Fall Bloomers For The Shade Garden

Recently a good friend of mine complimented me on my column about late summer bloomers for the sunny border but lamented that she only had shade in her yard and couldn’t take advantage of my advice.  So for her benefit and anyone else that is faced with an overabundance of shade, here are some bloomers that will liven up any dark corner of the yard this time of the year.


HARDY FUCHSIA — These “woody perennials” are amazing in that they will start blooming in mid-summer, continuing well into the late fall and as a bonus attract hummingbirds to your shady beds.  In warmer tropical climates, fuchsias will actually become shrubs that can reach 10 to 12 feet tall, but in the northwest we treat them as perennials and let them die back in the winter.  It is best to prune them no more than half way back in the fall and wait until you see signs of new growth in the spring to finish the job.  Hardy fuchsias come in many flower colors from white to pink to blue or purple and are usually a combination of these colors.  One of my favorites is a golden leafed variety called “Genii”.  As a side note, because of our mild marine climate we can actually grow fuchsias in morning to all day sun as long as we provide plenty of moisture.


JAPANESE ANEMONE — These are one of the most reliable late summer bloomers (they can actually start blooming in July) and will happily colonize a shade border in just a few seasons.  In fact, for some gardeners they are considered invasive because of their vigor, but thanks to modern breeders there are several new varieties that are much better behaved.  Try “Fantasy Red Riding Hood” for a nice compact grower.  This selection features bright, single flowers in rose-pink color July through September.  Another new one is “Wild Swan”, it is very slow to spread and has an incredibly long blooming period.  According to Monrovia nursery, “Wild Swan is an exceptional new selection offering prolific flowering.  Nodding buds atop tall stems open into pure white flowers with a blue violet reverse”.  

TOAD LILIES — These delightful perennials have “orchid-like” blooms in late fall on stems 2 feet tall.  It seems like a long time to wait for them to bloom, but when they finally do it is well worth it.  “Samurai” is one of my favorites but there are many others to choose from.  Most toad lilies have one inch heavily spotted flowers in shades of white to blue to purple.  


HARDY CYCLAMEN — These little charmers are an absolute delight in the shade garden.  Cyclamen hederifolium wakes up from its summer slumber to bloom before any foliage appears.  Fine Gardening Magazine promotes them as follows: “this cyclamen's frequently scented, mottled flowers emerge directly from the soil, followed by a carpet of patterned, mid- to dark green leaves attractively variegated with patterns in white or silver.  Each small pink or white flower has swept-back petals resembling a dove in flight, marked with maroon at the mouth”.  I would add that cyclamen are slow to establish but after a couple of seasons they will start to reseed and over time you will have a marvelous drift of them.


So don’t feel left out if you are surrounded by shade.  Fall blooming perennials will add some pop and sizzle, keeping you in a bright mood all the way into winter.