Shade gardens usually are more subtle, lacking the bright, bold colors found in sunny locations, so shade gardeners should consider plant textures, height differences, forms and color variations for variety.
For example, large-leaved plants, such as shade-loving hostas, are coarsely textured. Finely divided leaves, such as wood or male fern, impart a fine texture.
Use height contrasts between plants, such as dwarf conifers and their upright cousins, to add interest. Weeping or rounded forms create a spacious feeling that adds to flower beds otherwise dominated by upright or horizontal, ground-hugging plant forms.
Glossy leaves of bergenia have more impact than dull ones such as Siberian bugloss. Light colors — white, cream or pink — stand out in the shade like the silver and pink tones of Japanese painted fern and the creamy yellow shades of some hosta varieties. Some red-leaved plants such as Chocolate Ruffles coral bells contrast well with green plant leaves.
Deep blues and purples tend to recede into the shade unless set off by a lighter, contrasting color. The tall, purple blooms of an upright campanula will have more impact if coupled with the yellow, spiked blooms of a perennial foxglove.
For more information, see the following Colorado State University Extension fact sheet(s).
- Deciduous Shrubs
- Herbaceous Perennials
- Ground Cover Plants
- Wildflowers in Colorado
- Rock garden Plants
- Ground Covers for Mountain Communities