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Northwest Gardening: Perennials for the Dark Side

Brought to you by Lowe's Creative Ideas

Discover how bleeding heart, Japanese painted fern, and certain groundcovers can work in your Northwest shade garden.

Mix of plants with trilliums, brunnera, bleeding heart

By Marianne Binetti

red bleeding heart blooms against brick wall

In my shaded garden area, the bold foliage of a red trillium contrasts with variegated brunnera on either side of an arching bleeding heart. Bleeding heart is a spring-blooming perennial that begs closer inspection.

fern frond close-up with purple veins

The dangling blooms of bleeding heart resemble tiny red hearts tipped with white. There are also white-flowered cultivars. Once the blooms fade, I use ferns to fill in shaded beds. Think beyond your basic green fern, though.

fern with plant tag Ghost Fern

Japanese painted fern emerges with new growth in spring just as bleeding heart fades from glory. The finely cut, purple-vein fronds appear hand-painted with silver highlights. This specimen fern would also look great in a container.  

dark foliage of ajuga next to yellow foliage in nursery flats

This year I found not only Japanese painted fern but also silvery-green ghost fern in the perennial section at my local Lowe’s. Growing Tip: To encourage larger fronds, add extra compost to the soil at planting time and give these two fancy ferns plenty of water. 

black metal squares on top of yellow foliage groundcover

Got dry shade? Give up on growing a lawn in dry soil that’s shaded most of the day; substitute shade-tolerant groundcovers instead. 

Chartreuse creeping Jenny and purplish ajuga make an attractive color combination that crowds out weeds in a shaded area. You can purchase this dynamic duo in groundcover flats to fill a large area quickly. Growing Tip: For easier removal, water groundcover plants well before pulling them apart from one another. Space groundcover perennials 6 to 12 inches apart to create a solid lawn substitute in just one season.

Black metal stepping-stones sit on top of the groundcover carpet in my garden. I don’t worry if one groundcover (like the rather aggressive creeping Jenny) dominates the other ground- hugging perennials (like the ajuga and blooming blue forget-me-nots here). As long as I keep the groundcovers from sneaking into my raised perennial beds, I let Mother Nature decide where they grow. 

Shade Gardening

See just how much you can do with a shady area in your garden. Our 10 regional gardening experts weigh in on their strategies.

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Northwest Gardening

Dig into one of the most fruitful places to garden: The Northwest.

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Gardening & Planting Tips by Region

Check out a variety of garden ideas, plans, articles, videos and projects for your region. No matter what region you live in, Lowe's has garden tips for you.

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