make a nice contrast in the shade. The Astilbe simplicifolia and Asarum europaeum (ginger) are the shiniest in my garden. In fact, the Astilbe looks as if a flash has gone off above it, but that’s just the leaves, reflecting the maximum amount of light. The Asarum looks polished to a high gloss. These plants bring a little dazzle to the shade garden.

Some shade plants leaves have subtle colours that catch your eye. The Brunnera, Pulmonaria (lungwort) and ghost fern are the most silvery. Their light colour makes them jump out in the shade. They look appealing near dark green leaves. The Athyrium niponicum (painted fern) and Cimicifuga ramosa (bugbane) have purple highlights, while the Epimedium grandiflorum (barrenwort) has red borders on the new leaves. They look good adjacent to green coloured leaves.

The Brunnera, Heuchera and Hosta have the strongest pattern designs on them. They add a little pizazz to the shady garden bed, so there is not just a solid mass of green. When looking along a garden bed, your eye stops at moment to look at the patterns. The provide a focus, a place to rest.

Some shade plants have a light texture, and some are heavy looking. The Hosta, Helleborus and Asarum are the stiffest leaves. The don’t move much in the breeze, and make a good contrast to the supple movement of ferns. The deeply divided ferns look graceful next to any solid leaves.

A variety of shapes on shade plant leaves make a garden bed more pleasing. The Asarum, Brunnera and Sanguinaria (bloodroot) are the most rounded, making a good foil for long leaves or finely cut ones. The Pulmonaria and Hosta have long leaves, which look attractive beside delicate foliage or rounded shapes.

I made a gallery of foliage pictures to show how a variety of leaves look in the garden. It’s a celebration of photosynthesis. All of these perennials are happy in a shady or part shade garden, with the exception of the spruce, which is more of a shade creator. Do you have any favourite leaves in your garden?

You can click on any picture to enlarge it.

You can see more foliage photos in this previous post about leaves. There are photos of shade perennial leaves with descriptions here.

19 thoughts on “Intriguing Leaves of Shade Plants”

    1. Jackie, there’s such a beautiful assortment of leaves, and as the flowers come and go, the leaves set the atmosphere for the garden. I’m glad it was useful.

  1. I was also thinking what a great reference this post is.

    Interestingly, it also tells me at a glance which forms I am most drawn too — so, I know for sure I must have more ferns :)

    1. The Garden Ms. S, it’s just like that in the garden, with the groups of finely textured ferns catching the eye around the other leaves, especially lately on our windy days as they sway.

      Victoria, some plants never sell themselves in their pots, do they. They come into their own in the garden. Unfortunately, this plant likes warmer zones than mine. It would whinge when winter came. I can see the long slender leaves and light colour would make a good contrast amongst darker foliage.

  2. I love your posts about shady plants and these pictures are beautiful. Have you tried Acorus gramineus ‘Ogon’? It looks quite a frightening colour in the garden centre, but in amongst a mass of green it looks like a shaft of sunlight. It will grow in part shade.

    1. Joanne, it’s unfortunate about the lack of rain for your garden. It makes a tremendous difference for the health of the plants and their ability to resist problems. It’s also so discouraging when you’ve worked so hard on your garden, and must be even more so for the farmers. I hope you get the moisture you need.

  3. Northern! What a great post!! I love your creativity in its presentation!! Here’s a great fern I know you’d love: ‘Frizzalae” (at least I think that’s how it’s spelled… I’m now at my daughter’s home in Omaha! ;-)

    1. Shady Gardener, thanks, I had fun taking pictures of my favourite leaves, and then didn’t want to leave any out. Is that Frizelliae maybe?

      Have a great time visiting with your family.

  4. A gorgeous array and very helpful viewed this way…gives one hints on putting the different textures/leaf shapes and colors together! Gail

    1. Gail, as I read your comment, I thought how useful it would be to be able to drag the photos around to try out different combinations on the page. :) It’s probably too hot right now for you to be dragging your real plants around.

  5. Lovely! I’m very much a foliage person and find the Brunneras to have beautiful leaves. Thanks for posting the collection! :)

    1. Rebecca, I love the Brunnera leaves also. Right now they are getting very large too. There are only a few flowers still left on them, but the leaves are expanding to take their place in the garden.

  6. NS : )
    I love the way you have set this up ! .. It is a wonderful referral to what foliage looks best with counterpart foliage .. my garden is becoming more and more a shade garden and this has been great to see and give me an idea what will mix and match together, thank you girl !
    Joy

    1. Joy, my garden is getting shadier as the trees grow too. There is a great variety if leaves on the shade plants, so it’s fun to look at them. You have some wonderful combinations of foliage in your garden.

  7. Northern Shade, do Ostrich Ferns tolerate deep shade? I have a spot between the edge of a mature spruce and a large double flowering plum, in front of a swedish columnar aspen (yes, it’s a tad crowded). It doesn’t get much light, if any, but the ferns would look nice there, if they can grow. Thanks. :)

    1. Rebecca, my ostrich ferns grow in deep shade with root competition, but they are about half the size of the ones in medium shade, about 60 cm (2 feet) or so. They appear just as healthy. They might need some extra watering in that location.

  8. Seeing those pictures grouped together shows how diverse foliage can be, and how attractive. I like shiny Asarum europaeum. A Caenothus shrub is creating an expanding but empty patch of shade in my garden (the only one!). The Asarum looks like a possibility. The shine should get it noticed.

    1. Easygardener, the A. europaeum makes a great groundcover. The glossy leaves make a nice contrast to other foliage, while the rounded shape is appealing.

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