Shade gardening takes some planning, and with the right knowledge, you can have a shade garden comparable to your sunniest space. Make the most of shady areas with these tips straight from the BH&G Test Garden.

September 01, 2016

The future of shade gardening is surprisingly bright, thanks to vibrant shade-loving varieties. Don't limit shady areas to flowers only—try shade plants that feature dramatic foliage for interest. Leaves can be feathery, glossy, variegated, or mottled. Check out some of our favorites from the Better Homes & Gardens Test Garden®.

'Aureola' Japanese Forestgrass

Golden Japanese forestgrass

The elegant, sweeping lines of this grass are so lovely, making this plant a favorite among gardeners. Hakonechloa macra 'Aureola' is the best cultivar to brighten gently shaded places in the garden. Its lovely golden-yellow leaves are striped with green and arch gracefully toward the light.

'King's Ransom' Brunnera

green silver leaves plants shade test garden

'King's Ransom' is a smaller version of Brunnera macrophylla 'Jack Frost.' This variety offers wide, heart-shape silver leaves with narrow green edges and veins. It is more heat-tolerant than other heart-leaf brunnera varieties and is also rabbit-resistant.

Japanese Painted Fern

blue green silver leaves plant shade

A beautiful addition to any shade garden, Japanese painted fern offers unique and intricate texture and color in a world of greens. Athyrium niponicum pictum is one of the best-known ferns. Its silvery fronds tinged with burgundy make an elegant container or garden accent.

'Wild Rose' Coralbells

pink leaves plants shade test garden
Credit: Heuchera Georgia plum

Coralbells are the coleus of the perennial world. They are wonderful in shade and add pops of color to any garden setting. They are also extremely low maintenance. 'Wild Rose' has rosy purple foliage with a charcoal gray veining pattern.

'Touch of Class' Hosta

blue leaves evergreen shade plants

One of the most commonly grown shade garden plantshostas have captured the hearts of gardeners everywhere. Also called plantain lilies, these plants have a diverse offering of foliage shapes, colors, and sizes. Hosta 'Touch of Class' is a stunning selection bearing chartreuse leaves widely edged in blue.

'Goodness Gracious' Hosta

green leaves hosta shade test garden

What was once just a simple green leafy plant has now become a rich palette of background color in many shade gardens. Within the course of its fairly recent life in horticulture, hosta plants have been hybridized, divided, shared, and mutated many times to create what we see today. 'Goodness Gracious' originated from 'Piedmont Gold' and features green leaves with bright chartreuse edges.

'Carnival Plum Crazy' Coralbells

purple silver leaves plant shade test garden

With such a broad palette of colors to choose from, there is almost no end to the combinations you can make with coralbells. That, plus their adaptability to being both in-ground and container plants, makes this a truly versatile plant. 'Carnival Plum Crazy' has dark purple-bronze foliage and delicate white flowers in the summer.

'Twilight Pink' Lungwort

green leaves speckled shade test garden
Credit: Pulmonaria Pink Twilight

Lungwort is an old-fashioned perennial prized for its early spring blooms, and it's once again becoming popular. These beautiful perennials work wonders in shade gardens because of their multicolor long-lasting blooms and their silver-pattern foliage. 'Twilight Pink' has spotted silver foliage and pink flowers in early spring.

'Merlin' Hellebore

pink flowers green leaves shade plants test gardens

Hellebores are so easy and so charming, they can find a place in nearly every landscape. Deer-resistant perennials, hellebores feature divided leaves that may be serrated (like a knife) along the edges rising on sturdy stems. 'Merlin' has blush pink petals surrounding a chartreuse center.

'Fire Frost' Foamy Bells

green leaves shade plants garden

With tiny bell-shape flowers that create a foam of bloom, this plant is appreciated for its handsome clumps of leaves, which are broad, lobed, and distinctively veined. 'Fire Frost' has small white flowers and lime green foliage with burgundy veining. Foamy bells can be divided to create more plants in the garden.

'My Monet' Weigela


Available in many shapes and sizes, weigela is sure to have a variety to fit your needs. Weigela florida 'Verweig' is a compact combination of green, rose, and white variegated foliage that sparkles in the shade. Pink blooms appear in summer.


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