Here are some foliage plants for the shade garden with pretty leaves. These perennials add beautiful texture, colour and shine to shady areas, even when not in bloom.
On the upper left is a combination of Asarum europaeum (European ginger) in front and Athyrium ‘Lady in Red’ (lady in red fern) behind. I especially like the pairing of shiny, rounded heart shaped leaves of the ginger with the feathery fern fronds. ‘Lady in Red’ has a fresh, light green colour, but the centre of each frond is red when they first emerge. The foliage pairing is appealing all season long, and both do well with very little light.
On the upper right is Heuchera ‘Green Spice’ (coral bells). Most of the Heuchera have great foliage, but ‘Green Spice’ stands out for its wonderful contrast of purple red veins on a light silvery green background. The darker green border around each leaf completes the colourful package. The large scalloped leaves look super next any plant with feathery leaves.
In the middle on the left are Tiarella ‘Jeepers Creepers’ (foamflower) leaves with deeply cut lobes and a dark contrasting line down the middle of each section. These perennial leaves make an attractive evergreen groundcover, topped by pretty spikes of flowers.
In the centre of the collage is a Hosta ‘Patriot’ that is still unfurling. I like the creamy white bands around the margins of the leaves, since get you attention as you scan along in the darker areas of the shade garden. ‘Patriot’ adds a dappled effect in the shadows. The large leaves look good next to delicate or finely cut foliage.
On the right side of the centre row is Heuchera ‘Cinnabar Silver’ (coral bells ) with green and purple leaves that have pronounced vein marks. Not all Heuchera have showy flowers, but these get very attractive red flowers later in the summer. A leftover blue Scilla flower is draped over the ‘Cinnabar Silver’.
On the bottom left is Heucehra ‘Raspberry Ice’ (coral bells), which also has the complete package of both wonderful leaves and flowers. Like many Heuchera, the leaves can change colour through the season, depending on the temperature. You can see some of the silver and green leaves, as well as the purplish red ones. One perk with the Heuchera is that the evergreen leaves will decorate the shady garden all year.
On the bottom right is a closeup of the fantastic foliage of Asarum europaeum (European ginger). These shiny leaves have finally been spreading over the last few years to fill in and create a terrific groundcover. I highly recommend these short plants for the front of the border. Although they are a little slow to start spreading for the first few years, they will gradually fill in to great a really nice edging in even your shadiest areas. The high gloss finish adds some sparkle to the darker sections.
Above is a collage of some silver perennial leaves, which are great for bringing highlights to a shady corner. Whether solid, spotted, or patterned silver, the light colour bounces back the few light rays to make it into the shaded sites under the trees, making them stand out and be noticed.
At the top is Pulmonaria ‘Samourai’ (lungwort) with mostly solid silver leaves. Each leaf is long and narrow, with a slender border of green and a central green vein. This make a light coloured background for the blue flowers. These silver grey ‘Samourai’ looks great next to solid green or dark leaves.
In the middle row on the left is Zantedeschia araceae ‘Golden Chalice’ (calla lily). I use these as a centre foliage plant in a planter for a very shady area. They don’t produce much in the way of flowers there, but the tall, silver spotted leaves are a great centre piece for the flowering annuals in the pot. I also have a calla lily in another part shade container, where they produce funnel type blooms.
In the centre of the collage is a Brunnera macropylla ‘Jack Frost’ (bugloss) leaf. This is the king of foliage plants for the shade. Everything about the leaves is perfect, from the beautiful silver colour, to the wonderful patterns of contrasting green along the veins. I always have to stop and admire them when puttering around the garden.
On the right side of the middle row is a Pulmonaria ‘Majeste’ (lungwort) leaf. ‘Majeste’ starts off as spotted silver in spring, and gets more of an overall silver colour later in summer. The freckles are cute, and keep the green foliage from fading into the background.
On the bottom left is a Heuchera ‘Mint Frost’ leaf. It is a light silver green, with darker green veins. These are highly variable perennials, as in the spring and fall they can have orange, red and purple leaves, too. However for most of the summer this is the standard colour.
On the lower right is the solid silver leaf of Brunnera macrophylla ‘Looking Glass’. It produces large leaves, with slender green lines along the veins. This is a real knockout in the shade as it reflects a lot of light.
Here is a very attractive giant leaf of Alocasia calidora (elephant ear). It’s large, wet, and just look at those patterns. The rubbery leaves are about 50 cm (20 in) long right now, and get bigger all summer. I have these Alocasia in a few of my planters in part shade, where they make super focal point for the centre. Elephant ears bring a wonderfully lush tropical look to a planter. In zone 3 they are treated like an annual, although you could overwinter the bulbs inside. If you’re wondering what the green ‘worms’ are behind the leaf, those are the catkins that just fell from a willow tree.
These are some of the perennial leaves that caught my eye this week when I was out gardening. Although there are lots of spring flowers right now, the foliage of these plants will look great right through until fall. You can see more pictures of great foliage for your shady garden here, and even more photos of shade plant leaves here.