I believe that would be a rhetorical question as all of us have some or a lot of shady spots in our garden. Most gardeners are familiar with the 'usual suspects' for planting in shady areas but there are actually quite a few to choose from. Here are a few of my favorites, broken down into four categories: color (colorful flowers); evergreen shrubs or perennials; deciduous plants; and low growing plants. Readers will need to check sources for the degree of shade and water needs.
Japanese anemone. There are getting to be an impressive variety of these hardy perennials. Not just pinks and whites, in single and double flowering forms, but lavender and burgandy shades as well. Tough, drought tolerant and showy!
Brunnera. People choose brunneras for their lovely heart-shaped foliage, ranging from solid mint green to striking variegated forms like Jack Frost, but they also produce the loveliest blue, forget-me-not flowers.
Begonias. Not the small bedding ones but the larger cane begonias, which range in height from 3-8 feet, with colorful leaves as large as a foot long and large sprays of pink or white flowers. Some cane begonias, like Irene Nuss, are real show stoppers!
Calceolaria. This plant's no longer a well kept secret and that's a good thing! Whether you're planting the yellow colored 'lady slippers' of C. mexicana or going bold with the burnt orange flowers of C. 'Kentish Hero' it's hard to go wrong with this long blooming small shrub.
Campanulas. Often take nor granted, there are some real showy shade loving campanulas, with open face or bell-shaped flowers ranging in color from white to pink to all manner of purples. Try C. punctata with its pink bell shaped nodding flowers sprinkled with red dots inside or C. incurva, with its large bell-shaped flowers that are an otherworldly icy-blue color.
Dicentra. We're all familiar with the pink & white "bleeding hearts" but there are quite a few varieties in this interesting genus, including D. scandens, with its canary-yellow flowers.
Francoa. Commonly known as Bridal's Wreath, this vigorous deciduous perennial produces 18" stems populated with white, pink or lavender flowers, rising from lush green foliage.
Ligularia. This plant is worth having in your shade garden just for its large, broadly heart-shaped leaves, some with striking variegation, but it also produces masses of single form yellow flowers on tall stems making it a showy addition.
Lysimachia. Many people are familiar with the gold & green 'creeping jennies' but there are also taller lysimachias that are even showier. Try L. ciliata with its spikes of bright yellow flowers, the 'Purpurea' variety having deep burgandy foliage. White isn't always dramatic but the buddleja-like cones of white flowers on L. clethroides catch the eye right away.
Plectranthus. These perennial members of the mint family are growing in popularity and I think a major reason for that is P. 'Mona Lavender.' With its showy orchid like lilac-colored flowers and dramatic purple undersides to dark green leaves, it's easily the showiest of the many species available.
Polemonium. This deciduous perennial is gaining in popularity, in part because of variegated forms like Brise d'Anjou. Most polemoniums have pale lavender-blue flowers but there are also pink and yellow flowering species. These plants add grace & charm to our gardens.
Pulmonaria. Lungworts have made the transition from medicinal curiosity to popular shade addition in part because of their dramatically speckled leaves. But the flowers hold their own too, tiny cup-shaped blue, pink or bi-colored gems that rise on six inch stems.
Thalictrum. Meadow rues are becoming more popular, thanks to the charmingly simple, tiny purple flowers on certain species or the spirea-like heads on T. flavum.
Senecio stellata. An old favorite that's making a comeback, this tough annual puts out masses of pink to purple flowers in the late spring and summer, making for a great floral show. It can bloom so heavily that sometimes the flowerheads can bend the branches to the ground!
Tricyrtis. Toad lilies make an appropriate end to this section, offering as they do sprays of extravagantly speckled funnel-shaped white, pink or purple flowers on tall stems. I'm not sure how a flower can be both subtle and dramatic but toad lilies accomplish that trick.
There are plenty more plants that bring color into shade gardens but hopefully readers will find something in this list they hadn't considered adding to their shade garden and they'll make a new best friend!