The Arch City Gardener

Journeys In St. Louis Gardening and Beyond

Great Pairings for Shade


There’s no denying a dynamic combination when we see one. John, Paul, George and Ringo; tomato, mozzarella and basil; red wine and chocolate are three that come quickly to mind. As planning for the new shade bed along the south fence takes on more mental bandwidth, I’m focusing on great combinations that incorporate texture, shape, color and proportion. It can be enough to make my head spin, especially since I have had limited success in the deep shade areas of the yard.

To date my focus has been mostly on the sunny combinations I have been able to put together. Pots provide an inexpensive way to experiment with combinations. Each year I try and experiment with different textural and color combinations, keeping in mind the “filling, thrilling, spilling” trinity. And I have a sunny spot in the yard that I affectionately refer to as my “experimental bed.” There I have introduced all kinds of specimens that I have later moved to other sunny beds.

This pot of purple fountain grass, sweet potato vine and creeping jenny help screen the gutter by the front of the garage.

This pot of purple fountain grass, sweet potato vine and creeping jenny help screen the gutter by the front of the garage.

Yellow and orange dazzle during the hottest time of the day.

Yellow and orange dazzle during the hottest time of the day. The coreopsis, which thrives in this spot, got its start in the so-called “experimental bed.”

And while these combinations have been fun and lively, they won’t do for the shade. I began experimenting under the tree by the south fence last summer by planting two types of fern, hosta and astilbe. I may have planted one of the ferns (sensitive fern [Onoclea sensibilis]) too deep as it did not perform well; the astilbe withered, and the hosta tried to hang on for dear life but looked pathetic. I will wait to see if the ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris) reappears and plan to move it to the other end of the bed and plant a variegated solomon seal (Polygonatum) beneath the tree instead.

This is a long runway of fence to fill (about 28 feet) and I want something tall in the center. That’s where part of my angst comes in. What to plant? What to plant? A hydrangea of some sort? I have hydrangeas in two beds and love them but I want to branch out and try something new. I envision white caladium running along the length of the bed, filled in with hakonechloa grasses to brighten the shady spot. Other contenders include astilbe, large hosta, heuchera and brunnera. None of these meet the height requirement I am seeking. Any ideas, fellow gardeners? I am considering a vine or a small tree to put in the center of the bed to provide vertical interest.

If indecision gets the best of me this year, I will resort to moving a tall concrete plant stand and placing a lovely pot on top, keeping in mind the successful combination “filling, thrilling and spilling.” As always, thanks for reading.

 The new bed along the fence is waiting to be planted. My winter day dreaming is under way.

A blank slate–the shade bed along the fence.

I have concentrated on planting in the sunny spots in the yard but have found a few shady areas to fil lin.

Another bright green and purple combination, this time for a shady spot. The coral bloom adds yet another colorful layer.

The silvery gray-green of the artemisia contrasts with the pink roses and spikey angelinia in the pot.

The silvery gray-green of the silver mound artemesia contrasts with the pink roses and the potted white angelonia.


Author: mjarz

Welcome to the Arch City Gardener. My name is Mimi and I started this blog to share my journeys in learning to garden in St. Louis County, Missouri and learn more from my readers who garden. Thanks for reading The Arch City Gardener.

3 thoughts on “Great Pairings for Shade

  1. An experimental bed is a fine idea. And I agree, the fountain grass and sweet potato vine make a great combination.

    • Jason, what are your favorite shade combinations?

      • I generally have a light shade, so that expands my options. I guess my favorites are wild columbine, short’s aster, bluestem goldenrod, Brunnera (false forget-me-not), bleeding heart, and Indian pink. I am learning to like hellebores and epimedium. For shade containers – Caladium and Impatiens for summer, pansies for spring.

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