Great Alternatives for Shade Garden Plants
During a recent shopping trip to one of my favorite wholesale nurseries, I overheard a woman (who I assumed was a designer) explain to her client, “Well you have shade options here…basically begonias and begonias.” I had to bite my tongue. Which I do frequently. For example, at one of the big box stores when I saw the person in line in front of me with a container and a bag of garden soil. My tongue wanted to say “Excuse me, you cannot use that soil in a container, it won’t drain well.” But one look at my daughter and I bit my tongue. Apparently being, what I consider “helpful and friendly” is actually “weird and embarrassing.” So I also bit my tongue when I heard another one of the salespeople remark to a customer, “Why you can put a mountain of this granular bug killer on your lawn and it won’t harm anything.” Really? Jaw clenched I retreated to the plumbing aisle.
But back to shade options. Begonias are fine, as are impatiens, but is that really the only material the aforementioned designer could offer her client?
Had she never heard of coleus?
One of my favorite annuals is as happy in the shade garden as it is in pots.
And with recent explosions in breeding, coleus rivals the Crayola crayon box for colors. Oranges, reds, purples, chartreuse and pinks – who says you can’t have color in the shade? The leaves of coleus can be mottled, picoteed, two-toned or speckled. Its habit can be upright, mounding or trailing. When it comes to the Thriller, Filler, Spiller container recipe coleus can play all the roles. There are even coleus now that can take more sun. Look for redder varieties or those with “Solar”, “Florida” or “Sun” in their names. I’d be hard-pressed to find a better plant for shade than coleus. Check out Rosy Dawn Gardens for some beautiful pictures.
Had this designer never heard of caladium?
I love the colorful, arrow-shaped leaves and frequently contrast their coarse texture with dainty ferns to provide visual punch in shady spots.
While caladium typically come in shades of pink and green, I recently found one that had orange-y, brick tones to it. ‘Creamsicle’ is a winner. Another green-splotched caladium I bought just for the name – ‘Frog in a Blender’. Who comes up with these? Once I finished laughing I gladly reached for my wallet because if I find a plant that stops me in my tracks and elicits one of those “I must have this” reactions, I buy it. Even though it goes against my mantra of “plan first, then plant.” Let’s be honest, too many gardens and containers are the result of boring plants. If you find one that takes your breath away, figure out how to incorporate it.
Finally, what about heuchera, or coral bells, for shade gardens?
There is no law that says that you cannot use perennials in containers and heuchera, with its colorful foliage, is a great alternative to begonias and impatiens. In fact, heuchera can often overwinter in a container provided the container is large enough. If you choose to remove your perennials from the pot in the fall, simply plant them in the garden. More bang for your buck. It’s a win-win.