DSC_1204So many clients and customers of Detroit Garden Works are stymied by their shade.  Shade containers don’t blare like a brass band.  They are reserved.   No doubt a shade container garden does not have dahlias, zinnias, geraniums or heliotrope on a to plant list.  But shady conditions mean that lots of interesting and subtly colored plants will thrive.  Is container gardening in the sun better than in the shade?  Not in my opinion.   Choosing plants for containers has a lot to do with lighting conditions.  Every pot you might plant, no matter the light conditions, can be all you would hope it could be.  Gorgeous, and satisfying, yes.  The shade along the east side of our building is considerable.  18 year old lindens have grown up and in, cloistering that east wall in shade.  We like how the shade helps keep the building cooler.  This shady spot is a relief in the heat of the summer.  The shade is a given.   But by no means do we feel like we have no options for our window boxes and pots.

DSC_1194Shadow King begonias are perfect for a shady spot.  One gray cultivar shown in the above picture is the color and texture of a galvanized bucket. Love that.  Its companion is a striking combination of silver, green, pink, and black.  This is a color palette much different than that presented by a Bengal Tiger canna, and Persian Queen geraniums.  It is subtle, and subtly striking.

DSC_1201Any begonia, whether it is grown for its leaves or its flowers, requires a reluctant hand.  By this I mean, they will not suffer too much sun, nor will they suffer over watering.  Most begonias have fleshy leaves, and thick watery stems.  Over water them, and they will collapse in a rotted heap.  Give them the shade they want, and they dryish conditions they thrive on, they will grow like weeds.  This container is an asymmetrical arrangement of shade loving plants.  A black calocasia lords over all.  A pink and green caladium repeats that calocasia leaf shape in a lighter and brighter color.  The chocolate mint coleus barely showing now will grow, and help pull that calocasia down into the mix.  The pepperomia with its pale green blooming wands provides a little sass. The silver King begonia has chocolate stems-so great with the coleus and the calocasia stems. The dark begonia at the center will have orange flowers-good.  The pink polka dot plant will need trimming, given it is in the front of this container.  But the work will be worth it.  That pink, and the silver leaf of the begonia, are both key to a successful shade planting.  Any plants that brings light to bear in a shady spot will shine.

DSC_1192Containers in the shade are much about texture, mass, subtle color-and rhythm.  This container, even in its first planted stage, is jazzy.

DSC_1202Caladiums provide so much mass and luminosity in shade containers.  White caladiums challenge the shade in a big way.  This green caladium with a white center glows.  The gray begonia is pebbly in surface and subtle in color.  The watermelon peperomia will trail.  A planting such as this gives me every bit as much pleasure as a color lively container in the sun.  It is just different.  Maybe a little reflective.

DSC_1199We’ve had some rainy days recently.  These plants that thrive in the shade, saturated with rain, have a juicy look.

DSC_1205This window box was just planted a few days ago.  The shade from the lindens is considerable, but each of these shade tolerant plants will grow, and get lush.  Lush and luminous growth in the shade is just what a shade container asks for.

shade-window-box.jpgI like the looks of this.



  1. I love this post. I have NO shade, but all of these plants are scrumptious!! The combinations you designed are amazing. Thanks!

  2. I confess I’m one of those who are frustrated by shade. Oh, I have LOTS of plants and a pretty lush garden, but I crave colour, bright cheerful colour. I am, after all, the woman who lined the front of her house with red carpet roses. We have a pool, you see, and although the shade is welcome on hot days it’s not…um…cheerful, vibrant, ZOWIE. Subtlety is not what I want, especially in my pool planters. Begonias save me. Impatients never did well. Fuscias take one look at me and die. Right now I have a fruit salad of orange, coral, yellow and pink begonias. Delicious. Now if only I can find something tall that satisfies my soul the same way.

  3. Beautiful, educational posting.
    Thanks, Deborah.

  4. Starr Foster says

    great ideas. I am going to try begonias again, thanks to your comments – I always kill them, too much water! Love your final photo especially – purples with ghostly white and green.

  5. Beautiful. Thanks for naming the Pepperomia for me.

  6. I love shade and Begonias so this was a dream post. The last long window box container itself is beautiful.

  7. Beautiful, i love subtle! I love the window box : )

  8. Abby Rupsa says

    I live in a newly constructed home in CO, where the sun can burn up plants quickly. Unfortunately I only have ONE spot that is shady and that’s on the front north-facing porch. That being said, I thought of you when I planted my pot this year. It’s green/white caladium, orange carnival begonia, a variegated variety of large ivy, which I love, and purple sweet potato vine all topped off with curly willow twigs. I am in love with it and wish I had more shade to work under. I find I prefer shade plants over sun because they have to be creative in making a impact over those that show off and flower in the sun. So glad it’s right by my front door for all to enjoy. Thanks for inspiring me!

  9. Heather Burkhardt says

    Great post. I have long admired your use of caladiums in the shade containers. The last photo looks like an underwater reef scape!

    • Deborah Silver says

      Thanks, Heather. I like the idea of watery in the shade. Why didn’t I think of this? Best, Deborah

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