Published on 05/30/04

Try some bright plants in dark landscape places

By Bodie V. Pennisi
University of Georgia

Most gardens have at least one spot where sunlight doesn't seem to reach. So many a spring garden center trip poses the question, "What should I plant in the shade?"

Garden center workers promptly point to the old tried-and-true hostas, impatiens and caladiums. And in recent years, various ferns have joined that short list.

Now, however, you can add a splash of colorful foliage and blooms, too, with some interesting shade-loving annuals and perennials.

Here are a few of these beauties.


Polka dot plant (Hypoestes phyllostachia) has been a favorite in dish gardens for its colorful foliage. Its small leaves, splashed with white, pink or red, are its main attraction. It grows fast, forming a mound 12 to 18 inches tall. Polka dot plant prefers moist, well-drained soil and moderate fertility.

Persian shield (Strobilanthes dyeranus) has elongated oval, purple and silver leaves. It grows to a 24- to 36-inch-high mound. It, too, prefers moist, well-drained soil and moderate fertility.

Native impatiens (Impatiens capensis) will fit nicely in any native plants garden, growing up to 50 inches tall. It has small, nectar-bearing orange and red blooms in the summer. Native impatiens will feel at home in a moist, well-drained soil with low fertility. The plant reseeds freely.


Blackberry lily (Bellamcanda chinensis) grows to 2 feet tall and has the typically long, linear leaves of a lily. Besides providing nectar, the blooms are beautiful, spotted dark lavender and purple with a golden yellow center. The fruits give the plant its name, as they resemble blackberries.

Blackberry lilies grow well with a bit more light, so a spot with some morning sun is best. As it reseeds easily, make sure you keep an eye on where the seedlings come up. The plant blooms from July to August and prefers moist, well-drained soil with medium fertility.

Fragrant Solomon's seals (Polygonatum odorata variegata) boast wonderful, cream-variegated foliage and fragrant, dainty, white blooms. They bloom from June until August and attract all kinds of flying visitors. Solomon's seals grow to about 2 feet tall. They prefer moist, well-drained soil with medium fertility.

Coral bells (Heuchera spp.) have enjoyed tremendous interest in recent years. Many species are native to North America. The leaves are purple, close to the base of the plant. In June, they hold miniature blooms on spikes above the foliage.

Lungwort, or Jerusalem sage (Pulmonaria saccharata), is one of the hottest genera in the perennial trade. Silver-spotted leaves gave it the "lungwort" name. It's a spring bloomer, with blue flowers opening before the foliage emerges. Lungwort prefers moist, cool soils and does best in the spring.

Toad lily (Tricyrtus spp.) has interesting blossoms, white or pink and sprinkled with crimson. The flowers develop at the leaf axils' arching stems. The leaves often have hairs on the underside. Its blooms appear in late summer and into the fall. Toad lilies prefer moist soil with moderate fertility.

(Bodie Pennisi is an Extension Service horticulturist with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

Bodie Pennisi is a Cooperative Extension horticulturist with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.