Interesting Plants

What to Plant in a Shady Area

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Often times when I visit people’s homes, they don’t really know how much sun or shade their yard gets. This is vital information to have for this reason: all plants are not created equal! Some plants love the sun and others prefer partial shade or even full shade. Planting a sun-loving plant in shade will produce stretched out growth with few flowers. Planting a shade-loving plant in the sun will produce burned leaves. Therefore if you are going to have plants added to your home or if you are going to DIY, you need to observe where the sun shines during the day. 


My suggestion is to make a sketch of your yard and watch the sun as it moves during the day. Check it at 9:00AM, 12:00 PM, 3:00PM and 5:00PM. Mark whether sun is shining in the areas around your house at those times. According to the South Florida Plant Guide, Full Sun would be 8 hours of direct sun, Part Sun would be 4 hours of direct sun either morning or afternoon and Full Shade would be no direct sunlight but has bright indirect light. For complete information on this, check out


Since sun loving plants are much more common and well-known, I would like to go over some plant options for part shade or shady gardens. I just completed a landscape project and the entire front yard was in the shade of an Oak tree. This was a challenge. I wanted to have different textures and foliage colors and flowers???? So here are a few of the plants I used which were interesting.

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Alpinia zerumbet ‘Variegata’ or Variegated Ginger is a spectacular plant with beautiful yellow and green foliage. It will reach 4-7’ tall and 5’ wide so give it some room. It likes partial shade.

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Camellia sasanqua ‘Yuletide’- Red Camellia is a winter blooming variety. It likes partial sun and acidic soil. The flower is red with a yellow center. It can reach 6-10’ tall depending on pruning.

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Cordyline ‘Red Sister’ or Ti Plant are quite common in Florida and often planted in areas where they do not thrive. They prefer medium shade but will grow in more sun. They do best when planted in tight groups. The foliage is a wonderful addition to the landscape.

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Schefflera arboricole ’Trinette’ or Variegated Arboricola is also a common plant in Florida and will grow in full sun to full shade!! It is a compact grower and can be kept 2’ tall but over time could reach 8’ without any pruning. The variegated yellow and green foliage really pops in a shady garden.


Dianella ensifolia or Flax lily is a very attractive grass-like plant with green leaves and white stripes. It prefers full to part shade and will grow to 2.5’ tall and wide.

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Zamia pumila or Coontie is a slow-growing evergreen with beautiful shiny foliage. It will grow to 2-4’ and prefers partial shade. It is a nice contrast to other variegated plants.

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Neomarica or Walking Iris- This plant is very versatile growing in both dense shade or partial shade. It will bloom off and on all year. It will grow 2’ tall and wide and has a variety of bloom colors-yellow, blue or lavender and white.


Check out these plants when you are at a local nursery and use them in your shady garden.

Tricking Cape Cod into thinking it is Florida

As a landscape designer and grower, I was always looking for the next cool variety of plant or perhaps enticing a plant that does not belong in your climate zone to stay and visit for a while. I went to a lecture by some landscape designers in Long Island and they wrote a book about putting Tropical Plants into the cool climates of New England. So I started integrating Cannas, Elephant Ears, Banana Plants and more into my Cape Cod gardens. Obviously they would not winter over outside so they had to be dug and stored in a greenhouse or basement.
Here are a few pictures of some of the gardens I planted in this manner.

When I moved to Florida, many of the Tropical plants that I found, I was already familiar with so the transition to Florida planting was a breeze.

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A Beautiful Combination!

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When we were in NYC for a seminar, our flight got delayed for 4 hours! Fortunately we hadn't headed out to the airport yet so we spent a few hours in Bryant Park. It is beautifully landscaped with big trees that surround a large grass area. There were hundreds of people enjoying the gorgeous summer day with their families.

Most of the gardens are in the shade or partial shade so many of the same plants are used: Hostas, Astilbe, Begonias, Coleus, and Ferns. Also, there were lots of hollies and hydrangeas of every variety.

This is one combination that really caught my eye: Pink Begonias, Dark Red Coleus and Plectranthus (a type of Swedish Ivy having a yellow and green leave which is very fragrant when crushed). All in all the colors all work beautifully.

Growing Caladiums in Florida

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Caladiums are great plants to use in Florida. They are grown for their leaves which come in a variety of colors of red, pink white and green. These are amazing in their spectacular color and will brighten up a boring garden.

A little about their care and maintenance. Caladiums are grown from tubers ( a type of bulb). These can be planted in late winter and early spring. The other option is to purchase them already started in pots. Last week I saw 6-packs of them in Home Depot ready to go in the garden. Now here is the most important part about being successful with Caladiums......they can't be grown in full sun!!!!! Plant them in partial shade or full shade gardens. Do not allow them to get any direct sun in the middle of the day or the leaves will burn. When planting supplement the soil with some composted cow manure or peat moss to help retain the water.

After the heat of the summer, Caladiums will die down to the ground. At that point in the Fall, you can plant a cold tolerant annual on top of the tuber. In the Spring the tuber will sprout again and give you a summer full of beautiful foliage.

Caladiums look great when mixed with Begonias and New Guinea Impatiens and Sweet Potato Vine.

Mexican Bluebell, Ruellisa 'Purple Showers"

This plant, also called Mexican Petunia, comes in Blue, pink and white. Most of my experience is with the purple-blue variety. It grows up to 5' tall and 3' wide but can be kept with pruning at 3' by 2'. This variety has a tendency to spread and send up new plants from the roots, but I have found that it can be controlled with regular pruning. The best place to plant it is in a contained area, such as an island bed which is surrounded by asphalt or an edged bed. Then you can just let it go. Planted in a mass these plants are a gorgeous splash of blue all summer and into the fall. They take to hard pruning so if they get too tall just hack them back to 2'. They will be flowering again shortly after.

Combine them with red canna, shrub allamanda for a beautiful combination. When combined with other plants you may have to keep up the pruning as they are aggressive for their space.

Autumn Fern

I last wrote about Crotons and said how they blended nicely in a semi-shaded area with Autumn Fern or the botanical name Dryopteris erythrosora. For my friends up North (that's you Elaine) this plant grows from New England all the way to Florida. It is evergreen in the South. It is a beautiful fern that grows to approximately 2' tall. What makes it special is that it has seasonal color. The new fronds emerging in the spring are a coppery color then turn to green and then a rusty brown in the fall. They are quite drought tolerant once established in the landscape. Plant these in the partial to full shade.


Moving to Clearwater, Florida, I read about a begonia that was a perennial. Coming from cold Massachusetts, I couldn't believe there was such a thing. The height of this plant was supposed to reach 7 feet! Again I was found that hard to believe. Well, I found one . The correct name is Begonia flamingo, also known as Begonia coccinea and the common name is Pink Angelwing Begonia. I planted it in a 18" container and it grew 4 feet tall within 4 months. This is such a beautiful plant with clusters of pink drooping flowers that bloom all year. This plant requires light to medium shade and once established will takes low water. It is very easy to propagate, just cut the tips and stick them in water. I have propagated over 20 plants from this one speciman. Try this plant out-in a shady nook in the garden or a container on a shaded patio-you won't regret it.