If you’ve got trees around your cottage, chances are you love the fact that they keep the cottage cool and provide comfort when sitting outside. If only that shade didn’t also mean your garden was in almost perpetual darkness all day long. Fortunately, we’ve got a roundup of cottage-friendly (read: low-maintenance) plants that absolutely thrive in the shade—no matter how many trees you have. We’ve picked our favourite perennials in this list, because the less time you have to spend planting each year, the better.
Many hostas thrive in shade, come in an almost endless number of varieties, and are easy to maintain, which makes them ridiculously popular with gardeners who want gorgeous foliage without a lot of work. Although hostas do flower, most gardeners love them for their leaves, which range from almost blue to golden-green and can be variegated, curly or simply enormous. Hostas also come in many different sizes, from wee miniatures to great giants that spread to a metre across. The only caveat? Deer and rabbits love them, as do slugs. If you’re concerned, cage hostas early in the growing season so new growth doesn’t tempt hungry pests.
Bigroot geranium / cranesbill
This perennial geranium is a cottage all-star: shade loving, drought and heat resistant, and yucky-tasting to deer. Plus, it produces lovely dark pink or white springtime flowers—meaning your shade garden doesn’t just have to be a sea of green. Bigroot geranium, which grows to be about half a metre tall, is hardy from zones 4 to 8, which covers the southern parts of most provinces. If you want extensive groundcover with a little bit of colour, it also spreads well.
If you want early spring flowers, then lungwort is a great choice. Purple, pink, or blue flowers top lightly spotted green leaves that will spread to create a weed-discouraging groundcover. Reaching about 30 centimetres tall, lungwort can be a good border plant, and accents other pink, white and blue flowers nicely. And how did such a pretty plant get such an ugly name? Someone at some point thought the spots on the leaves looked like lungs.
If you have a cottage in the southernmost end of your province (or at a low elevation), corydalis, which is hardy from zones five to nine, is a good choice. With foliage that can be blue-green or green-gold and flowers that range from yellow to white to blue (plus a bunch in between), corydalis are attractive long bloomers that will give you flowers from late spring until the first frost. For best results, plant corydalis in moist organic soil.
Solomon’s seal is ideal for adding height to a shade garden, with delicately arching stems that can reach anywhere from 10 centimetres to two metres. With its creamy-coloured bells, it’s also ideal for cut arrangements. Solomon’s seal is particularly hardy, growing well even in spots where shallow tree roots might stymie more delicate plants. Drought-tolerant, the foliage will turn a lovely golden colour in the fall.
A low, quickly spreading plant also known as carpetweed or bugleweed, ajuga also has pretty blue or purple spring and summer flowers. Because it spreads so easily, ajuga isn’t a great choice for a small space, but it’s perfect if you have a bare patch you’d like to fill in. Like bigroot geranium, ajuga is also deer-proof, meaning you won’t be faced with a garden munched into oblivion. Plant ajuga in well-drained, moist soil, although it’s reasonably happy in dry soil as well.
Looking like feathery plumes of colour in early summer, astilbe come in a wide variety of shades and heights, making it perfect for any shady, moist spots you may have on your property. Astilbe prefers wet soil, so it’s ideal for a spot with poor drainage. Another bonus? The blooms smell lovely. And you don’t have to worry about losing those lovely flowers to deer—four-legged pests will pass up astilbe for tastier morsels.
Providing blooms in late summer to early fall, monkshood is named for its tall stalks of blue, purple or white flowers that resemble monks’ hoods. Monkshood doesn’t like really hot weather, so it’s a perfect cottage bloom if you’re in a cooler part of your province. In cooler areas, it will grow in full sun, but it performs best in partial shade. These tall, deer-resistant spires are especially beautiful in a cut-flower arrangement. Be cautious, though—monkshood (like many other popular garden plants) is poisonous. If you have leaf-munching pets or curious children, it may not be a great choice for your garden.
With a red winter leaf and pale pink flowers in early spring, foamflower is great for garden edging in shady or partial shade spots. Foamflowers keep their leaves throughout the winter, so if you can see your garden during the winter, there should be at least a little interest. Foamflower, which grows between 15 centimetres to one metre, also attracts birds and smells delicious.