Sunshine in the Shade

Shady gardens can be a challenge. When viewed up close one can appreciate the subtle details of a fern or primrose but plants need to have major dazzle factor to be visible from a distance.

The shadiest part of our garden is visible from our front window and is approximately 150' away. The first year we relied on stalwarts such as hostas, barrenwort (Epimedium) and Oregon grape (Mahonia sp.) for interest and although the foliage was interesting it wasn't exciting.

Today this is one of the brightest spots thanks to these bold, golden perennials, shrubs and small trees that bring sunshine into the shade.

Goldheart bleeding heart (Dicentra spectabilis 'Goldheart')


Goldheart bleeding heart

Goldheart bleeding heart

  • Deer resistant
  • Striking gold leaves which remain until mid summer at least
  • Suitable for containers as well as the landscape
  • Delicate pink stems from which dangle perfect pink heart-shaped flowers
  • To 3' tall and 2' wide
  • Hardy in zones 3-9


Japanese forest grass (Hakonechloa macra 'Aureola')


Japanese forest grass

Japanese forest grass

  • Deer resistant
  • A waterfall of soft golden yellow and green striped foliage
  • Forms a 2' x 2' mound
  • Will take full sun if well watered as well as partial shade
  • Autumn tints are red
  • Hardy in zones 4-9

Axminster Gold comfrey (Symphytum × uplandicum ‘Axminster Gold’)


Variegated comfrey

Variegated comfrey

  • Deer resistant
  • Boldly variegated green and yellow leaves
  • Flower spikes (lavender) in mid-summer
  • Will take full sun or partial shade
  • Drought tolerant once established
  • Size 18" tall and 2' wide but flower spikes extend the height to 4'
  • Hardy in zones 4-7
  • Probably the most exciting splash of color in that border

Golden full moon maple (Acer shiraswanum 'Aureum')

Golden Full Moon maple is even more dramatic seen against hot pink rhododendron and Purple Ghost Japanese maple.

Golden Full Moon maple is even more dramatic seen against hot pink rhododendron and Purple Ghost Japanese maple.

  • Stunning small tree to 8' tall and 7' wide
  • Layers of golden leaves with red samaras in spring
  • Prefers light or dappled shade
  • Yellow fall color
  • Hardy in zones 5-8

Other beauties in my shade garden include All Gold Japanese forest grass, Blades of Sun snowberry, Bowle's Golden sedge, Edmee Gold boxleaf honeysuckle – all deer resistant too!

What are your favorite golden plants for lighting up the shade?

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  1. Craig on April 29, 2014 at 9:52 am

    Though my 'shade garden', as it has yet to earn that name truly, is still young, my favorite is the bleeding heart which currently stands out among the ferns. Shades of light green add a nice backdrop for the pink flowers, but now seeing the golden shades of grass and the bleeding heart above, I think I may need to add to it. 🙂

  2. Diana/Sharing Nature’s Garden on May 5, 2014 at 6:18 am

    Those are beautiful shade plants. I so wish we could grow them here. We do have some other varieties that work in Central Texas – leatherleaf or soft caress mahonia and blood good red maple. But the maples here get pretty ugly when it’s 105 for a month in August. The one I covet the most is the Japanese grass.