Most gardeners groan when confronted with a shady patch of landscape, because let's face it – the usual array of ferns and hostas in your local garden center can be a bit uninspiring. Although these humble garden standbys have their place, simple foliage plants look much better when highlighted by choices with a little star power. Following are some recommendations to take your shade garden from drab to fab.
Illumination® ‘Apricot' Digiplexis®
If your shady spaces need some excitement, perennials with vertical interest can act as a visual exclamation point. Illumination® ‘Apricot' Digiplexis® – an unusual new hybrid between common foxglove and its exotic cousin from the Canary Islands – sends up numerous spikes of golden-apricot blooms outlined and speckled in a vivid orange-pink. The color lights up a shadowy garden bed, and harmonizes beautifully with blue and violet flowers. Best of all, new flower stalks continue to emerge from spring through fall – giving this brightly colored bloomer incredible longevity. It grows to 3 feet tall and 18 inches wide, and looks great planted in drifts with shorter perennials at its feet. It is root-hardy to 15°F, and grows in Sunset zones 4 to 6 (with protection), 8 to 9, and 14 to 24. It even resists the attention of deer.
‘Soft Caress' Mahonia
If you have sworn off old-school mahonias due to their prickly nature, you'll be delighted with the soft texture and delicate look of this thorn-free, compact new variety. Soft umbrellas of glossy, fernlike foliage cover this lush, tropical-looking shrub. Yet, despite its fresh green looks, ‘Soft Caress' Mahonia is a water-wise choice tolerant of dry shade. In spring, short spikes of bright yellow flowers emerge from the tip of each stem, adding a touch of brightness to a shady corner. Hardy to 0°F, ‘Soft Caress' is an evergreen, which grows in Sunset zones 4 to 9 and 14 to 24.
Nandinas have long been thought of as the type of plant that's impossible to kill – a truly bulletproof selection that tolerates deer and rabbits, heavy soil, lack of water, and can be used interchangeably in full sun through part shade. Yet this sturdiness leads some of the larger varieties to act like bullies, spreading throughout the garden bed and flopping in an ungainly fashion over their well-behaved neighbors. Not so with this fabulous new variety. With a name like Flirt™, you might expect a little naughtiness, yet this compact powerhouse stays in a neat clump 2 feet tall and wide and plays nicely with its fellow plants. Wine-red new growth emerges spring through fall, providing an eye-catching color contrast against green mature foliage. This delectable new nandina is hardy to -10°F, and grows in Sunset zones 3 to 33.