By: Kari Houle, University of Illinois Extension Adams/Brown/Hancock/Pike/Schuyler Counties
One of my favorite types of gardens to plan and work in is my shade garden. For me, there are a couple of reasons that shade gardens are great. The variety of plants that are suitable to shady locations is really interesting and it continues to grow each year with new varieties and introductions. Also, a shade garden can be a nicer garden location to work in when it's hot out.
All too often when people start thinking of shade gardens, the default image is often the common white and green variegated hosta, but the options are more than that. It's always amazing to see how much variety is out there when you really start looking in to shade plants – you should never feel limited by having shade in your yard.
Here are some of my favorite shade plants.
Coral Bells (Heuchera spp.) – We have moved beyond the common Palace Purple to include a range of colors from golden yellows to purples to green variegated to peach and more. These are great plants that love a part shade location. Make sure to add organic matter at planting and they are best with mulch around them as sometimes they heave up (raise up out of the ground as the soil freezes and thaws) and can leave the crown exposed. They are easy enough to divide and with the color options available they are a great way to spice up a shady corner.
Yellow Corydalis (Corydalis lutea) – Delicate green leaves with beautiful yellow flowers that never really seem to stop blooming – think a bloom time from May through September. They readily fill in shady spaces (full to part shade) and are great in rock gardens, just make sure they aren't in locations that dry out during the winter. Adding organic matter to the planting location is beneficial.
Lungwort (Pulmonaria saccharata) – A low growing plant with green leaves and "silver" spots that vary from a smattering of spots to large blotches of silver. They bloom in April and May with flowers that vary in color depending on the variety, but include white, pink, "blue," and red. What makes these plants even better is that they are tolerant of deep shade and Black Walnut.
Japanese Forest Grass or Hakone Grass (Hakonechloa macra 'Aureola') – This is a lovely part shade tolerant grass in golden yellow that cascades in a lovely mound with leaves resembling bamboo. I'm a huge fan of this plant and it's absolutely stunning in the shade garden. Make sure to avoid heavy clay soils or poorly drained soils when selecting a location for this plant.
This is just a small selection of plants that are available for the shade garden but there are plenty more out there. Never feel limited by what garden space you have available, there is always potential and possibility.