Garden Photo of the Day

Get Out of the Shady Rut

Shade gardens don’t have to be about hostas all the time

I love a good hosta. They’re tough and beautiful and look good all summer long – provided the deer and slugs leave them alone. But let’s be honest: they can get a bit boring. We can do better people! So today’s pictures feature some beautiful, fascinating plants for shade that you haven’t seen a thousand times. A little something to mix up the tired old hosta monoculture.

Chuck Gleaves sent in this beautiful image of Glaucidium palmatum (Japanese wood poppy, Zones 3-8) standing behind a mass of Primula kisoana (Japanese primrose, Zones 5 – 8). These two are perfect companions, blooming the same time in late spring and preferring the same cool, moist, shady conditions.

Rubus odoratus (purple flowering raspberry, zones 3-8) is an under-appreciated native plant. Native to a wide swath of the Eastern US, it blooms all summer long with big, fragrant, flowers over bold foliage. Even better, the beautiful blooms are followed by small but tasty raspberries. The downside? It will sucker and spread aggressively. Not a plant for a small garden, but perfect if you have a big area to fill.

Cissus discolor (rex begonia vine) I’m not big on annuals, but this is one that I adore. The leaves look like a rex begonia, but on a vigorous, heat-tolerant vine that tolerates deep shade. Bring it inside as a house plant for the winter, and it’ll beautify your shady corners for years.

Epimedium lishihchenii (Zones 4 – 8) suffers from a ridiculous, unpronounceable name and no real common name, but I love this plant! New leaves emerge pale green flushed with orange and topped in early spring with absurd, delicate, yellow flowers. All summer long – and through the winter in mild climates – the graceful foliage makes a lush, tough, adaptable carpet.

Primula sieboldii (Japanese woodland primrose, Zones 3 – 8) is my favorite primrose. Most primroses insist on perfectly cool, moist shade and die dramatically at the first hint of hot drought. This tough little fellow doesn’t mind heat at all, and if it gets too dry in the summer, just goes dormant. The leaves die back, it waits out the heat, and then it pops up again next spring, flowering away as if nothing had happened.

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  1. frankgreenhalgh 01/15/2018

    Nice shade plants, Joseph. The Epimedium is a very unusual and interesting plant.
    To continue with some colour, this photo. (not mine) of an Aussie Eastern rosella on the flowers of a Cootamundra wattle tree (even the common names can be a bit unusual here!) may be of interest to GPOD'ers. For some reason it looks like a painting to me. Cheers from Oz

    1. user-7007498 01/15/2018

      Good morning, Frank. The birds down under rival the beauty of the flowers you have been sharing with us. You are doing an awesome job of creating "Australia envy". I can't wait to get down there in a few years.

      1. frankgreenhalgh 01/15/2018

        We'll look after you and Kathy when you can make it, Kev. In the meantime, I have a series of pics. of eye-popping and drop dead (in my opinion anyhow) flowers of less common natives, which I will post for the information of you and other fellow GPOD'ers. There are more than 5 pics. of flowers of each colour palette so I will keep the current drip feed system going for a while i.e. as long as I'm not boring you guys. Cheers, mate

        1. user-7007498 01/15/2018

          Keep the pictures coming, Frank. It helps to brighten up the dreary times. We had a brief warmup on Friday and Saturday to 50 degrees, with 1.5 inches of rain. Back to 19 degrees F yesterday and today (as highs).

        2. user-7007140 01/15/2018


    2. reubi 01/15/2018

      Amazing, Frank!

    3. VikkiVA 01/15/2018

      Wow Frank, what a beautiful bird on a beautiful bush. Thanks! Vikki in VA

    4. tennisluv 01/15/2018

      Frank, you live in such a technical color world in the land of OZ. Love seeing you offerings each day.

    5. Chris_N 01/15/2018

      You not only have colorful birds but smart ones, too. I just read an article about some of your raptors who spread wildfires to help with hunting. They will pick up a burning stick and fly up to a kilometer away and drop it in the brush. As the fire spreads the birds wait on the edges to feast on the reptiles and small mammals driven out. Only in Australia.

      1. frankgreenhalgh 01/15/2018

        Hey Chris - I was unaware of this remarkable feat. Certainly our aborigines used fire for hunting purposes for thousands of years. Perhaps the birds of prey evolved so that could capitalise on the access to food associated with fires. I must say that I chuckled at your phrase 'only in Australia' - here, it's used the other way around.

        1. Chris_N 01/16/2018

          When I say "only in Australia" it's in reference to your flora and fauna. If I interpret your response correctly, your "only in ..." has to do with human behavior.

          1. frankgreenhalgh 01/16/2018

            You are right as usual, Chris - but the expression certainly doesn't apply to GPOD'ers (only Fire & Fury'ers - oops did I say that!!!!)

          2. frankgreenhalgh 01/16/2018

            Hey Chris - 'Stop Press' - Six police officers rescued a swamp wallaby as it hopped across the Sydney Harbour bridge today - 'Only in Australia'!!!!!!!!!!

    6. User avater
      meander_michaele 01/15/2018

      I agree, Frank...this would make a beautiful print. It has just enough blend and blur to seem like a painting.

    7. cheryl_c 01/15/2018

      The beauty of Australia is only exceeded by the sense of humor of its people- great names (with many more to come, I hope) to go with the wonderful flora you have been sharing!

    8. user-6536305 01/15/2018

      Both Eastern rosella and flower Cootamundra wattle are beautiful and thanks for sharing!

    9. user-7007140 01/15/2018

      You are right Frank, the arrangement and bird look so unlikely to be real!

  2. user-7007498 01/15/2018

    Good morning, Joseph. I love that rex begonia vine. It will be on my list for next summer. I also grow epimedium lishihchenii, and I agree it is one of the best. I have a collection of about 15 cultivars of epimediums and continue to add them. Tough as nails, especially in dry shade.

  3. reubi 01/15/2018

    Beautiful! I have the perfect spot for some of these....

  4. garden1953 01/15/2018

    I love the Glaucidium palmatum and just checked 4 on-line gardening catalogs and no one has it. Does anyone know where to find it?

    1. Sunshine111 01/15/2018

      I live in New Hampshire and one of the wholesale perennial growers carries it. That’s where I got mine. Not sure where you would get it mail order

      1. garden1953 01/15/2018

        Thank you. I live in Colorado so I'm sure I will never find it. I appreciate you letting me know!

      2. deeinde 01/15/2018

        What is the name of the company, Cherie? Thanks!

        1. Sunshine111 01/15/2018

          The company is Van Berkum Nursery, but they are strictly wholesale and to the trade only. They also do not do mail order.

  5. VikkiVA 01/15/2018

    Wonderful suggestions for some unusual shade loving plants. I'll be sharing with a garden club buddy who is always seeking flowers and brightness for her shady yard. Vikki in VA

  6. User avater
    meander_michaele 01/15/2018

    Thanks for bringing some great shade candidates to our attention, Joseph. Hard to resist the charms of the flower of the Epimedium captivating... like a tiny ballerina.
    And photo contributor, Chuck, certainly has a winning combination in the picture he sent in...who doesn't love and envy some swaths of blues and purples?!

  7. tennisluv 01/15/2018

    Thanks for sharing Chuck's colorful plants. The Epimedium lishihchenii was already tagged to go into my garden this summer in a dry shade area; so, it was especially nice seeing this great snapshot. Would love to grow primroses - they are so pretty - but they don't seem to like our hot, humid summers.

  8. Chris_N 01/15/2018

    The Glaucidium and primroses in the first photo really knocked my socks off. Don't have cool, moist shade - mostly fairly dry and summer hot shade, but it looks like the Primula sieboldii should work for me. I've always liked rex begonia vines. Thanks for the great photo. The Epimedium lishihchenii looks enticing as well but according to MOBOT it likes acidic soil. Definitely not what I have in the Madison, WI. There are lots of other great epimediums that do well around here so I should expand to more than the two types I have.

  9. user-6841468 01/15/2018

    beautiful... thanks for the inspiration!

  10. cheryl_c 01/15/2018

    What an interesting group of new (to me) plants! Thanks so much for sharing these. Are there ones of us out there who are also growing unusual shade plants? I have a few epimediums... but nothing as stunning as these! Thanks, Joseph, for pulling these together for us. It is a snowy morning - 3 inches on the ground, snowing hard, and not 'scheduled' to stop for 5 more hours. Then down to zero tonight and tomorrow night - glad the snow got here first!

  11. mariebulgin 01/15/2018

    Thanks for the array of shade plants. Most of my yard is shady and I am always looking for something that will grow. As you say, Hostas do get boring although I have always been grateful for the fact that they will grow almost anywhere in the shade and keeps my shade from just being poor struggling sun plants and weeds. I can't wait to try ALL of these beautiful plants. First, though, I will have to find a catalog that offers one or all of them.

  12. User avater
    Tim_Zone_Denial_Vojt 01/15/2018

    Fabulous. Some of my favorite plants. I tried the Glaucidium for a second time last year and hope it fares well. Awesome and hard to find; that photo shows a garden spot worth a fortune! That Epimedium has been on my list for several years; maybe this will be the year.

  13. user-7008735 01/15/2018

    Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous!

  14. btucker9675 01/15/2018

    Gorgeous - making a list and checking it twice! Half of our back yard is wooded, but we have limbed the trees up so that it's a nice dappled shade rather than dark. Can't wait to give some of these a try - thanks for the great suggestions.

  15. mhebb 01/15/2018

    Really love the Glaucidium- the blooms look like they really glow in the shade. Liked the Primula as well. Eager to try both of them in our shady back garden. I grew CIssus this year for the first time in a pot and it got huge. I have a cutting under lights at the moment waiting for spring. Here it is (try to ignore the ratty looking Spruce if you can):

    1. user-6536305 01/15/2018

      Gorgeous CIssus and thanks for sharing!

    2. cheryl_c 01/15/2018

      Wow, that blue pot really pulls the blue out in those leaves, doesn't it! That triggers some thoughts about how to use it! Thanks for uploading the picture!

    3. User avater
      meander_michaele 01/15/2018

      Wow, look how tall it got...very cool. Those leaves really are gorgeous.

  16. user-6536305 01/15/2018

    Great shade plants choice and especially like Glaucidium palmatum and Primula sieboldii. Thanks for sharing Joseph!

  17. myfullcents 01/15/2018

    Not all shade is wet. Anybody have some ideas for cool, dry shade...the toughest spot of all?

  18. user-7007140 01/15/2018

    I am in love with the Epimedium. A plant of character to be sure.

  19. perenniallycrazy 01/16/2018

    Swoon! You got me with the first photo with the Japanese wood poppy and it gets better and better.

  20. janeeliz 01/16/2018

    Thanks for sharing these stunning reminders of what lies ahead in the midst of an extreme cold spell. What a gorgeous stand of glaucidium-one of my favorites! Sadly I lost my white one this year. Love your special epimedium. I have several of them growing in fairly dry shade in the woodland where rubis also flourishes.

  21. User avater
    bellarosa009 02/21/2018

    Wonderful plant combination in that first pic! Thanks for sharing.

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