If you find yourself gardening in shade, chances are you are always trying to liven up things a bit. Many anglers’ instincts would be to choose deep, dark colors, but my favorite ways to decorate dim spots are with foliage in glossy whites, shimmering silvers and especially golds. I admit, I always hated gold plants until I found gold foliage plants for colour. “Gold” could be a bit misleading in this context, because these plants typically are not 100% gold — their coloring is a gradient of gold to chartreuse, and that sophistication of colour is what I love most about these.
My favorite find of the past couple of years palms down is ‘Little Honey’ oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Little Honey’, zones 5 to 9). If you know oakleaf, you are aware that it is an easy-to-grow plant, works well even in dry shade and blooms in the summer with big cones of blossoms. This honey of a hydrangea adds exceptional gold foliage to that mix, and at 4 feet by 4 feet, it’s a more compact plant which will fit well in gardens of any size. The more sun it gets, the more gold it’s going to be, but it grows best is part shade.
Another introduction in recent years is a fresh spin on a classic favorite: Dream Catcher beauty bush (Kolkwitzia amabilis ‘Maradco’, zones 4 to 8). This golden plant can be marketed for sun, and it will grow there, but in part shade I’ve found it’s just too joyful, and its foliage tends to not bleach or burn like it might in full sun. Beauty bush blooms light pink in springtime on old wood, but I develop it more as a foliage plant. If you’d like your beauty bush to grow taller, and you see it’s sending up long antennae of fresh growth, prune off the moplike growth during its foundation to encourage those fresh, tall stalks to thicken up. Mine has tripled in stature in three years.
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In the class of golden perennials for shade, many gold spiderworts (Tradescantia cultivars, zones 5 to 9) have hit the market over the past couple of years. Some may take more sun than others, but they truly shine in light to partial shade. ‘Sweet Kate’ is a common selection, with blue flowers. ‘Sunshine Charm’ , pictured, has pink. Spiderworts are adaptable plants when it comes to water, but I think these golden types do better in average to damp soil. They also have a tendency to be small clumpers (to 18 inches tall and broad), unlike their spreading, nongold counterparts.
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I know I’ve mentioned previously, but I’m completely gaga for ‘All Gold’ Japanese forest grass (Hakonechloa macra ‘All Gold’, zones 5 to 9) for colour. Japanese forest blossoms are dynamos for colour, take dry soil as soon as they’re settled in, and mature to 11/2 feet tall and wide. This number glows like a beacon, and for gold, you’ll be amazed at how well it meshes with other colors — it goes with almost anything.
I wish I had a much better picture of the previous gold plant for colour, because it’s a doozy: ‘Golden Arrow’ fleece flower (Persicaria amplexicaulis ‘Golden Arrow’, zones 4 to 7) not only features gold foliage, but it blossoms with reddish-magenta flowers anytime from mid to late summer. This hearty plant will grow in sun if the soil is wet, but it’s happiest in at least partial shade, whatever the soil. Some fleece flowers have a reputation for being weeds, and this one is going to disperse around if it’s joyful, but never to the weedy intense. It grows to 3 feet tall and 2 feet wide.
More: Great foliage plants