Shady garden spots don’t have to be green

Rob Zimmer

From late May into June, as the trees fully flush out overhead, there are many excellent perennials that provide wonderful and elegant beauty in the shade.

Finding color for shady areas is often challenging for gardeners. Often, shady areas tend to be filled with the greenery of hostas and ferns and maybe a few coral bells for pops of color. However, there are a number of excellent perennials that provide brilliant bursts of color throughout mid- to late spring.

The many varieties of bleeding hearts are perfect examples — now showing with their long, elegant spires of heart-shaped blooms. Bleeding hearts are a favorite of many traditional gardeners.

Old-fashioned bleeding hearts have bright green foliage bloom and masses of pink, heart-shaped blossoms that dangle like jewels from their flowering stems.

White bleeding hearts are unique and treasured in the shade garden. These are similar to the old-fashioned bleeding heart, with pure white blossoms.

One of my favorite varieties of bleeding heart is called valentine. This bleeding heart features foliage that is tinged with reddish color, along with heart-shaped blossoms that are rich, deep red.

There are also many varieties of fringed bleeding hearts, sometimes called luxuriant bleeding hearts. These grow much smaller than the traditional bleeding hearts with extremely lacy, ferny foliage and short spikes of heart-shaped blooms that may be 10 to 12 inches tall.

All of the bleeding hearts are prized by hummingbirds as nectar plants when they return from their long migration and well into late spring in our area.

Wild blue phlox is another beautiful and colorful wildflower for bloom in the shade during mid- to late spring. The intense, periwinkle blue of this woodland native species is amazing when paired with the pink of bleeding hearts and colorful coral bells in the shade garden.

There are garden hybrids of this spring blooming phlox available in shades of pink, as well as white. These varieties of early blooming phlox are much different than the tall garden phlox that blooms later in summer.

Jack-in-the-pulpit is an elegant, hooded, almost tropical-looking wild flower that blooms well into early summer. Its attractive blooms are streaked in green and maroon, while its large, three-part leaves make a statement in the spring shade garden.

Wild geranium, sometimes called cranesbill, blooms in beautiful purplish lavender from the middle of May, sometimes into July. These attractive wildflowers draw butterflies and hummingbirds and provide beautiful mounds of color in the shade throughout the season.

While the native cranesbill is lavender in color, there are many garden hybrids that can be found that are rich blue, pink, white, even speckled and blue and white. Their attractive foliage makes them beautiful all season long, even when not in bloom.

Japanese candelabra primroses are another excellent shade garden choice for color during mid- to late spring. These come in a variety of colors from rich red to wine to pink and white. The candelabra primroses bloom in layered spikes that may be 12 to 18 inches tall.

Columbine is another shade garden favorite, growing well in our area where it thrives as a native wildflower. In addition to the native in red and yellow, there are literally hundreds of garden hybrids from pure white to rich blue and deep purple.

Visit your local garden centers and fill your shade garden with colorful blooms to enjoy over the next several weeks.

Rob Zimmer is a nature and garden author, public speaker and radio show host on WHBY. Readers can find him on Facebook at