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The Bright Side of Shade

Gardeners can brighten up a shady or partial sun space with the Looking for Romance combination, which includes Surefire™ Red Begonia, Cordylena® Ruby Dracaena, and Diamond Frost® Euphorbia.

The void left by seed Impatiens is quickly filling with new varieties, and plant marketers are even looking at some popular sun-loving standbys in a whole new light.

Since the Impatiens walleriana Downy Mildew plight began a couple of years ago, growers, retailers and consumers have been looking for the next big shade plant – something that would provide the season-long color of Impatiens without the disease issues. What we’ve discovered is that there is no one “next big thing” for shade. Instead, there’s a plethora of varieties – flowering, foliage and shrub – that thrive in shade and provide vibrant pops of color in the landscape.

Fabulous Foliage

Hostas are a shade staple and a consumer favorite because of their hardiness, low maintenance and season-long interest. “The nice thing about the Proven Winners® Hosta collection is that they’re all somewhat different, so it captures different leaf shapes and sizes, textures and colors,” says Four Star grower Dan Foster. “They’re not all green Hostas and they’re not all yellow Hostas – there’s a little bit of everything.”

Foster also recommends Tiarellas, Heucheras and Heucherellas, not just for their shade tolerance but for their unique foliage colors and textures. New for spring 2015, ‘Jade Peacock’ Tiarella features stunning jade-green foliage with deep-purple centers.

Lamium is another variety that works well in the shade and provides not only unique foliage but flower color as well. Pink Chablis®, for example, features silver foliage with dainty pink blooms.

Powerful Flowers for Shade

Favorite Shade Plants

Flowering plants:

  • Begonias
  • Hydrangeas
  • Torenia
  • New Guinea Impatiens
  • Euphorbia

Foliage Ideas:

  • Hosta
  • Tiarella
  • Heuchera
  • Heucherella
  • Caladium

For major flower power, Hydrangeas are a winner in the landscape, and many varieties can handle significant shade. Foster recommends Blue Jangles™ from the Let’s Dance® series for its large, vibrant flowers and shade tolerance.

Begonias are a good replacement for impatiens, too, and they do well in both shade and sun, says Four Star grower Robin Bourdon. In addition to Begonias, one of her favorite varieties that thrives in shade to filtered sun is Catalina® Grape-O-licious Torenia. This long-blooming, heat-tolerant variety features purple and white flowers and a mounding, trailing habit that’s perfect for both beds and containers.

There’s also a new Impatiens variety coming to market next year called Bolero™, which Four Star grower Brian Bourdon says is closer genetically to Impatiens walleriana than to New Guinea Impatiens, but doesn’t have the downy mildew susceptibility. Colors include blush, bright coral, orange, fuchsia and orchid. “And they’re somewhat trailing, which is nice,” Bourdon adds.

Getting Creative With Combos

Although the Downy Mildew issue is primarily a problem in landscape beds versus containers, many consumers are hard-pressed to find Impatiens baskets in garden centers. Luckily, growers are getting creative with containers and baskets, offering unique combinations. Bourdon says a simple combo of Surefire™ Rose Begonias with Diamond Frost® Euphorbia looks great and thrives in shade. It’s also common to see a basket with a couple of shade-loving plants and one variety that’s more sun-loving. “In a combo, if you’ve got two of the three items dominant shade, they still turn out OK,” Bourdon says.

Lime Lava combines three colorful plants and offers different textures for a great shade display:  Infinity® Orange Frost New Guinea Impatiens, Goldilocks Lysimachia, and ColorBlaze® Alligator Tears™ Solenostemon (Coleus).


What’s on the Horizon?

Proven Winners Director of Product Development and Promotions John Gaydos says Proven Winners is starting to experiment with varieties typically thought of as sun-loving to see how they perform in shade. “We have trials running in three different locations,” he says. “We’re looking at Petunias in shade, we’re looking at Lobelias in shade, and we’re looking at Geraniums in shade, and they’re doing surprisingly well.”

He adds that the industry tends to market based on extremes. For example, a plant tag might indicate that a variety requires full sun when in reality, it does quite well in filtered sun or shade. “We’re kind of backtracking now and saying not only will this plant work in the sun, but it also does a great job in the shade,” says Gaydos. It’s the industry’s job to reposition some of these plants so consumers aren’t afraid to try them in shady spots.

Santa Cruz is another shade-friendly combination that combines bright colors and textures:  Santa Cruz™ Sunset Begonia, Diamond Frost® Euphorbia, ColorBlaze® Dipt in Wine Solenostemon (Coleus), and Golidlocks Lysimachia.


But there are plenty of new varieties on the horizon, too. For 2015, Gaydos is especially excited about the new Artful™ Fire and Ice™ Caladium. “It’s an absolutely beautiful, tall plant – 24 inches tall – that has a big, broad leaf with splashes of red and white,” he says. Artful Heartfire™ is another new Caladium that features a rich burgundy heart in the center of a leaf edged in green.

Gaydos is anticipating a slew of other new introductions coming down the pike, too. “Wait for the future,” he says. “Where we’re going and what we’re looking at as far as flowering items and foliage items with texture that will work in shade or partial shade situations – there are a lot of exciting things coming up that will certainly help fill that void that seed Impatiens have created.”

For more information and ideas on shade varieties consumers will love, contact Four Star at or 734-654-6420.


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