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Portland Nursery

10 Favorite Shade Perennials

There are so many perennials we love it was hard to choose just ten.

To learn about our hundreds of favorite perennials, please come in and visit us at the nursery.

Hellebore Winter Jewels Series


Bred and introduced by Marietta O’Byrne of Northwest Garden Nursery, this series of hybrid hellebores is absolutely the best. Clean, clear colors, evenly shaped petals, overall vigor and disease resistance, as well as plentiful flower production is the hallmark of these double and single-flowering varieties. Flower colors include white, cream, apricot, yellow, green, slate, pink, maroon, picotee, spotted and even black. This series blooms from March through May and prefers well-drained, humus rich soil in a shady spot. Hellebores also sport evergreen foliage for year-round interest. They are perfect for the cutting garden and woodland shade garden.

Anemone ‘Honorine Jobert’


This Japanese anemone is an outstanding perennial for the late season garden. ‘Honorine Jobert’ has 2-3” wide, pure white flowers with a cluster of bright yellow stamens in the center of each blossom. Flowers are held on tall, wiry stems atop an attractive clump of deciduous dark green foliage. Plant height is 3 to 4 feet tall so they are perfect in the cottage garden, massed or alone. Most especially, anemone flowers look beautiful blowing in the breeze, hence their common name, windflowers. A new variety of anemone, ‘Wild Swan,’ is also worth adding to the garden. The bloom time is spring through summer, the plant is compact, and white anemone flowers are backed in a charming blue-violet color.

  • Shade
  • Well-drained, moist soil
  • 4 feet high by 3 feet wide
  • Zones 4-8
  • Read more about Anemone >>

Mukdenia rossii ‘Crimson Fans’


This is a handsome low-growing groundcover for shade and woodland gardens that provides great texture and color under trees or flowering shrubs. This plant has attractive, glossy, fan-shaped leaves and creamy-white, bell-shaped flowers borne on dense panicles that bloom for several weeks in spring. In fall, green leaves turn a rich burgundy color with reddish-orange highlights on their margins. ‘Crimson Fans’ is slow growing, but reliable, preferring dappled shade and moist soil.

  • Shade
  • Moderate moisture
  • 1 foot by 1 foot
  • Zones 7-9

Polygonatum odoratum ‘Variegatum’


This gracefully arching 2 to 3 foot tall shade perennial has burgundy stems which support narrow green leaves streaked in pure white. From late spring to early summer this plant bears white fragrant flowers that mature into spherical black fruit in autumn, when the foliage turns golden yellow. This perennial spreads moderately and is perfect for woodland gardens, naturalized areas, shady borders and rock gardens. Grow in fertile, moist, but well-drained soil in full to partial shade.

  • Shade
  • 3 feet high by 3 feet wide
  • Zones 3-8

Dicentra ‘King of Hearts’


Unique among Dicentras, ‘King of Hearts’ doesn’t go quickly dormant over the summer and continues blooming from spring into summer. Also compact in stature, rich rose-red heart-shaped flowers are carried in showy clusters 8 to 12 inches above tidy, parsley-like blue-green foliage. This hybrid is a cross between three parents, the native eastern Dicentra (Dicentra eximia), the native western Dicentra (Dicentra formosa) and a Japanese Dicentra (Dicentra peregrina). The best attributes are taken from all three. Dicentra ‘King of Hearts’ prefers moist, humusy, slightly acidic soil and is a great addition to shade gardens.

  • Shade
  • Well drained soil
  • 1 foot high by 1.5 feet wide
  • Zones 3-8
  • Read more about Dicentra >>

Cardamine trifolia


Cardamine trifolia is an attractive, evergreen groundcover for the shade. This plant has three palmate, dark green leaflets that rise to about 6 inches and are topped in spring with short spikes of small white cupped flowers. Cardamine trifolia spreads to an almost perfect circle that is about 12 inches across, making for a very tidy appearance. Once Cardamine trifolia is established it will tolerate drought conditions and dry shade. This plant is almost maintenance free, aside from cleaning up spent flower stalks. It grows best in light to dappled shade with moist, well-drained soil, though it is adaptable to a variety of soil types.

  • Shade
  • 6 inches high by 1 foot wide
  • Zones 5-8

Actaea simplex ‘Black Negligee’


Deeply-cut serrated foliage emerges emerald green and matures to a brilliant dark purple. Creamy white flowers tower above the foliage up to 6 feet tall. They are bottlebrush in shape, smelling like a mix between vanilla and grape bubblegum. Actaea ‘Black Negligee’ looks great as a centerpiece in containers. It also provides good architectural height in a naturalized garden, cottage garden or woodland garden. Because it also flowers from August to September it fills holes in the shade perennial garden when others are past their prime. ‘Black Negligee’ looks fantastic combined with chartreuse grasses, heucheras or hostas.

  • Shade
  • Drought tolerant
  • Foliage to 2 feet high and wide, flower spikes to 6 feet
  • Zones 3-9
  • Read more about Actaea >>

Heuchera ‘Obsidian’


Of all the dark leaved heucheras available, ‘Obsidian’ is one of the best. The glossy black leaves keep their color all season, posing a startling contrast to the white flowers borne on stalks in June and July. The 16 inch wide mound of polished leaves makes a strong statement as a solo planting and when massed. This heuchera combines well with many other colors in the garden. It fits well into cottage gardens, containers, formal gardens and woodland gardens. It also attracts hummingbirds and is evergreen during most winters.

  • Shade to sun
  • Slightly drought tolerant but prefers moist well-drained soils
  • 16 inches wide by 16 inches tall
  • Zones 4-9
  • Read more about Heuchera >>

Corydalis ‘Blue Heron’


Corydalis ‘Blue Heron’ is one of the most stunning blue-flowering corydalis. Discovered in China by plant explorer Dan Hinkley, it has red stems that are enhanced by the backdrop of ferny blue-green foliage. Grown in moist soil, ‘Blue Heron’ will bloom from spring into summer. It also prefers shade, so is perfect in a naturalized garden or woodland garden setting. Corydalis ‘Blue Heron’ also looks great in pots, enabling a close up view of its charming trumpet-shaped blue flowers and delicate foliage.

  • Shade
  • 8 inches wide by 10 inches tall
  • Zone 6-8
  • Read more about Corydalis >>

Tricyrtis ‘Empress,’ Toad Lily


Tricyrtis is a top perennial for the shade garden because it is a late season bloomer with lovely orchidlike flowers that come in a variety of colors. Tricyrtis ‘Empress’ has larger flowers than most other tricyrtis and their color is very unique. Each flower is a pretty white covered in irregular deep purple spotting. Tricyrtis grows in a clump and its flowers emerge on stiff straight stems rising to 24” to 30” tall. These plants look fantastic in cottage gardens, cutting gardens, woodland gardens and formal gardens. They prefer moist, humus-rich soil that is slightly acidic.

  • Shade
  • 2.5 feet tall by 2.5 feet wide
  • Zone 5-9
  • Read more about Tricyrtis >>