We're getting ready to order up some bulbs for that 10'x30' bed I just
cleared this summer. The bed has a crabapple in the center and there are
other trees in the front that keep the area fairly well shaded during
spring/summer as well, so I want to find some varieties that will bloom
early as well as some that are somewhat shade tolerant so the bed doesn't
just die as soon as the trees leaf out.
Scilla (squill) blooms better in shade than it does in sun, & can go into
deeper shade than just about any spring-flowering bulb.
Grape hyacinths do also bloom pretty darned well in considerable shade.
There are many species & varieties, some sterile, some aggressive
spreaders, & even the ones that like more sun actually get all the sun
they need in winter -- they are leafy during autumn & winter so get their
bulbs "recharged" when deciduous leaves are gone from overhead, & so seem
to be full-shade bulbs blooming in early to mid spring. I just love them
Hepatica too charges its bulb (or tubor) by keeping its leaves through in
winter under deciduous shrubs & trees, so that it can bloom in spring's
So too winter crocus should do superbly under deciduous trees like the
crabapple, since they bloom winter's end before there are leaves
overhead. By the time there's no longer enough sun for them, they're done
Some daffodils, & especially some of the dwarfier varieties & N. jonquilla
varieties, are at least moderately accepting of shade, & increasingly so
inland or southward; you'd can check individual tolerances of many
cultivars & select ones bred for shade tolerance.
For shady areas humusy & moist, trilliums are super, & a lot easier to
grow than some people seem to believe, the leaves often persisting in the
garden spring through autumn depending on what summers are like & how
moist the ground.
Dogtooth Lilies prefer shade. The only dogtooth lily that seems to be
seriously EASY to grow is "Pagoda," others take more of a knack.
Chionadoxa prefers the shade.
Iris reticulata does well in shade inland in zones not too far north,
though here on Puget Sound they seem to really need the sun.
Snowdrops (Galanthus) & the much bigger Leucojum do fairly well in Puget
Sound shady spots; inland or a bit south they require increasing amounts
You should track exactly how many hours of sun all the areas really get.
Even with a lot of trees overhanging, there may be spots that get five
hours of dappled or direct sunlight or BRIGHT shade reflecting off a
white-painted wall or fence, & that will extend your bulb choices with
mnay things that do well in partial sun/partial shade. Several Fritillaria
& especially the easiest-to-grow F. meleagris will do superbly in such
Hardy cyclamens (especially C. coum and C. hederofolium in particular)
are spectacular shade garden bulbs (tubors rather) & as bloom variously in
autumn, winter, or earliest spring.
Allium moly (yellow onion lily) & a few other alliums though wanting more
sun here on Puget Sound will tolerate considerable shade inland or further
south, & in drier corners of a shade garden than most things.
Wilder forms of smaller deep orange daylilies such as in the "Elf" series
do pretty well in shady spots, but not too deeply shaded.
Winter aconites (Eranthis) like semi-shady spots.
Arisarum proboscideum or Mouse-tail plant is a wonderful oddity for the
Ranunculus tolerates some shade but not too deep.
Kaufmannia tulips stand more shade than do most tulips, especially inland
or further south; I do put mine in full sun in my area though.
Zephyranthes or rainlilies have many varieties, some of which prefer
partial shade. Their blooms have been very ephemeral in my garden & do not
bloom at predictable times of the year but unexpectedly after heavy
Oxalis is a primo shade plant, some grow from bulbs others don't, the bulb
ones are not invasive.
Puschkinia, Lycoris (autumn bloomer), Caladium, & Ornithogalum nutans I
can't testify for personally, some need warmer climates than my area, but
are supposed to be good partial shade choices.
There are a few temperate-hardy terrestrial orchids that prefer shade, but
do take some attention. I had great luck with Pleione bulbocodioides &
Bletilla striata this year but will have to wait & see if they return next
"Of what are you afraid, my child?" inquired the kindly teacher.
"Oh, sir! The flowers, they are wild," replied the timid creature.
To keep it simple:
Crocus (snow type), blooms earliest.
Crocus (Dutch hybrid type), blooms next.
Daffodil 'Ice Follies,' blooms early, easy to grow.
Daffodil, later variety, your choice.
Wood hyacinth. Blooms latest.
I wouldn't do tulips, since they like sun. Instead, I would extend the
succession by putting in a few azaleas, astilbes, hostas, and Japanese painted
fern. This will give you color throughout the summer.
Sequim, WA (Zone 8)
What about Chocolate Lilies (a type of fritillaria) and Lenten or Christmas
roses (hellebores)? I'm cursed with way to much shade, so I'm giving them a
try--I hope the slugs don't love them to death, as they did my hostas.
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