There are some outstanding perennials that are quite exotic and worth finding and growing that will give your garden a striking touch, making your garden a real showplace.

With trees leafing out and shaded areas looking greener than they did a few weeks ago, now is a good time to think about plants to make those shady areas sparkle in the garden. There are several methods you can use to make your garden more interesting. You can add annuals like impatiens and begonias to liven up a darker area or you can consider adding some perennials, bulbs and different colors of foliage plants.

There are some outstanding perennials that are quite exotic and worth finding and growing that will give your garden a striking touch, making your garden a real showplace. The beauty of perennials is that if you give them a little attention and divide them every few years, they will return year after year and give you pleasure for a long time.

You must first understand the light conditions you have in your garden. If you have full sun, finding plants with tags that read full sun are easy to understand. However, if you have shade, you will need to know if it is light shade or deep shade. Light shade is ideal for many varieties of wonderful plants such as hostas. Morning sun and afternoon shade is also a great combination for growing most perennials. However, deep shade might be more limiting.

You next need to try to understand your soil and whether you have a dry garden or moist area. If you live in a region with heavy clay, amend the soil with some organic material, rotten leaves is a great start. Clay is a good soil to have if it is amended because it has lots of minerals and holds moisture but tiny roots of plants have a hard time breaking through clay when it is dry. Remember, bricks are made of clay and do you think a small tender root can penetrate a brick?

As for moisture, if you have a good number of trees, they can take a great deal of moisture out of the ground. Some trees have deep roots and get their moisture deep down but other trees are more shallow rooted and pull moisture from the surface. White oaks and hickories are two that are deep rooted whereas American elms, maples, birch and populars tend to have shallow roots. You will need to give your plants a little more water when these trees are present.

Also, think about where down spouts deliver their water. These areas might be too wet at times for some plants and just right for others.

After knowing your growing conditions, there are many choices of plants available to you. Most locally owned garden centers have employees that are very knowledgeable about plants and can help you find the right plants for your situation. Some of the more popular plants for light shade or morning sun that flower are pulmonaria, alstroemeria, campanula, coreopsis, dianthus, geranium (the perennial one) primroses, rudbeckia, Brunnera, phlox divaricata and helleborus.

A few perennials that like a little more sun but will do fine with afternoon shade are sages, coneflowers, sedums, and phlox. The list is really quite extensive.

There are also some bulbs that flower in the summer that can brighten up a shady spot. I am crazy about lilies and they are a fantastic way to add color. Asiatic lilies are the first to bloom in our garden followed by the Turk’s Cap hybrids. Chinese trumpet lilies flower in mid-summer and the very fragrant oriental lilies and species lilies flower last.

While most people want flowers for their shade garden, do not overlook the possibility of colorful foliage to spice up your garden. This category of plants will add excitement and make your garden come alive. Some of the more popular foliage plants are hosta, ferns, Solomon’s seal and epimedium. Jack Frost brunnera has pretty blue flowers but I grow it for the foliage that reminds me of caladiums. Heucheras, tiarellas and heucherellas have become very popular in recent years and there are some outstanding colors available that span the season. Citronella, caramel and Southern Comfort are a few of the popular heucheras that perform well.

Coleus is an outstanding foliage plant that is an annual and will give you plenty of color from spring to frost. Foliage is an important part of any flower border and adding foliage with color can make certain spots look colorful all summer long.

Spring is here. Have a good time visiting your local garden centers and talk to the knowledgeable staff. It is fun to learn about these new plants and to watch them grow. Be creative and having fun is the most important thing.

–Betty Montgomery, a master gardener and author of a “Four Season Southern Garden,” can be reached at