Shady Plants – A Tale from the Dark Side

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Most garden specimens prefer to bask in luminous sunlight but there are a few questionable characters that willingly lurk in the shadows: the shady plants. Not that the guardians of the garden should mind these individuals. After all, a well-balanced garden is like a well-balanced story in the fact that it needs a few players with a preference for the dark side. I agree: as long as Jar-Jar Binks stays in a galaxy far, far away. There’s no need to sacrifice Han and Leia but you could always whack that annoying critter over the head. No one would miss him. Anyhow, moving on…

Tolerant vs. Shade-Loving Plants

Pansies do fine in shady conditions.

A lot of plants are considered more shade tolerant than shade loving. The difference is that some plants will get along well in shade even though they don’t prefer it and others feel about shade like Jabba the Hutt does fattening food products. (Clearly, he’s not on any kind of intergalactic diet). The plants that are highly tolerant of shade would be mints, lemon balm, and my growing collection of gingers. Hostas, violets, ferns, and sweet woodruff are more along the lines of shade loving plant specimens. In the summer, at least here in Georgia, I think violas, pansies, and alpine strawberries might also qualify.

The trouble I seem to have with plants that are classed as genuinely shade loving is that, in my humble experience, they also tend to dislike heat and humidity. There you have the reason that the violets only lasted until July and the sweet woodruff barely lasted a week. Although there were varying reports on just how much heat the woodruff could withstand. Some sources said it would croak past zone 7, others insisted it was fine until zone 9. Dave’s Garden classes the plant as 8b, so who knows? I’m not sure what the violets’ problem was either. Apparently, the same source says ‘Etain’ violets are safe until zone 10, so maybe it’s just me.

Bright Shade vs. Deep Shade?

Asparagus Fern
Asparagus fern – a tough, shade loving plant.

This is always a good question to ask yourself. After all, which version of shade you have in your yard is a main factor in selecting plants. Just how dark is too dark? Picture this as being like the difference between Anakin Skywalker and Emperor Palpatine. Plants that can handle flashes of light and occasionally embrace aspects of the light side are like Anakin. Those that remain firmly in the dark and have no tolerance for the light are clearly the Sith plants. Keep in mind that sometimes plants from the light side of the force can even grow in the shade. These adaptable specimens are sort-of the Han Solos and Lando Calrissians of the plant world.

For example, my backyard is mostly dappled sunlight at best and full shade at worst. I’ve successfully grown bell peppers and tomatoes in that area, although the tomato plant wasn’t a deliberate effort on my part. I had dropped a bit of spoiled fruit on my way to the garbage bin when I was cleaning up in the fall and there ended up being a plant there in the spring. Thinking on it, I guess that deep shade plants probably wouldn’t be happy with the setup in my backyard. I’m also guessing that sweet woodruff is most likely a deep shade plant, which is why I killed it and the violets.

Coffee: a plant for bright shade.
Coffee: a plant for bright shade.

Plants that work good for dappled or bright shade include the tropical plants that would have been grown under tree canopy in their native environments, like coffee, turmeric, and culinary ginger. I have a lot of these types in my garden, because in my zone 8b/9a area it is easier to take care of plants indoors during our short winters rather than try to get plants that dislike the heat to survive summer in a yard that stays firmly in the triple digits for a full three months. After all, I have a space heater indoors that means tropicals are fine. I think the ones I killed were just in need of a darker atmosphere than I provided them. I’m definitely not going to try my luck with ferns but if you’re considering adding shade plants to your yard keep in mind the following:

You don’t know the POWER of dark side…until you’ve tried it!

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About Lauren

Lauren Purcell is a freelance writer from Savannah, Georgia. She is the proud owner of two spoiled little dogs. Her hobbies include gardening (in case you hadn't noticed), cooking, traveling when she has money, and waiting on her key lime tree to produce fruit.

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1 thought on “Shady Plants – A Tale from the Dark Side”

  1. I really love Hostas which are a shade loving plant and would love to read an article with suggestions for good companions plants to go with them.


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