Fabulous Perennials for Shade

Adenophora confusa



Sorbaria Sem


Sun King Aralia

Hillside Black Beauty

Cimicifuga Black Negligee


Ligularia Brit Marie Crawford


Carex Bowles Golden

“You had me at Ligularia”… I once told a prospective employee who was applying for a position at the Nursery.  So many applicants want to work outside and want to be around the beautiful flowers, but very few know all the botanical names and every other name or nickname for that matter, of the plants they would be selling and caring for. Every plant we sell probably has about 3 names they may be called..One is the botanical name or proper name, the others are common names and nicknames. When this one applicant was asked to name some perennials that did well in the shade she mentioned Monkshood, Astilbe, Adenophora and Ligularia. When we heard her name all of those wonderful shade plants, we knew we had a keeper. She was certainly, without a doubt, someone who loved and knew her plants.

Today I want to take a moment to introduce you to some of our favorite shade plants…The names may be long and crazy, but the plants are worth buying and bringing them into your landscape. I want you to know about these overlooked and underutilized gems in the shade garden.

Adenophora-Ladybells: I first saw these growing in front of the quaint little houses in the Sanders Beach area. They spread in the shade under trees and shoot up lovely spikes of purple drooping bells. They are hard to find, but we have found a grower and are in stock as often as we can be, because we love these so very much!

Ligularia: There are many types of this lush, tropical looking, shade rockstar…There is the Rocket and Little Rocket that shoot up a yellow spike of flowers above its notched leaves. There is beautiful Brit Marie Crawford that has deep, dark, big, round tropical leaves and yellow daisy like flowers that bloom above the stunning foliage. She will fill in and give some drama to a shady area.

Sun King Aralia: I never knew Aralia was hardy here in North Idaho until one day when I was on the Garden Tour in Sandpoint and I saw the most beautifully flowing lime green plant I had ever seen. I asked immediately what it was and thus began my love affair with Aralia. They surprised me when I planted a shady area for a landscape client and she called the next Spring complaining that they had died. When I researched it further, I learned that they grow much like a Bleeding Heart and die all the way down to the ground and come back up from the roots each Spring. I told her not to fear, that they would come back eventually from the roots. I think this pop of lovely lacey, foliage that grows  3 by 3, is the perfect plant to add color and contrast to any shady area.

Sorbaria: another Garden Tour find, I saw the full sized version of this plant on a stroll through one of the gardens on the Coeur D Alene Garden Tour. I had to get some, once I saw it and learned what it was. The bush was about 7 feet across and 8 feet tall. It was ferny and had plumes of white blooms covering the top branches. I fell in love at first sight. Later I learned she has a shorter cousin called, Sorbaria Sem.

Sorbaria Sem is more yellow in the leaves and the new growth has a beautiful pink against the lime green. It looks fern like and has white blooms and Fall color, too. This little dwarf will keep at about 4 feet tall and 4 feet wide. It will thicken up and spread wider, all the better to dazzle you. This one grows in sun or part shade… so almost anywhere.

Cimicifuga or Bugbane: is another favorite for shade.… My favorite is the dark leaved varieties. There is Hillside Black Beauty, Brunette, and Black Negligee that all have chocolate, ferny leaves rise up to about 5 feet and get topped off by lovely white, spike shaped blooms that almost resemble fern fronds the way they have a slight curl on top. There is the most stunning specimens of these planted at the Anthony’s Restaurant in Coeur D’ Alene. They are planted against the front of the building along with another of my favorites: Bowles Golden Grass.

Carex Bowles Golden: is a dwarf, gold grass that gets about 2 feet tall and 2 feet wide. It is absolutely a show stopper once it gets about 2 or 3 years old and has filled out nicely. They look terrible in a pot, so don’t be discouraged if you find one and it is all bent over and broken looking. They don’t like to be moved around and the blades of grass fall over and fold. Once planted, it will rise and shine, but the first season, after transporting and transplanting, it will need for you to have faith and give it some time to get established.

For a beautiful show of established shade plants, get on over to Anthony’s in CDA. The landscaping there inspires even the most seasoned gardeners and is top notch. Once you get inspired, come to Westwood Gardens where we have all of these and many more lovely plants for shade!

By Jodee Fyfe,

Owner, Westwood Gardens Nursery In Rathdrum.

Celebrating our 20th year in Business this season!






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