“Think Pink” was a song in the Audrey Hepburn movie “Funny Face,” but it is also a practical idea for the garden. Not only is pink a delightful color in all its myriad hues, but it is also a perfect foil for shade.
Many beautiful pink flowers and pink-splashed foliage plants thrive in partial to full shade. Choosing just one may be difficult, but that is an attractive option.
Massing one type of plant or flower creates a strong visual impact that has never lost its appeal. A more eclectic design is achieved by grouping a variety of complementary plants in varying shades of pink. Either approach will create a stunning shade garden.
Pink Polka-dot Plant
Hypoestes phyllostachya, pink polka-dot plant, is a charming, loosely branched perennial that reaches a mature height of 12 to 18 inches. Dark green leaves are about 2 ½ inches long and covered with dots or splotches of pink. A shady location intensifies color. Polka-dot plant is a hardy perennial in USDA Zones 10 and 11 but is grown as a summer annual in cooler zones. It makes an outstanding display when massed. An excellent companion plant for pink flowers, polka-dot plant does best in moist, well-drained acid soils. For the most part, it is disease and pest resistant. Flowers are unimpressive spikes that should be removed. Plants tend to become leggy as they age, but clipping them back will keep them tidy and encourage fullness.
Impatiens wallerana is a beloved standard for shade gardens and presents itself in a plethora of pinks. From delicate shell pink to deep, hot fuchsia, impatiens probably covers the possibilities of pink better than any other shade-tolerant flower. A trip to the nursery is helpful when it comes time to select plants. Seeing them in bloom ensures that the color or colors will be satisfactory in the garden. Super Elfin XP offers a pastel shade called ‘Pink,’ a deeper ‘Rose’ and a truly ‘Deep Pink’ for a full range of shades. Other choices to consider are the double-petaled ‘Pink Ice’ or the exquisite rose-type impatiens, ‘Pink Ruffles.’ Numerous other hybrids are available in a multitude of luscious hues. Some are variegated, and some have variegated foliage for extra interest.
Annual impatiens is noted for ease of growing and for the abundance of flowers it produces. Most varieties form mounds 8 to 24 inches in height with equivalent spread. Flowers and leaves wilt noticeably if they get too much sun or not enough water. Moist, fertile soil is in order, but the soil should be well drained. Hardy in USDA Zones 4 through 11, impatiens blooms steadily until frost and does not require deadheading. If plants become leggy, cut them back and they will resume blooming.
Pentas lanceolata is one of those versatile plants that will grow in sun or shade. Though it is more robust and produces more flowers in a sunny location, pentas adapts well to shade and makes a good showing. Never-ending clusters of small, star-shaped flowers brighten the landscape all summer long in USDA Zones 8 through 11. Depending on the variety, plants may be low and mounding or tall and upright. The mounding varieties reach a height of about 12 inches; upright varieties can grow as tall as 3 feet. Pentas is perennial in mild climates, annual where it is cooler. Hummingbirds and butterflies love it. Shades to consider are ‘Graffiti Pink,’ ‘Butterfly Deep Pink’ and ‘New Look Pink.’
Numerous varieties of begonia exist, but the one most commonly used in shade gardens is the wax begonia, Begonia x semperflorens-cultorum. Height ranges from 6 to 18 inches in a mounding, spreading form. Leaves may be green, bronze, mahogany or variegated, depending on variety. Flowers may be single or double and come in a pleasing assortment of luscious pink shades. Begonias are hardy in zones 9 to 11 and are perennial in this area. Outside these zones, they grow as annuals. Begonias are easy to grow from cuttings, making them attractive to those gardening on a budget. ‘Charm Pink,’ ‘Double Pink’ and ‘Ambassador Pink’ are noteworthy selections, but there are others as well. Again, a visit to the garden center is the best way to choose colors.
Caladiums are known for their huge arrow- or heart-shaped leaves. They grow from bulb-like tubers and may be planted as such or purchased in pots at nurseries. To get a head start on a shade garden, buying quart-sized plants is a good idea. Leaves come in several shades of pink with varying amounts of green interspersed, depending on the variety. Shades vary from pastel to almost red. Some pinks of merit are ‘Pink Beauty,’ ‘Florida Sweetheart’ and ‘Fannie Munson.’
Caladium leaves are 6 to 14 inches in length. Plants can reach a height and width of 2 feet at maturity. They grow in summer in most zones, but caladiums will only survive the winter in zones 9 through 12. Tubers can be dug up and stored for re-planting in the spring. Caladiums like well-drained, humus-rich soil. Plants need frequent water during the growing period, but the ground should not become soggy.
The difficult decision, as always, is what to plant in the pink shade garden. The good news is that any one of these plants, or any combination of these plants, will make an attractive presentation. Each of these flowers or foliage plants has its own charm, and deciding which to use is a matter of personal preference. Put together several different combinations before purchasing to obtain the desired effect. Unless one plant is being massed, try interspersing ferns, hostas or other shade-loving foliage plants for texture and variety.