Great flowers for containers in shade range from pale colors that provide a cool retreat in summer, to dramatic flowers that create a focal point in the garden. Whichever flowers you chose, first consider the basic rules of container design:

Bonfire begonia
Bonfire begonia is great as a filler for lots of containers.
© Tesselaar Plants

1: A thriller – this is a tall plant that sits either in the middle of the container or at the back;

2: The filler – these mid-sized plants cover the lower stems of the thriller and fill out the design;

Spillers in containers
This double tiered container uses lots of ‘spillers’. When you use perennials in the container, remove them at the end of the year and put them into the garden, or divide the perennial and put one in the garden and the other back into the container. Perennials such as coral bells are planted in the container in fall along with other bulbs for a great early flowering container. Replace the spring blooming plants with summer blooming depending on when the weather has settled into summer conditions.

3: The spiller – these are low growing groundcover-type plants that soften the edge of the container and fall over the sides.

The second consideration is the relationship of the plants to the container. In general, the container should take up 1/3 of the height while the plant material provides the other 2/3s.

For hanging baskets in the shade pick two or three varieties that have similar ‘spiller’ habit and that blend well together drape over the side of the container.

Great plants for thrillers include:

Astilbe varieties – a perennial which produce plumes of pink or white flowers in late spring to early summer;

Balsam – an annual that reaches about 18 inches in height and produces flowers in a variety of color all summer long;

Fushia – annual for most of us but does well in containers and flowers most of the summer.

For fillers:

Begonias come in a wide variety of forms and flowers, but Dragon Wing varieties, and the variety ‘Bonfire’ all have bright red flowers and make a great fillers for larger containers (or thriller for smaller containers);

Ornamental peppers also produce bright red pods all summer long;

Coleus varieties – pinch these plants back regularly to keep them bushy. The leaves themselves are a feature in the container and they produce pretty blue flowers sporadically all summer.

For Spillers:

Colorful Lantana perennial.
© Thinkstock

Lantana is perennial to zone 6 and annual above that but it produces red/orange/yellow range of flowers, depending on the variety;

Sweet potatoes vine has both green and black leaf varieties and does produce little sweet potatoes too! (though they are not as good as the true vegetable sweet potato).

Many petunias and calibrachoa (a smaller leaf plant than petunias) varieties also make great spillers for your container as well as hanging baskets.

by Kate Copsey, Freelance Garden Writer