Plant some of these beauties for great garden color, even in shade.
Feathery, plumelike flowers have an airy quality; they come in shades of pink, salmon, lavender, red, and white above fernlike foliage.
A mainstay of shaded perennial borders, they're also great beside garden pools, along shaded paths, and in pots. Give them moist, rich soil.
Zones 1-7, 14-17; short-lived in 8, 9, 14-24.
Amethyst flower (Browallia hybrids)
If you love blue flowers, this annual is a must. Amethyst flower has star-shaped blooms of brilliant blue and sky blue, as well as violet and white; they nearly cover the 1- to 2-foot-tall plants.
Put them in hanging baskets or containers, then make them really happy by displaying them in a location that gets warm shade or filtered sunlight. Leaves are small, roundish, and green.
For sizzling color in pots and hanging baskets, it's hard to beat these perennials-each blooms as flouncy and vibrant as a Mexican dancer's skirt. Flowers come in every shade but blue. Hanging types bloom more profusely, but upright strains have larger flowers-you choose.
These begonias grow best in filtered shade and rich soil; water them enough to keep the soil moist but not soggy, and mist regularly.
Zones 4-6, 15-17, 21-24; H1.
Coleus (Solenostemon scutellarioides)
This perennial's brilliantly colored leaves range from ruby red and yellow to pink, orange, and blends. But for a lightly shaded patio, we're partial to lime green hues like 'Dappled Apple', sunny yellow 'Lemon Twist', or brown and lime 'Chocolate Drop'.
Either one would look refreshing in an apple green glazed pot; they're so striking, they can hold their own! Pinch the tips to encourage vigorous growth.
Zones 24; H1, H2; or anywhere as an annual; or indoors.
Copper plant (Acalypha wilkesiana)
Bronze-green, red, and orange hues splash these long oval leaves like watercolors that have run. More colorful than many flowers, copper plant is hardy only to 40°, so it's often used as an annual. But we grow it in a big caramel-colored pot that basks on a lath-covered patio in summer, then gets moved indoors for winter.
The tender evergreen shrub has thrived in its 16-inch-diameter container for about three years now-pretty good for Menlo Park, California, where winter temperatures regularly dip into the 30s. It grows 18 to 36 inches tall.
Sunset climate zones 24 or H2; or indoors.
Creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia 'Aurea')
Roundish chartreuse leaves and yellow flowers on trailing stems make this mat-forming perennial ideal for softening the edges of tall urns or hanging baskets.
We grow it in an olive green glazed pot, where it spills out around a yellow-flowered abutilon. In the ground, it grows 4 to 8 inches tall, and spreads to 2 feet-rooting as it goes.
Zones 1-9, 14-24.
Dead Nettle (Lamium maculatum)
There's nothing "dead" about this beauty; the leaves of its many varieties have a silvery sheen that nearly glows in shade.
'Ann Greenaway' has green leaves edged in yellow, with a silver stripe down the center, and pink flowers. 'Beacon Silver' has silvery gray leaves with green edges, and pink flowers. 'White Nancy' has silvery gray-green leaves with green edges, and white flowers.
Spreading to 3 feet wide, this perennial is great in hanging baskets and as pot edging.
Overwinters in zones A2, A3; 1-11, 14-24, but is grown as a winter annual in zones 12, 13.
Fancy-leafed caladium (Caladium bicolor)
Translucent as stained glass, caladium's large arrow-shaped leaves on long stalks are banded or blotched with various combinations of red, rose, pink, white, silver, bronze, or green. Outside the tropics, grow these tender perennials in rich, well-drained soil in big pots to display on a shaded patio in summer.
We love the combo pictured: The green and white caladium grows in a 6-inch plastic nursery pot nestled inside a big green pot to jazz up the striped amaryllis that lives there year round (but goes dormant in winter).
Zone H2, or store the dormant tubers indoors in winter.
Flowering maple (Abutilon hybrids)
Bell-shaped blooms of yellow, white, pink, orange, or red dangle in clusters among maple-like green leaves that are sometimes variegated with white.
The evergreen shrub grows about 8 feet tall, but we love the dwarf varieties for pots and small spaces; coral salmon 'Melon Sorbet' grows just 18 to 36 inches tall. The white and yellow forms flower almost continuously. Give the plant part shade in the hottest climates.
Zones 8, 9, 12-24; H1, H2; annual elsewhere.
For light shade, it's tough to beat Hydrangea macrophylla. The shrub is easy to grow, needing little fussing beyond watering, occasional feeding, and light pruning once a year. Yet it pumps out big mophead flower clusters-in shades of pink, blue, and white-that can reach 10 or more inches across.
For really large clusters, grow H. arborescens 'Incrediball', which has 12-inch heads that open lime green, turn snowy white, then age to pale green on plants to 10 feet tall.
Grow garden hydrangea in zones 3b-9, 14-21; H1; 'Incrediball' in zones A3; 1-21.
True geraniums-which make fluffy little mounds of foliage and small flowers in white or shades of pink or blue-thrive in the light shade of high trees.
At Sunset headquarters, we grow G. x cantabrigiense 'Biokovo', which has white blooms with a pale pink blush in late spring and early summer, in a bed under a shapely oak (it doesn't need much water).
Other pretty choices include G. cinereum 'Ballerina' (pink flowers), 'Brookside' (blue flowers), and 'Jolly Bee' (blue flowers).