Nancy Brachey

Put color in your shady landscape

Bedding begonias are easy plants that bring lots of color to the summer garden.
Bedding begonias are easy plants that bring lots of color to the summer garden. File photo

With trees now in full leaf, many landscapes look much greener than they did just a few weeks ago. That has people looking for plants to brighten up their shady landscapes through the summer.

Bedding plants such as begonias and impatiens make popular choices for colorful flowers. But so do certain plants whose foliage has colors other than green.

Both kinds should figure in your choices as you select plants for containers or beds in shady areas.

Begonias and impatiens are certainly the most widely planted annuals. However, apart from their stellar performance in the shade, they are quite different.

Impatiens have succulent stems, which tells you they require consistent water, either by rainfall or the hose. They are helped by well-dug, moisture-retaining soil with a lot of compost. One of their most difficult positions is dry shade. This is under the canopy of large trees, whose numerous roots usually win the battle for water.

Bedding begonias, however, are more tolerant of this position. These long-blooming annuals tolerate a lot, even direct sunshine. They make smaller plants at maturity than do impatiens and look wonderful massed in squares, triangles or ovals.

But they are not your only choices. Nicotiana, commonly called flowering tobacco, and torenia, commonly called wishbone flower, are two more flowering plants that bring color to the shade. Torenia comes in a range of colors, but the blues and violets are the most beautiful and different, and they are well-suited for gardeners who want something different than pink, red or white flowers. This is an easy-care annual that works well both in beds and containers and mixes nicely with begonias.

Nicotiana brings wonderful scent to the partly shaded landscape. Though not as well-known as the others, flowering tobacco can make a nice conversation starter; it is a cousin of tobacco plants harvested for cigarettes, but much smaller. Heights variety, so check the label. The shortest ones tend to grow about 18 inches, which is a nice size for a bedding plant.

While you probably look to flowers first for your shady garden, don’t overlook the possibilities that bring color in with foliage. Caladiums are well-established for this purpose. They are an easy-to-grow bulb that sends up large, broad leaves with interesting color combinations. Some are mostly green, but others have cream, pink or red markings or centers. They work well in containers as well as beds and will prosper in shade that has some filtered sunlight during the day. As a bulb, they demand well-drained soil.

Another way to light up a landscape is with plants that produce yellow or lime-green foliage that are easy to grow in light shade and well-drained soil. Various kinds of heuchera, also called coral bells, produce such beautiful, bright foliage, especially when lit by a late-afternoon sunbeam, that you almost don’t care if it blooms or not. But you really do.

Ask Nancy

Q. I have blank spaces left now that daffodil foliage is going away. What would work in those spots?

A. Most any bedding plant that suits the amount of sunlight the space gets should be fine. You could also sow seeds of zinnias or cleome. If you set out plants over the daffodil bulbs, take care not to stab them with your trowel. It would be smart to get quite small plants that require less digging but will fill out in coming weeks.