Great Garden Combo: 6 Beautiful Plants to Get a Shady, Wet Site

Planting for shade can be hard enough; combine shade with soil that remains moist or moist year-round, and it is enough to make even an experienced gardener shudder.

Yet there are some stunning perennials, shrubs and even trees which revel in these circumstances — really requiring moisture-retentive soil to thrive. This garden was transformed into a cool, leafy glade through a combination of soothing colours and contrasting textures. A path weaves through the distance to an inviting bench, with waterfalls of blossoms softening the lines.

Thoughtfully put containers become focal points along the way, either left unplanted as sculptural elements or filled with water to bring an extra layer of interest.

Bliss Garden Design

This is a really shaded area, and the far corner gets little to sunlight. The foreground has some filtered afternoon sun for only a few hours, so all of the crops have to be shade tolerant.

This really is a low-lying, fairly wet surroundings, and while a few of these plants may take drier conditions, most need moisture.

Le jardinet

How to Have the Look

1. Begin with a showstopper.

Rodger’s flower (Rodgersia pinnata) has bold, crinkly leaves which step over 12 inches round, making a stunning backdrop for the stunning plumes of creamy pink blossoms that appear in midsummer. In fall the foliage turns a reddish bronze.

The leaves of the perennial feels rough to the touch, with stiff bristles and its stem, which makes it unpalatable to deer. While making an ideal understory to taller trees and shrubs, its upright habit allows for company planting at the bottom.

USDA zones: 5 to 9 (find your zone)
Water condition: Constantly moist soil
moderate requirement: Partial shade
Mature dimension: 3 to 4 feet tall, and wide with 3-foot flower spikes
When to plant: In spring or fall

Bliss Garden Design

2. Add contrast.

A blend of two soft yellowish grasses has been used along the path and creek bed.

Fan-shaped golden variegated sweet flag (Acorus gramineus ‘Ogon’) is an evergreen grass that can endure exceptionally moist conditions — even standing water. Positioned in the foreground, it has blades much stiffer than those of its partner here, Japanese forest grass.

The gentle mounds of Japanese forest grass (Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’), seen behind the sweet flag, will be the perfect contrast to the taller Rodger’s flower, forming a gentle golden waterfall which begs to be touched.


Botanical name: Acorus gramineus ‘Ogon’
Common title: Golden variegated sweet flag
USDA zones: 5 to 9
water requirement: Moisture retentive or moist soil, or even shallow water
Light requirement: Partial or full shade
Mature size: 1 foot tall and wide
When to plant: In spring or fall


Botanical name: Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’
Common title: Japanese forest grass
USDA zones: 4 to 9
water requirement: Moisture-retentive soil
moderate requirement: Partial to full shade, but it will be greener in full shade
Mature size: 2 feet tall and 3 feet wide
When to plant: In spring or fall

Bliss Garden Design

3. Insert structure.

Many Pacific Northwest indigenous ferns have been used within this garden to present a variety of heights and textures.

The boldest of them all, seen in the foreground above, is sword fern (Polystichum munitum). Although evergreen, it benefits from having its coarse foliage cut down in spring to generate room for fresh growth. Cutting is well worth doing, just to love watching the fronds unfurl.

USDA zones: 3to 8
Water requirement: Adaptable to a wide variety of lands, from dry to moisture retentive
moderate requirement: Partial or full shade
Mature size: 4feet tall and 6 feet wide
When to plant: In spring or fall

Bliss Garden Design

4. Insert some highlights.

In order to add interest at eye level, bring about certain glowing foliage.

Golden catalpa (Catalpa bignonioides ‘Aureum’), seen at the right, may be permitted to develop as a tree or cut back hard in spring to keep it like a large shrub. In any event, its big, heart-shaped leaves make a great contribution to this particular combination. These open with a red flush but quickly turn to a vibrant acid yellowish.

USDA zones: 5to 9
Water requirement: Adaptable to different lands, from fairly dry to moisture retentive
Light requirement: Full sun (once established) to partial shade
Mature size: 15feet tall and wide as a tree, or 6 feet tall and wide if cut back in spring
When to plant: In spring or fall

Scott Weber

5. Finish with a couple of blossoms.

This beautiful combination really needs no blossoms — that the beauty is in the juxtaposition of fantastic foliage. On the other hand, the early-blooming perennial masterwort (Astrantia major ‘Alba’) provides both a new leaf shape and whitened, pincushion-like flowers that add a little sparkle to the spring display.

USDA zones: 6to 9
Water requirement: Adaptable to different lands, from fairly dry once established to moist but well drained
Light requirement: Full sun to partial shade
Mature size: 2 feet tall and wide
When to plant: In spring or fall

More: guides to blossoms and foliage

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