4 Spring Flowers for Shade That I Love

Let’s talk about spring-blooming native plants that like shade, specifically those that have been catching my eye lately in our garden. With one exception, these are all plants that Midwestern gardeners should be using a lot more.

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Male flowers of Early Meadow Rue

Start with Early Meadow Rue (Thalictrum dioicum). We’ve only had this plant for 2 years so this is a new infatuation for me. The flowers are tiny, you really have to give them a close look to appreciate them. Plants are male or female. The male flowers have droopy yellow anthers, while the females have gray pistils.

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Honest Abe ponders the nature of justice in the shade of the Early Meadow Rue. 

We only have one of these plants but I already know that I require more. The one we have grows in a planter that sits on top of an old tree stump. This plant grows up to 4 feet tall in garden conditions but is usually closer to 2 feet in the wild.

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The delicate blue-green foliage of Early Meadow Rue lasts throughout the growing season. It spreads by both seed and rhizome.

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Great Merrybells (Uvularia grandiflora) is another favorite. This is just a fantastic plant. I’ve written about it before but I’m going to keep writing about it until you people start buying it in sufficient quantity.

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Great Merrybells also goes by the common name of Large-Flowered Bellwort, but there is no question that Great Merrybells is a much better name – sounds like something related to hobbits. This plant slowly creates nice clumps – the bigger the clumps, the better.

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It’s best feature is the droopy, twisty yellow flowers. The foliage is nice also, and will make a good groundcover with enough shade and moisture. Put it in the right spot and it won’t require any further attention.

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Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica) – need I say more? Does anyone not love Virginia Bluebells? The only downside is that it’s ephemeral, so it needs some companions like ferns that will fill in during late spring and summer.

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If your Virginia Bluebells are happy, they will sow themselves around your garden, popping up wherever they will, which is not a problem because by late spring they are already withering away.

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Celandine Poppies (Stylophorum diphyllum) are the only plant in this post that I won’t recommend unreservedly. Still, I love this plant – the way one loves a badly behaved but beautiful child. Celandine Poppies are not Poppies – they belong to the Acanthus family. However, the flowers and fuzzy buds are certainly Poppy-like.

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Celandine Poppies have one key defect: they self-sow like mad. The seeds will germinate in almost any shady spot with bare ground – which is a virtue up to a point.

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The foliage will start to die back in midsummer, but may re-emerge in fall.

Are there spring wildflowers that you wish more people would grow in their gardens?

34 Comments on “4 Spring Flowers for Shade That I Love

  1. I don’t know about other people, but I wish I had more foxgloves, Digitalis and welsh poppies, Meconopsis cambrica. I have some but nowhere near enough, I keep sprinkling seed but only a few come up. maybe I ought to grow them in pots and transplant them, but that seems a lot of effort!

  2. I do grow Uvularia but it never looks as good as yours and Mertensia doesn’t do very well here either. I love Thalictrum both for the flowers and the foliage but this year the pigeons have decided that it is a delicacy. The thalictrums are ruined and they have started on the aquilegias. But at least they are leaving the wisteria which was last year’s delicacy.

    • That’s ominous news about the pigeons. I was very upset this year to find that the rabbits have started eating the Mertensia, though thankfully I have a lot and there was a lot they didn’t eat.

  3. I agree with your choices and comments. Another species I love is Jeffersonia diphylla, Twinleaf. Gorgeous leaves and a pretty but very ephemeral flower (like bloodroot).

  4. I like all of your choices. I have not heard of the Merry Bells. I wonder if they would grow for me? I might look them up and try them. I had Meadow Rue in my garden for years. There were three plants for a long time, then there were two and then one year they gave up. I never knew why they didn’t expand or at least regenerate. Seeing yours makes me want them again. One of my favorites is the Appendaged Waterleaf. It will grow in shade and it has these lovely lavender blooms in spring. It will sow around but is easily pulled from where you don’t want it. I have a sea of it in one bed right now. They die back if it gets droughty. If you are lucky enough to have a damp place they will stay intact all summer although they only bloom during spring.

    • I would give the Uvularia a try, maybe just plant a couple and see how they do. I saw the Waterleaf on your blog and it’s beautiful.

  5. Love them all. Wish I had a damper garden for these beauties. I do have Meadow rue growing next to the fountain and it’s getting enough water to survive our hot, humid, droughty summers.

  6. I love the Celandine Poppies (Stylophorum diphyllum). Mine are grown in more “part shade” than full shade and I find that they don’t self sow as much that way. I love them.

  7. Even though I cannot grow most of the plants you recommend I love hearing about the ones you grow and love in your garden.

  8. I’ve seen the meadow rue and great merrybells in the wild, but not in the garden. They seem to grow easily for you, so I might need to give them a try. I have a cute Bonfire Cushion Spurge that is blooming right now that is not a big spreader, but looks nice all season.

  9. I love your plants, shade and water are illusive in most parts of Australia, so I’m envious. Your Early Meadow Rue, sitting alongside Abe Lincoln reminds me a little of Maiden Hair ferns. My father-in-law was an expert in keeping Maiden Hair ferns looking lovely in a pot, but they needed a lot of attention, although I’m sure they grow wild in some parts of the US, UK and Ireland etc.

    • They do grow wild here, and in this climate they are tough little guys. I can imagine they would need extra help in Australia, though.

  10. Too bad none of these are listed inTexas. I love those great merrybells. I might make a trip to our local really good garden center and ask if they can be grown here. I suspect we’re already well past the temperatures they like. We’re certainly well past the temperatures that I like.

    • I suspect you are right about the merrybells. But then, you have so many glorious plants, starting with the Lupines/Bluebonnets.

  11. The Great Merrybells are so lovely! I had never heard of it before but I’ll be adding it to my list for a north facing spot in front of our house.

  12. You certainly have some odd natives there. I do happen to love a few of our natives, but they are not the sort I would recommend to others. They like chaparral climates. There are better options that are more appropriate to other regions.
    I am getting to like those Virginia bluebells. They are prettier than our comparable native.

  13. I remember hearing that Thalictrum dioicum would grow in dry shade. But my shade garden is so dry due to sand and Norway maple root competition that other native shade plants like Mertensia waste away to nothing rather than clump up. I’d love to have that ribbon of yellow merrybells in my garden!

  14. I do like them all, especially the Virginia Bluebells, I wonder if they would like our climate. I must research that.xxx

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