24 Pretty Shade Perennials for Your Forest Garden

Everyone loves a sunny garden with bright and bold flowers. However, shady gardens also deserve the spotlight. There are a range of shade perennials that have stunning leaf colors with exotic, delicate flowers, and some come with very memorable names. You should pick plants that grow in your hardiness zones, and read the plant label or talk to your local nursery worker to make sure it can handle your yard conditions. For reference, full shade means that it never gets direct lighting while partial shade means that the area never gets over three or four hours of sun a day.

For brand new gardeners who may have no idea what a shade perennial is, this simply refers to the plant’s light tolerance and that it’ll come back year after year. Maybe you have an English-style garden that is surrounded by trees or you want to get low-growing plants that will grow well beneath the shade cast by your privacy fence or larger trees. Or, maybe you’re just after a few hardy shade perennials to be long-term investments in your space.

When you combine these with other shade-loving plants and some creative backyard ideas, you can showcase these shade perennials and turn every corner of your yard into a bright and beautiful spot. We’ve picked out 24 shade perennials for you to consider adding below.

1 Shade Garden

1. Annual Vinca (Catharanthus roseus)

In spite of the fact that this shade perennial has annual in the name, it’s a perennial plant. Many people choose to grow it as an annual in colder climates. You may hear it referred to as a Madagascar Periwinkle, and this is because this plant is native to Madagascar. This plant can get slightly larger, but the final growth will depend heavily on the growing conditions. It prefers to be in partially shaded conditions.

You’ll see very dark green leaves with this shade perennial, and it produces mauve, pink, or white flowers that will bloom throughout the summer into the fall months. It requires moderate watering, and you want to avoid deep shade as this will encourage the plant to grow very leggy.

This plant makes a great addition to virtually any garden, and the pretty flowers will work well to add color and interest to your shady spots. Annual vinca is also surprisingly tolerant to drought, and this makes it a very low maintenance choice. It can top out at 18-inches tall at full maturity, and it grows best when you plant it in zones 9 to 11.

2 Annual Vinca

2. Astilbes (Astilbe spp)

Astilbes is a shade perennial that is valued for producing long-lasting flowers and very lush, full foliage. This is a plant that is native to parts of North America and Asia, and they prefer areas that get partial shade over one that gets full sun or full shade. If you get the conditions correct, this plant will produce plumes of very showy flowers in hues of white, purple, red, or pink. The flowers come on longer stems and appear in the late spring months or very early in the summer. The foliage is usually green, but you can find ones with burgundy or bronze leaves.

Once the flowers fade on this shade perennial, the foliage will stay very attractive throughout the summer months. These plants will require very little maintenance from you, and they’re resistant to both rabbits and deer. You can divide them in the spring or fall, and they can get up to a foot tall. They’ll grow best if you put them in zones three to eight, and you can find varieties that only get six inches tall.

3 Astilbes

3. Balloon Flower (Platycodon grandiflorus)

As a member of the bellflower family, this shade perennial is a herbaceous option that is native to Russia and the Far East. Balloon flowers can get decently tall, so you may want to put them in the back of your garden instead of the front. They like a decent amount of shade, but they can also tolerate more sun. They make a great addition to a huge range of gardens across the country.

The foliage on balloon flowers is a very deep green, and the flowers will come in a range of colors, including purple, pink, blue, and white. The flowers get the name from the blooms as they look like balloons before they open. The flowers open in summer and fall, and they are best planted in zones three to eight. Under the right conditions, they can easily reach 12 to 36-inches tall.

4 Balloon Flower

4. Bear’s Breeches (Acanthus mollis)

These are very interesting shade perennials that have bracts that attract much more attention than the flowers themselves. These plants are on the larger side, and they come from the Mediterranean region. They will tolerate partial shade well. This plant is very hardy in zones 6 to 10, and they have been known to do well in zone five gardens as long as you lay down extra mulch for insulation.

Flowers on this shade perennial come on the taller stalks in the late spring or early summer. The flowers are pale pink or white, but they’re not very showy. The leaves are spiny, dark green, and they also sit on long stems. These plants can be invasive if you don’t maintain them, and it’s common for them to take over your space. They can get up to four feet tall, so plant them at the back of your garden.

5 Bears Breeches

5. Calendula (Calendula officinalis)

Calendulas are pot marigolds, and these are annual plants for most gardeners, but you can plant them as perennials in hotter planting zones like zones 9 to 11. These shade perennials can get up to 24 inches tall, and they prefer partial shade but they can survive in full sun. The flowers are very brightly colored, and they form in clusters on longer stems that sit on top of the foliage. You can use these flowers as a garnish or in salads. You can dry the petals to make tea too.

The leaves on this shade perennial are edible but they are very bitter. They can thrive in soil conditions that are less than ideal, and it makes a fantastic companion plant in your vegetable garden. They can get between 12 and 24 inches tall, and their native area is the Mediterranean. You can grow them in zones 2a to 11b, but they’ll be annual in colder areas.

6 Calendula

6. Coleus (Plectranthus scutellarioides)

Coleus is a herbaceous, shade perennial plant that originally comes from Southeast Asia. This plant can get from 6 to 36 inches tall, depending on which variety you choose to plant. They prefer shaded areas in your yard with light afternoon sun to thrive. They are not tolerant to frost or freezing temperatures, and exposure to this will kill them.

The leaves on this shade perennial are a mix of burgundy and green, and they produce pretty flowers in shades of purple and blue. Coleus flowers will appear in fall and summer, and they are a very easy to grow plant that is great for beginners. They do very well as houseplants too, and they grow best in zones 10 and 11 where it’s warmer as this mimics their natural climate.

7 Coleus

7. Columbines (Aquilegia spp)

Columbines are a pretty shade perennial that are native to North America, Asia, and Europe. They get between 12 and 36 inches tall at full maturity, and they like to be planted in parietal shade. If you get the growing conditions correct, this plant will produce very showy white flowers on long stems in late spring or early summer. Columbines will produce flowers in several colors, including pink, white, purple, and red. However, the flowers and the plant are toxic if you ingest them. To be successful with this plant, make sure you’re in zones three to eight.

8 Columbines

8. Common Bleeding Heart (Lamprocapnos spectabilis)

Also called the Fern-Leaf Bleeding Heart, this shade perennial comes from parts of Asia. They prefer to be in partial shade or full shade over sun conditions, and they can easily reach up to three feet tall at full maturity. They are hardy in zones two to nine, and this makes them a great option for gardeners who live in my cooler climates.

Common Bleeding Heart plants come with fern-like leaves on them, and they produce white, pink, or red blooms that appear in the spring and summer months.  The flowers appear on arching, long stems and butterflies and bees flock to them. However, they are toxic to people and pets, especially dogs if they eat them. So, it’s a good idea to keep them well out of reach.

9 Common Bleeding Heart

9. Creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia)

Creeping Jenny is a very quick-growing groundcover shade perennial that originally comes from the Western portion of Asia and Europe. It is smaller, and it tops out at four to eight inches tall at the most, and it can tolerate full sun but it does better in partial shade. It is hardy in zones four to nine, and this makes it a very versatile option for gardens across the United States as long as you give it room to spread out.

When you see this plant, you’ll notice that it offers rounded, small leaves with a very bright green coloring. This plant also has bright yellow flowers that bloom in the early fall and late summer months. It’s a great option for any gardeners who want to add interest and color to their shady gardens.

10 Creeping Jenny

10. Daylily (Hemerocallis spp)

Dailies are a herbaceous shade perennial plant that grow natively in Central Europe and Asia. They usually get between two and three feet tall, and they tolerate partial shade well but can grow in full sun. These plants are very popular due to their hardy nature, and they thrive in a broad climate. The flowers these plants produce come in a wide color range, and they bloom throughout the summer months. The plant is semi-evergreen, and the flowers appear on taller stems. They are edible for humans, but daylilies are toxic to cats if ingested. To keep this plant happy and thriving, grow it in zones 3 to 10.

11 Daylily

11. Forget-Me-Not (Myosotis sylvatica)

This shade perennial is very small, but they produce pretty blue flowers and they’re native to Europe. Most of the time, these plants top out between 12 and 24 inches tall, and they grow very well in partial shade. Forget-Me-Nots are not tolerant to colder temperatures or frost, and exposure to any of these things can kill the plant.

The leaves on this plant are a very dark green, and the flowers appear in various shades of blue. They will start to come out in early spring and continue on until late summer. These plants are very beginner-friendly and they work well as garden, patio, or houseplants. For the best results, grow them in zones three to eight but be aware that the first frost of the season will kill them.

12 Forget Me Not

12. Foxglove (Myosotis sylvatica)

Foxgloves are a shade perennial herbaceous plant that is native to the Northwest portion of Africa and Europe. These plants will top out at four feet tall under the correct growing conditions, and they do well when you plant them in partial shade. They do best when you plant them in zones 4 to 10. The leaves on this plant are a very deep green color, and they send up tall stalks for the flowers to grow on. The flowers come in a range of colors, including purple, pink, and shite.

Foxgloves will bloom in the spring and summer months. However, this plant is very beautiful and also very poisonous, so this makes it popular if you’re looking for a plant to ward off deer, rabbits, and other pests.

13 Foxglove

13. Fuschia (Fuchsia spp)

This is an evergreen shrub that acts like a shade perennial, and it grows in South America and Central America originally. They will do decently planted in partial shade, but they can’t tolerate deep shade as they need a few hours of cool light a day to thrive. They’re also not frost-tolerant, so they like warmer temperatures.

The leaves on this plant are a very dark green color, and the flowers can come in a range of hues from white, purple, pink, and red. They bloom in the summer and spring months, and the flowers will attract butterflies and birds to the garden. Fuschias will top out at three feet tall, and you want to plant them in zones 10 or 11 to get the most flowers.

14 Fuschia

14. Hakonechloa (Hakonechloa macra)

Also called the Golden Hakone Grass, this is a shade perennial that makes a pretty ornamental grass addition to your garden. They top out at around two feet tall and prefer to be in full or partial shade conditions. It does well in cooler climates, so you can grow it well in zones five to nine. As the name suggests, it’s native to Japan.

You’ll get very linear, long leaves on this plant in a striking golden hue. The leaves will turn a bronze-red color in the fall and stay evergreen in warmer climates. The flowers on this shade perennial are very insignificant, so the foliage is the main attraction. This grass will shed the leaves in the winter months and come back in the spring with a very full and lush growth habit. It’s a great ornamental grass to use in mass plantings or as a ground cover. Also, since you get a lower growth habit, it can go in the front of your garden beds like a border.

15 Hakonechloa
Hakonechloa by Anna Hesser / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

15. Hardy Begonia (Begonia grandis)

Hardy begonias are shade perennials that come from China. Depending on the cultivar you pick out, they can range from 18 to 24 inches tall. They prefer to be in partial shade or full shade, and they don’t tolerate sun well. They are great for gardeners in most climates as they thrive in zones six to nine.

You’ll get very beautiful flowers with these begonias that start to bloom in the mid-summer months and go well into the fall until the first frost. The flowers can be pink, white, or red, and they sit on top of the foliage on longer stalks. The leaves are very lush with a wavy margin, and you want to protect them when the temperature drops.

16 Hardy Begonia

16. Hosta (Hosta spp)

Hosta is a shade perennial genus that has over 50 different species. These plants originate from Eastern Asia, and you can get varieties that are as little as six inches high to ones that get up to four feet tall. Hostas prefer to be in partial shade or full shade over sun, and they will survive in zones three to nine.

This shade perennial is well-known for producing beautiful, large leaves that come in a host of colors, including yellow, blue, green, and white. The plants will produce very small flowers that bloom in the summer but the foliage hides them. They are a favorite food source for slugs and deer, so make sure you take steps to protect these plants from any pests.

17 Hosta

17. Lily of the Valley (Convallaria majalis)

In spite of the name, this shade perennial isn’t actually a lily family member. Lily of the Valley is native to Europe, and it can get between 6 and 12 inches tall, depending on the growing conditions and cultivar you pick out. It prefers to be in partial shade or full shade, and it can survive well in zones three to eight. This plant is actually part of the asparagus family, and it will produce berries that are poisonous, so you do want to keep it away from pets or children as they can easily find and eat these berries. Saponin and glycoside in the plant make it poisonous, so you can have skin irritation if you touch them too.

You’ll get very narrow and long leaves with this plant, and Lily of the Valley also has smaller white flowers that will bloom in the spring. It’s common to use these flowers in arrangements or bouquets, and it has a very strong scent.

18 Lily of the Valley

18. Oakleaf Hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia)

This is a stunning shade perennial that is native to the United States in the southeastern portion. This plant can easily get between 40 and 80 inches tall, depending on the cultivar you pick out and the growing conditions. It thrives when you plant it in partial or full shade, and it’s hardy in zones five or six. So, it really doesn’t like cooler temperatures or frost.

As a larger plant, the leaves can get up to seven feet long. So, hydrangeas are a great way to add a little interest or texture to your shaded landscape or garden. The leaves have a darker green coloring to them, and they will slowly turn purple, red, or bronze as the fall months roll around. This plant will give you huge clusters of white flowers that start to bloom in the spring and continue on to the fall.

19 Oakleaf Hydrangea

19. Peony (Paeonia officinalis)

A favorite of gardeners for decades, peonies are a shade perennial that originate in Europe and Asia. These plants can get between three and four feet tall, and they like to be in partial shade but can tolerate sun. They’re hardy in zones three to nine, and they make a fantastic addition to your garden. The foliage on this plant is a very deep green, and the flowers will come in several colors, including white, pink, red, and purple. They have a stronger fragrance to them, and the flowers show up in the spring and summertime. Peonies are mildly toxic to people, so be careful when you handle them.

20 Peony

20. Rhododendron (Rhododendron spp)

The name means red tree, and this shade perennial is actually a shrub family that are native to parts of North America. They are hardy, evergreen, and they thrive when you plant them in virtually all gardens. They can get up to eight feet tall, and rhododendrons bloom in a range of colors, including purple, punk, blue, red, and white. They start blooming in early spring and continue until summer, and you get very showy flowers that attract butterflies and birds to the garden. They are perfect for shaded areas of your garden, and they make a great addition to virtually any landscape.

21 Rhododendron

21. Sedum (Sedum spp)

Sedum is a succulent shade perennial that is native to North America. This plant will top out at 6 to 24 inches tall at full maturity, and they do well in everything from partial shade to full sun. They’re hardy in zones 3 to 10, and they make a nice groundcover or addition to your rock gardens. The leaves on your sedum plant are a deep green, and the flowers come in a range of shades, including white, purple, and pink. The flowers will bloom in the spring and summer, and the plant is evergreen, so it needs very little maintenance.

22 Sedum

22. Spotted Dead-Nettles (Lamium maculatum)

This shade perennial makes a nice ground cover in shaded areas. This plant is native to Asias, Europe, and North Africa, and the plants get between 3 and 12 inches tall and they prefer partial to full shade. They are hardy in zones four to eight. They produce ovate, small leaves that are mottled with green and silver hues. You’ll also get smaller mauve, pink, or white flowers that appear in early spring to late summer, and they come in clusters on longer stems.

Dead nettles spread quickly and they can take over and become invasive if you don’t cut them back. They are best suited to grow in smaller areas where you can contain them, and they make a thick groundcover for shaded gardens. Deadheading the flowers will make it bloom longer, and you can divide the plants in fall or spring.

23 Spotted Dead Nettles

23. Toad Lily (Tricyrtis hirta)

Toad lilies are an excellent shade perennial for gardeners who want a more exotic touch to their space. These plants are native to Asia, and they can easily top two or three feet high. You can grow them in partial sun to full shade without an issue, and they’re hardy in zones four to eight. The plant produces flowers on long stalks in a star shape in summer into the fall months. The flowers come in shades of yellow, white, purple, and pink, and it’s common to see streaks or spots of darker colors.

24 Toad Lily

24. Vinca Minor (Vinca minor)

The final shade perennial on the list is a perennial vine that is native to Europe. This plant will get between three and six inches tall, and it has trailing vines that get up to 18 inches long. This plant prefers partial shade, and it won’t tolerate frost. The leaves are a very deep green color, and the flowers are shades of blue in the early spring and mid-summer. This plant is very beginner-friendly and makes a great addition to your garden, and it’s popular as a potted plant.

25 Vinca Minor

Bottom Line

Finding the right balance of shade perennials to fill in the shaded spots in your garden can be challenging, but it can also be fun to discover new favorites. By mixing your perennials with different types of foliage, you can easily create layers in your garden and make it stand out. By adding the shade perennials we highlighted here, you’ll have a stunning looking garden well into the fall months.

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