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Painters Perennials for your Shade Garden: Part I

Updated: Apr 16

The grass is always greener on the other side… or is it?  Most of our customers who have shady yards are desperate for more sun, and while they may not be able to grow a sunny pollinator garden, there are so many stunning textures, shapes and colors that we love for shady spaces! 

Ideally, we’d give you a short list of our favorites, but there are so many we love that we decided we needed two weeks to present them all! This week we are focusing on lower-growing plants, most of which put on their show in early to mid spring. Join Dana on Sunday, April 7th, for our first Talk and Tour, as she takes attendees on a tour of our shade plants and discusses favorites, why she loves them, ideal growing conditions and more!


NATIVE perennial (z3-9) part-full shade, 12-18'' tall and wide

Glossy, leathery, evergreen foliage; upright, clumping habit

Can tolerate dryish, rocky soils

Can fade/look stressed in heat of summer or depth of cold winter, but does stay evergreen.

Lungwort, Pulmonaria x 'Raspberry Splash'

Perennial (z4-9) part-full shade, 12-18'' tall and wide

Intensely colorful early spring blooms start out bright pink and mature to rich purple

Prized for its gorgeous, mottled, semi-evergreen foliage; excellent groundcover for woodland settings

Thrives in rich, moist, well-drained soil that does not dry out in hot summers; must have protection from afternoon sun


Japanese Forest Grass, 'All Gold'

Perennial grass (z5-9) full shade-part sun, 12-18'' tall, 20-24'' wide

Bright golden-chartreuse color gleams in the shade - lovely flowing texture as well

Foliage turns pink-tan in fall

Likes well-draining soil; great in containers

*May not have this spring 2024.

Siberian Bugloss, Brunnera macrophylla 'Silver Heart' & 'Alexander's Great'

Perennial (z4-8) full-part shade

'Silver Heart' is 6-12'' tall & 1-2' wide, 'Alexander's Great' is 12-18'' tall & 24-30'' wide

Large, silvery, heart-shaped leaves are stunning in gardens & containers

Exquisite, petite, bright blue blooms early spring

Remarkably tough cultivar, stands up well to heat and humidity; excellent groundcover for moist, well-drained woodland

Aka false forget-me-not

Wild Ginger, Asarum canadense

NATIVE perennial (z4-6) full-part shade, 6-12'' tall, 12-18'' wide

Cup-shaped, unique purple-brown flowers appear in spring

Attractive groundcover for shady spots - glossy, low growing foliage is slow to spread

Woodland Phlox, Phlox divericata 'Blue Moon', 'May Breeze'

NATIVAR perennial (z3-8) part-full shade

Blue Moon is 8-12'' tall & wide, May Breeze is 12-15" tall & wide

Clusters of lovely fragrant blooms in spring, adored by pollinators (white or blue)

Can naturalize in time, creating a beautiful woodland carpet of flowers in spring

Dwarf Crested Iris, Iris cristata

NATIVE perennial (z3-9) full sun-part shade, 6-9'' tall and wide

Pale blue iris flowers with gold crests in spring; narrow, sword-shaped leaves

Grows low and spreads rapidly, good woodland groundcover

Fun fact: Irises are named for the Greek goddess of the rainbow

Green and Gold, Chrysogonum virginianum

NATIVE perennial (z6-8) full-part shade, 3-6'' tall, 18-24'' spread

Yellow blooms April-October, with a lull during hottest months

A great shade groundcover

Seeds provide food for birds; one of the best performers at the WNC Arboretum

Allegheny Spurge, Pachysandra procumbens

NATIVE perennial (z4-9) full-part shade, 6-10'' tall, 1-2' wide

Semi-evergreen, foliage emerges mottled and matures to solid green

Fragrant flower spikes in spring

A truly lovely native groundcover, but a slow spreader

*Limited quantities in 2024

Barrenwort aka Bishop's Hat, Epimedium x 'Pretty in Pink'

Perennial (z4-8) part-full shade, 1-2' tall, 2-3' wide

Marvelous groundcover for dry shade; covered in small, whimsical pink flowers in spring

Foliage takes on dramatic bronze tones in spring and fall

Vigorous, low maintenance, durable; drought tolerant, deer and rabbit resistant

Aka fairy wings

Barrenwort aka Bishop's Hat, Epimedium x perralchicum 'Fröhnleiten'

Perennial (z5-9) part-full shade, 4-8'' tall, 1-2' wide

A compact cultivar and one of the toughest -- makes an excellent weed-suppressing evergreen groundcover for dry shade

Bright yellow flowers in spring; attractive foliage takes on bronze tones in spring and fall

Drought tolerant, deer and rabbit resistant

Photo by Kenraiz Krzysztof Ziarnek

Bugleweed, Ajuga reptans 'Chocolate Chip'

Perennial (z3-10) evergreen, full-part sun, 3'' tall, 9-12'' wide

Dwarf variety with smaller, deep maroon leaves

Brilliant violet-blue flower stalks in spring

Excellent for small spaces; doesn't spread as aggressively as species

Bugleweed, Ajuga reptans 'Mahoghany'

Perennial (z4-11) evergreen, full sun-part shade, 3-6'' tall, 12-18'' wide

Dense, rapidly spreading groundcover

Larger leaves emerge black-burgundy and mature to deep mahogany

Spikes of lavender-blue blooms in spring

Yellow Archangel, Lamium galeobdolon 'Hermann's Pride'

Perennial (z6-10) part-full shade, 8-12 tall, 12-18 wide

One of the easiest and loveliest solutions for dry shade; beautiful silver-streaked foliage

Tubular butter-yellow blooms late spring

Restrained mounding habit, not overly aggressive

Spotted Deadnettle, Lamium maculatum 'White Nancy'

Perennial (z3-8) part-full shade, 6-8'' tall, 2-3' wide

Variegated silvery-white, heart-shaped leaves with green margins; beautiful groundcover

White blooms spring to summer; cut back after flowering to stimulate new growth

Prefers moist, well-drained soil


The following ephemerals (native plants with short periods of active growth, often growing only during brief periods when conditions are favorable) put on their show in woodland habitats in early to mid spring. Plant them in part shade and lightly moist, rich soil (think forest floor) for best performance. While their show is short-lived, they're each magical in their own right and often my favorites in the garden each year. We have several other spring wildflower species as well!

Native Trilliums - Trillium grandiflorum, cuneatum, erectum, luteum, recurvatum & more

NATIVE perennials, hardiness range from zones 3-9, size range from 3-18'' tall & 6-12'' wide

Bloom colors can be white, maroon, pale pink or yellow, and species such as T. cuneatum have lovely mottled foliage and sweet-smelling blooms.

Go dormant mid-summer

*Note that our supplier of trillium roots mixed up the species a bit this year--we have a wide selection of healthy plants, but you likely won't know which species you are getting. All are native, beautiful & beneficial!

Mayapple, Podophyllum peltatum

NATIVE perennial (z3-8) part-full shade, 12-18'' tall and wide

White spring blooms hide beneath umbrella-like foliage

One of the first to emerge in spring - unfurling leaves are simply magical

Perfect for naturalizing in woodland areas; goes dormant in summer

Jack in the Pulpit, Arisaema triphyllum

NATIVE perennial (z4-9) part-full shade, 1-2' tall, 1' wide

Unique dark purple and green striped spathe blooms in spring are a showstopper

Goes dormant mid-summer

Clump-forming habit; needs consistently moist soil

Celandine Poppy, Stylophorum diphyllum

NATIVE perennial (z4-9) part-full shade, 1' tall and wide

Cheery yellow spring flowers atop pretty, lacy foliage - a staff favorite!

Self-seeds in optimal conditions

Thrives in moist woodlands and stream banks; excellent choice for native rain gardens

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