Foliage Textures That Are Made for Shade
Many texture are found in these shade tolerant plants.
A fern (Polystichum angulare) and a false aralia (Fatsia 'Spider Web') paired in the shade.
Alpine water ferns (Blechnum penna-marina) make a fine textured ground cover.
Rogersia 'Rotlaub' and Persicaria
After July’s record-breaking temperatures were being set around the Puget Sound region, when I return home from work the first thing on my agenda is to relax in the shade. Once there, I want a sea of relaxing color surrounding me in a selection of handsome foliage textures wearing hues of green. That is my idea of paradise at the end of a hot summer day.
When I first began to garden, like many beginning gardeners, all I could think about was color, color, color, the more flowers the better. However, as I grew savvier my plant kingdom horizon expanded. Discovering plants with fantastic foliage made my garden look less like bags of Skittles candy exploded in it.
Foliage became a big factor in my garden, because they help ground and define a space. Too much color in a garden dripping with flowers is too jarring for the senses. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with a riot of color. When I am looking for refuge when the summer heat hits the region, foliage gives a place to rest my eyes, and in turn, the garden feels cooler, more inviting, and peaceful. Flowers now are the accents or focal points in the space. Ah, now that feels much better.
Foliage isn’t always about green. Foliage is about texture and shades of green, or hues of other colors that mask the leaf’s chlorophyll. Any more, I want plants in my garden to have good foliar effects. More often, these days I find I am not as dazzled by a plant’s flowers as much as a great looking leaf, which I can interweave with flowers for best effect. Better yet, a great looking leaf that comingles with other leaves, for a fine textural pattern. Leaves come in all sizes and shapes so a gardener can marry large leaves with lacy, delicate ones in a garden bed – a textural dream! When the flowers fade, the great foliage takes over the show.
My much-loved foliage plants are great for the shady garden. The mayapples (Podophyllums) are fantastic leaf plants, and my all-time favorite is Podophyllum 'Spotty Dotty' with her outstanding, exotic looking leaves. Up to two umbrella-shaped, leaves can grow as large as 12-20 inches wide on top of one sturdy stem. The light green leaves with dark green spotting contributed to the plant’s name. She blossoms in clusters of up to seven pendulous, one-inch wide by three-inch long, deep red flowers. However, they are subtle blossoms that you seek out under the leaves. If there are more than two plants in a bed, they will cross-pollinate each other and produce fleshy green fruit.
‘Kaleidoscope’ is high on my list of favorite podophyllums. If the foliage was any bigger, you might be tempted to use the umbrella like, hexagonal leaves when it rains. These shade-loving charmers add interesting foliage to the darker areas of the garden. The best leaf color is found on the newer leaves in bright shade.
Ferns add a textural contrast to large leaf plants. The evergreen autumn fern’s (Dryopteris ‘Brilliance’) new fronds come in soft fall hues that age into a luxuriant green. Another good textural fern choice is the maidenhair ferns (Adiantum). Additional texture can come from covering the ground with the shade loving baby’s tears (Soleirolia soleirolii) at its feet. Plant all three and you just planted a feast for the eyes.
A swath of these plants together in a shaded garden is going to be a restful, cool place during the heat of summer. All three will sail through the growing season with excellence! Bright flowers covering the space would mar this idyllic setting. This is just a small sampling of the plants and ways to use foliage in a garden setting.
What would make the garden better? A place to sit. Choose comfortable seating such as a painted wood bench in neutral tones or a bright accent color to sit on. A small pot of flowers sitting on a bistro table nestled into this shady space makes an inviting place to enjoy an evening meal.
By exploring the world of interesting plants with fantastic foliage, you can take your garden to exciting new levels.
Plants made for the shade:
There are links to our growing guides for some of the plants on this list.
Mayapple — Podophyllum 'Kaleidoscope'
Mayapple — Podophyllum 'Spotty Dotty'
Mayapple — Podophyllum delavayi
Epimedium rubrum will grow in dry shade.
Lady fern Athyrium filix-femina plumosum 'Axminster' and an unknown red heuchera.
Variegated foliage — Impatiens omeiana
Dinosaur food — Gunnera maniculata
Shieldleaf — Astilboides tabularis
Northern maidenhair fern — Adiantum pedatum
Even skunk cabbage can give a tropical effect with its foliage.
Crimson fans — Muckdenia rossii
Nick and Marjorie Masla's shade garden.
Article originally written for Debbie's column "Garden Life" for the Kitsap Week.