No, I’m not talking about cutting down a few trees to brighten your shade areas, although a little judicious pruning is a good way to shed some light on the situation. What I have in mind is taking a look at some of the many perennials that perform well in shade, or at least tolerate it admirably. For shade gardens, foliage is the most important design consideration, so plants with bright variegation or yellow-green leaves can make the darkness shine. But this time I’ll focus on a few yellow leafy shiners. I’ve used some of these in my gardens, and every year there are new introductions that I’m eager to try. Another bonus, most of these are deer and/or rabbit resistant, alas, except for the hostas.
Hakonechloa (Japanese Forest Grass) ‘Aureola’ (shown below) or ‘All Gold’ – This is an absolutely beautiful group of low maintenance grasses for shade. Zone 5 hardy, (Twin Cities area is Zone 4b) but with a little winter mulch or a protected location they can do quite well in the southern half of Minnesota. They appreciate a more humus-rich soil, so dig in some leaf mold or compost when planting. Please, be patient, they’re a slow starter in spring and take a few years to mature, but will become a graceful flowing mound. Fantastic falling over rocks or the edge of a patio. 9-14” H x 18-24” W
Fern – Athyrium ‘Ghost’ (Japanese Painted Fern) – Here’s a fern that’s frosted apple green, not quite yellow, but is very bright in the garden, almost ghostly. It has dark purple stems that hold the fronds upright. Another reason I’m a fan is that it’s taller than most Japanese Painted Ferns and tolerates dryer soil. 24-36” H x 18-24” W
Heuchera ‘Electra’ (Coralbells – Shown Below), Heucherella ‘Gold Zebra’ (Foamy Bells) – Heucheras & Heucherellas are plant relatives that I have in my top 10 list of favorite perennials. Long-lived, small mounding plants that are perfect for border edges, very low maintenance, and just plain cute. As a group they come in a huge variety of leaf colors, but the two mentioned here are shocking yellow with burgundy veining. They have the added bonus of flowering, small white bells on scapes held high above the foliage. Due to their smallish size, plant them in groups of at least 5 for the best impact. 8-10” H x 15” W
Dicentra ‘Gold Heart’ (Bleeding Heart) - Bleeding Hearts are well known with gardeners as being an old-fashioned perennial that appears very early in spring with delicate heart-shaped, rosy flowers. ‘Gold Heart’ is a newer take on the old-fashioned fave that features, yes, bright yellow foliage. The leaf color tends to mellow out as the summer progresses and the whole plant will die back to the ground mid-season. I think it’s lovely in a natural garden setting. 18-24” H x 24-36” W
Hostas: ‘Sun Power’, ‘Maui Buttercups’, ‘Dancing Queen’, ‘Fire Island’, ‘Sum and Substance’ We’re all familiar with hostas but I just have to mention them because there are some terrific yellow-leaved varieties that totally glow in shade. Hostas can make a real impact on the dark areas of a garden with their large leaves and blocky form. Group them together in large drifts or use individual plants as accents. Sizes vary.