Liriope is an easy-to-grow favorite shade plant. Loved for its grassy foliage and spikes of blue or white flowers in late summer, as well as its resistance to deer and rabbits, lilyturf is practically a plant-it-and-forget garden resident. It grows best in Zones 5-10 and grows a foot tall.
Test Garden Tip: Lilyturf can be a fast, almost aggressive spreader when it's happy.
Top Picks: 'Majestic' offers narrower leaves and deep purple-blue flowers; 'Silver Dragon' offers boldly variegated foliage and violet-blue blooms.
Plant it with: Create an interesting look by planting Japanese forestgrass with a deep green lilyturf.
Monkshood (Aconitum) is worth a place in the garden because it blooms in late summer, when most other shade bloomers have finished. Plus, it's deer- and rabbit-resistant. Named for its drooping blue flowers that resemble the hood on a monk's robe, this lovely flower is an easy, under-used plant. It grows best in Zones 3-7 and grows up to 6 feet tall.
Top Picks: 'Bressingham Spire' offers violet-blue flowers on 3-foot-tall plants; 'Stainless Steel' offers steel-blue flowers on 4-foot-tall plants.
Plant it with: Kirengeshoma, a beautiful, but under-used perennial with bold foliage and yellow flowers in late summer.
One of the toughest plants in the shade garden, bigroot geranium (Geranium macrorrhizum) doesn't mind heat or drought. And, deer and rabbits typically pass it by in search of tastier morsels. This plant puts on a spring show with pink or white flowers; some varieties also offer outstanding fall coloration in their woodsy-scented foliage. Bigroot geranium is hardy in Zones 4-8 and grows 2 feet tall.
Top Picks: 'Album' offers white flowers; 'Ingwersen's Variety' offers clear pink flowers; 'Variegatum' has purple-pink flowers and white-variegated leaves.
Plant it with: Add height and interest to your shade garden by planting bigroot geranium in front of toad lilies.
This topnotch groundcover is grown mainly for its foliage, but also has pretty flowers. Ajuga produces glossy, dark green leaves and springtime spikes of blue flowers. Select varieties offer dark purple or variegated foliage, or pink or white flowers. Ajuga grows best in Zones 3-9 and grows only 6 inches tall.
Test Garden Tip: Ajuga can be a vigorous spreader; it's not the best choice for small spaces.
Top Picks: 'Golden Glow' has creamy-yellow edges; 'Black Scallop' offers shiny, dark purple leaves and fragrant blue flowers;
Plant it with: Purple-leafed ajuga varieties look great against blue hostas.
Old Fashioned Bleeding Heart
Test Garden Tip: By midsummer, old-fashioned bleeding heart usually goes dormant and loses its foliage. Plant it with astilbe or hosta so you don't end up with a bare spot in your garden.
Top Picks: 'Pantaloons' is a variety with large numbers of pure white flowers. 'Gold Heart' bears bright golden leaves against the pink flowers.
Hostas are among the showiest and easy-to-grow perennials in the shade. They also offer the most variety of any shade plant. Choose from miniatures that stay only a couple of inches wide or giants that sprawl 6 feet across or more. Look for leaves in shades of green, blue, white, chartreuse, and gold, with many cultivars being variegated. Some hosta flowers are very fragrant. Hostas are hardy in Zones 3-8.
Top picks: 'Blue Mouse Ears' offers silvery-blue leaves and stays 1 foot wide; 'Frances Williams' offers thick, blue-green leaves edged in chartreuse and grows 2 feet wide.
Plant it with: Old-fashioned bleeding heart, which typically goes dormant in summer.
A great plant with an unfortunate name, lungwort (Pulmonaria) earned its moniker from the silvery, lung-shaped spots that dot the foliage. The variegated foliage looks great all season long, but is an especially nice accent to the clusters of pink, white, or blue flowers in spring. Lungwort grows best in Zones 4-8 and reaches 1 foot tall.
Test Garden Tip: Because its foliage is somewhat hairy, deer and rabbits typically leave lungwort alone.
Top picks: 'Opal' features ice-blue flowers; 'Trevi Fountain' features cobalt-blue blooms.
Plant it with: Japanese painted fern or 'Jack Frost' brunnera for a delightful silver-on-silver play.
In spring, shade gardens sparkle with the sky-blue flowers of Brunnera. When not in bloom, its large, robustly textured leaves continue to look great -- especially if you grow a variegated type. While the plant is often short-lived, it does tend to self-seed, becoming a long-term presence in the garden.
Test Garden Tip: Brunnera is somewhat deer- and rabbit resistant.
Top Picks: 'Hadspen Cream' offers green leaves broadly edged in creamy white; 'Jack Frost' has green leaves heavily overlaid with silver.
Plant it with: Go for a lovely blue-on-blue combination with forget-me-not.
Enjoy the feathery plumes of Astilbe in early summer. This tough perennial blooms in shades of burgundy, red, pink, lavender, and white. In addition to the attractive flowers, it has finely cut foliage, which in many varieties is flushed with bronze. Astilbe grows best in Zones 4-8 and can reach up to 4 feet tall, depending on variety.
Test Garden Tip: Astilbe needs consistently moist soil to thrive, so it's a good choice for areas that don't drain well.
Top Picks: 'Deutschland' bears pure white flowers; 'Fanal' offers dark red plums and bronzy foliage; 'Sprite' is an award-winning selection with shell-pink blooms.
Plant it with: 'Britt-Marie Crawford' ligularia, which features dramatic purple foliage and golden-orange flowers. It also prefers wet soil.
Japanese forestgrass (Hakonechloa macra) is a wonderful grass for shady areas. It offers a lovely waterfall-like habit and variegated varieties have bight gold, yellow, or white in the foliage. In fall, the leaves usually pick up beautiful reddish tones. It grows best in Zones 5-9 and grows a foot tall.
Top Picks: 'Aureola' bears bright yellow leaves with dark green edges; 'All Gold' has even brighter golden foliage.
Plant it with: Add zing to a shady corner by planting Japanese forestgrass with a bold, golden hosta.