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Best Summer Bulbs for Shade

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Best Summer Bulbs for Shade

We hear you, shade gardeners! You see all of those lovely sun-worshipping bulbs and you think, “Alas, bulb gardening must not be for me.” But you might be surprised to know that there’s a whole world of gardeners with sunny beds who wish they could grow bulbs like those that are available to you (you know what they say about the grass always being greener). Whether it’s a fully shaded area or simply one that has part shade or dappled sun, shade bulbs offer unique texture and lushness that simply cannot be had with other bulbs—so let’s get to it! Time to thank the Garden Gods for throwing a little shade your way!

  1. Gloriosa: Gloriosa Lily is an usually exotic vining bulb—the flowers are similar to lilies in appearance, but with some added flair with bold petals that curve upwards! Now, although this bulb loves the sun, it will take some light shade and perform very well indeed. We particularly love Gloriosa Carsonii with its chocolatey-purple lusciousness. USDA Hardiness Zones 9–11.

  2. Hosta: This group of shady bulbs just may be the ultimate shade plant with its bold leaves, lush growth, and wide variety of green/gold/blue/variegated foliage. Hostas are also deer-resistant, and their mid-summer flowers attract hummingbirds. Sounds kind of perfect, doesn’t it? Sum and Substance, Blue Angel, and Earth Angel are some of our favorites—but if you really want to add a WOW factor to your garden, you’ll definitely want T-Rex with its jumbo, textured leaves! Whichever one(s) you choose, they pair beautifully with astilbe and colorful shady annuals. USDA Hardiness Zones 3–9.

  3. Pulmonaria: If you’ve got a shady woodland space, Pulmonaria is a bulb to put on your wish list! The silver and green leaves are lovely enough on their own, but when the small bell-shaped flowers appear in late spring, you’ll go bananas. In a good way. These low-growers will slowly naturalize, and while they attract hummingbirds and bees, the deer don’t seem to care for them. Take a look at Mrs. Moon and Little Star.

  4. Caladium: Yes, we’re aware that we nominated Hostas as the ultimate shade bulb, but honestly, Caladiums are not far behind! Caladium foliage is so stunning that flowers aren’t really necessary. Heart, lance, or arrowhead-shaped leaves shine in shades of green, white, red, and pink with all sorts of intriguing striping, blotching, and edging going on. And although, as we said, flowers aren’t necessary, if you want to pair some blooms, impatiens in a coordinating color would be brilliant. We recommend Candyland, Celebration, and Lemon Blush to wake up those less-than-sunny parts of your garden. USDA Hardiness Zones 9–11.

  5. Astilbe: Feathery plumes in an array of bright colors, deer resistance, pollinator-friendly, and cut-flower worthy—honestly, is there any reason to not love Astilbe? Go bold with Maggie Daley, sweet with Younique Silvery Pink, or unique with Chocolate Shogun. The mid- to late-summer blooms will give new life to a weather-weary garden. USDA Hardiness Zones 4–9.

  6. Voodoo Lily: Those of you who like things a little on the strange side (you know who you are, and we’re not judging) must try Voodoo Lily in your shade garden. You simply must. These late spring/early summer bloomers feature large and frankly bizarre blooms with—wait for it—an absolutely putrid stench. The good news is that the stench fairly quickly wears off, but what a conversation-starter, right? Pollinator-friendly and critter-resistant, Voodoo lily even offers up strange names like Dracunculus Vulgaris, Sauromatum Venosum, and Bulbifer. USDA Hardiness Zones 7–10.

  7. Lily of the Valley: We’re going to follow up the weird with the sweet and traditional, because there’s room for people and plants of every stripe in the shade garden, wouldn’t you agree? Early- to mid-spring bloomers, Lily of the Valley offers a low-growing carpet of sweetly scented bell-shaped flowers and is a sentimental favorite of many shade gardeners. And although most Lily of the Valley blooms are pure white, we also have a pale pink variety to add a welcomed blush of color. USDA Hardiness Zones 3–8.

  8. Achimenes: If African violets are one of your favorite houseplants, you’ll fall in love with its outdoor cousin, Achimenes! These late spring-to-fall bloomers have soft foliage and funnel-shaped flowers that thrive in shady beds. They have a bit of a draping habit that makes them ideal in container plantings as well—and we bet you love that added benefit as much as we do! Choose Purple Prince for some royally bold color, Himalayan Orange for a dash of zippiness, or Pixie Mix if you can’t quite decide! USDA Hardiness Zones 10–12.

 

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  • Katie Elzer-Peters