A shade-tolerant Colorado landscape design sounds like an oxymoron, right? For the most part, Rocky Mountain gardens need to be designed for well-draining soil, water conservation, and extreme weather conditions. However, the same mountainous geography we know and love has ample north-facing slopes that enjoy more shade than sun, and your own landscape may have large trees or buildings that provide shady spots in the summer.
In honor of these shady respites, we’ve put together a list of attractive Colorado shade-tolerant perennials that enjoy the shade, but still do well in our climate.
Shade-Loving Perennials for Your Shady Colorado Garden
Bigroot Geranium. What’s not to love about these boisterous, colorful, and hardy plants that provide beautiful green foliage displays, even while they aren’t in bloom? Here are some of our favorite features of bigroot geraniums (Geranium macrorrhizum) that are bound to be yours too:
- Deer and rabbits pass them up, making them effective deer-resistant shade plants for Colorado.
- They are heat- and cold-tolerant shade plants for Colorado.
- They don’t mind a little sunbathing now and again, making them a bit more versatile than the other shade plants.
- Some varieties offer fall colors as shade plants in Colorado.
Geraniums grow up to about 2 feet tall, so give them room to flourish.
Amethyst Flower. Did we have you at the name? These flowers live up to it, we promise. In addition to their bluish-purple color, the blooms of the amethyst flower (Browallia hybrids) are also star-shaped, which adds to their beauty. Their blooms range from white to violet and are so big they nearly cover the 2-foot-tall plant. Amethyst flowers are as happy in a container or hanging basket as they are in your flower beds.
Lungwort. Although the lungwort (Pulmonaria) may not sound like much, its fun and unusual blooms are surprisingly stunning. One of the lungwort’s most unique features is its white spotted foliage (the reason for its name), which can add greater visual interest to your garden.
Other plants that thrive in shady spots include begonias, columbines, bleeding hearts, lily-of-the-valley, white wood aster, and phlox.
Creating Harmony in Light and Shadow: Integrating Diverse Plant Needs in Colorado Landscape Design
Colorado’s diverse topography presents a unique challenge for gardeners and landscape designers. The state’s abundant sunshine is a boon for many plants, but the presence of shade — whether from the majestic Rocky Mountains or from structures and trees in our own backyards — requires a thoughtful approach to garden design. The key to a cohesive landscape is integrating shade-loving perennials in Colorado with sun-seeking flora in a way that is both aesthetically pleasing and horticulturally sound.
Understanding the Light Spectrum in Your Garden
Before selecting plants, assess your garden throughout the day to understand the patterns of light and shade. Colorado’s high altitude means the sun is more intense, but shadows cast can create pockets of coolness, even in otherwise sunny areas. Use this to your advantage by placing plants with varying light needs accordingly. For instance, while Bigroot Geraniums can handle some sun, they can be planted on the edges of the shade, where they can benefit from filtered light.
Design Strategies for Mixed Planting Beds
When designing a planting bed, consider the mature size of both shade-loving and sun-thriving plants to prevent future overcrowding and to ensure each plant receives its required amount of light. Start with taller, sun-loving plants in the back of the bed, or on the south-facing side, and graduate down to shade-tolerant species towards the front or north-facing side. This tiered approach ensures that all plants get their time in the sun without casting shade on their neighbors.
Contrasting Foliage for Visual Interest
To create a visually dynamic space, mix the textures and colors of the foliage. For instance, the bold leaves of shade-loving Lungwort can contrast beautifully against the fine, feathery foliage of a sun-loving Colorado Blue Columbine. Similarly, the bright greens of shade dwellers can break up the more sun-faded tones of drought-resistant plants, providing a lush backdrop that highlights the vibrant colors of both.
Transitional Planting for Seamless Integration
Transitional planting areas, where sun and shade merge, are ideal for plants that are adaptable to both conditions. For example, Amethyst Flower, with its star-shaped blooms, can be a transitional plant between the sunny and shaded parts of the garden. By using these flexible species, you can create a seamless transition that guides the eye gently from one area to another.
Layering for Depth and Cohesion
Layering plants in terms of height, texture, and bloom time not only adds depth to your garden but also ensures that it remains interesting throughout the growing season. Consider incorporating a mix of perennials that will provide staggered blooms from spring through fall. This approach keeps the garden in a constant state of renewal, as one plant’s peak is another’s burgeoning growth.