Everyday Gardeners

Plant. Grow. Live.

Shade Gardening

I have three favorite “go-to” ground covers for my shady Atlanta garden. One of them I grabbed a handful of in my Mom’s garden on a visit home and brought it home in a ziploc baggie. The other two, I desperately I picked up at my local nursery when I needed something that said “full shade” on the label.


One of the prettiest leaves, I love the shape and the little white leaves that pop up everywhere when it flowers. I have seen a few gardens that grow Pachysandra successfully in full sun, but they seem to do really well in my shady environment too.

favorite ground covers pachysandra

favorite ground covers pachysandra


I think the glossy leaves of the compact ajuga plant are really attractive. The dark green and even deep purple tones provide some great color and contrast. This is the one I grabbed a handful of, it spread easily and quickly into a large swath. Planted below with hydrangea and Solomon’s Seal, ferns, hostas and a few seedlings of perennial begonia.

ground covers ajuga

favorite ground covers ajuga

Variegated Vinca Vine

This is an easy vine option that I love in my containers. My vinca vine has spilled out of the containers and pretty much covered up the surrounding area. Isn’t that the best? One plant that grows into many!

favorite ground covers variegated vinca vine

favorite ground covers vinca vine

What are your favorite groundcovers for shade? What about for sun? I’d love to hear your suggestions!

One of my all time favorite plants is my perennial begonia. We transplanted it here from my Mom’s garden, who transplanted it from my Great-Aunt Ruby’s garden. It has lovely heart-shaped leaves with tiny pink flowers, spreads very easily, gives great ground cover, thrives in my shady garden (zone 7b), and provides a structured, yet loose look. It’s one of my most prized plants and I’ve never seen it available for purchase!

perennial begonia

The most striking feature though? The undersides of the perennial begonia leaves! The bright red veins really pop against the bright green of the stalks and leaves.

 perennial begonia leaves

perennial begonia flowers

I have perennial begonias lining my pebble stairs and around the garden path. I love the way they bend over into the stairs, reaching out to greet your feet as you walk down into the garden.

perennial begonias

They look beautiful paired with ferns!

perennial begonia and fern

I hope you can get your hands on some perennial begonias in your area – they are definitely a staple in my shady garden!

perennial begonia

Photos by Whitney of The Curtis Casa


These days, when I walk down the stairs and around my garden path, I am greeted by the loveliest smell coming from my August Beauty Gardenia. The blooms are the purest white I’ve ever seen and the smell is just out of this world.


I planted two gardenias in my backyard a few years ago where they get just a couple of hours of morning and mid-morning sun. They’ve had a bit of a rough time. Smashed by a falled tree during a tornado-like storm and then bitten by an odd freeze the following winter. They came back, slowly but surely, and I’m glad to see they are bursting with green growth and dozens of buds this year.


Gardenias enjoy moist, well drained soil in a shady environment with some indirect light. I picked the brightest spot in my shady backyard! They’re hardy to zones 8-10, but after one frost that claimed almost a whole shrub, I sometimes cover with a sheet to be safe. (More info here!)

It doesn’t hurt to plant them close to the house too, so you can enjoy the sweet smell. I can’t help but clip them and bring them inside. It’s unbelievable how much smell can come from such a small flower.

Tip: To remember the variety of this particular gardenia, I had to reference my garden journal, where I keep tags, notes and a general history of my garden. If you’re just getting started with your green thumb or even if you already have an established garden, start a record of plants and make notes of your successes and failures! I use mine all the time. Plus, it’s a little bit nostalgic after you’ve been at this gardening thing for a while.


One of my favorite colorful additions to a shade garden is the tall and funny-shaped foxglove. When I first started gardening, I was a little bummed that having a backyard full of trees meant that I would miss out on the colorful bursts of bright day lilies, poppies and coneflowers that would flourish in a sunny spot. I found a pleasant surprise this spring when the non-blooming foxglove I planted last summer shot quickly out of the ground in all its purple glory!

Up against a sea of fern and Solomon’s Seal greenery, this little flower has quickly provided great color inspiration for me to try to build on. I’m already planning where I’ll add another and what other vibrant shade-loving plants I can find. Astilbe, anyone?

My foxgloves are in rich, well drained soil with only dappled sunlight throughout the day. In my Atlanta, GA garden (Zone 7b-8a) they started blooming in late March and early April. They’re delicate but tough, I think, which is part of their charm. See more planting details on foxglove here.

Photos by Whitney of The Curtis Casa


I had the opportunity to spend some time in the yard this weekend and enjoyed beautiful blooms right now from some favorite early perennials. If you’re looking to add a spot of color in your landscape, try these easy-growing plants!


King of the early-spring shade garden, hellebore (Helleborus) is a deer- and rabbit-resistant perennial that opens up beautiful blooms in shades of white, cream, pink, red, and purple. Many have dark green, leathery leaves that are evergreen and look great in areas with winters a little more mild than what we see here in Iowa. Some hellebores offer foliage that bears a beautiful silvery overlay; others show off fancy double blooms with two or three times the normal number of petals.

Need another reason to love it? The sepals stay looking good even after the petals fade, so hellebores look as thought they’re in bloom for months.

Note: The reason hellebore is deer and rabbit resistant is that all parts of this plant are highly poisonous.


Also called periwinke, vinca (Vinca minor) often blooms alongside the crocus. It blooms of shades of purple, blue, and white — and many varieties bear attractive white- or gold-variegated foliage. One of my favorite varieties is ‘Sterling Silver’, which grows a little more slowly than the other varieties under my big sugar maple, but is worth the patience because its dark green leaves are edged in bright white — and contrast beautifully with the soft violet-blue flowers. I’ve also seen a very fun variety  that offers violet-purple flowers with extra petals, so they almost look like miniature roses or camellias. Vinca is very hardy, resists drought well, and is rarely browsed on by deer or rabbits.

Note: This low groundcover can be aggressive when it’s happy, so be sure to plant it where it has room to roam. Also, in some areas, vinca is considered an invasive species and should not be planted. Check local restrictions before adding this spring-blooming perennial to your yard.


One of those great plants a lot of gardeners have never heard of, Bergenia is also evergreen. In fact, most winters the foliage takes on tones of red and purple and is quite attractive. The pink, purple, or white flowers come in early spring, on stalks well above the foliage. This is a particularly nice perennial to plant with early bulbs such as Chionodoxa or Scilla.

Surprisingly, bergenia has never been nibbled on by deer and rabbits in my yard. The leaves are thick and rubbery, so the texture may turn off the pests. Or perhaps I’ve just been lucky….

By the way: Bergenia also sometimes goes by the name pigsqueak because if you fold a leaf in half and rub the two flaps together, the rubbery texture makes a cute little squeaking sound!


One of the charming woodland wildflowers I grew up with in northern Minnesota, bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) is ultra-hardy does a great job of spreading without being a pain. The white, daisy-like flowers appear right away in spring as the leaves unfurl. That fun foliage is deeply lobed, and as a child, I thought it looked like some kind of monster’s footprint.

I know the common name bloodroot doesn’t make the plant sound so appealing, but it earned that moniker because the roots have an orange-red sap that can stain your fingers.

Wood Poppy

A charming woodland wildflower, woodland poppy (also called celadine poppy — Stylophorum diphyllum) shares bright yellow blooms with us. It blooms longer than most of its early-spring companions; I’ve seen the yellow flowers appear as late as June. The yellow blooms are a great contrast to the blue-green foliage, and to other cool-color spring flowers such as Virginia bluebells, lungwort, and white bleeding heart.

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