“You can’t control the weather” is a common enough gardening phrase. But you can control, to a degree, the amount of shade or sun your plants receive. Even though you can’t move the clouds or redesign your house, you can still select which plants you’ll put in a certain area.

Nature has cleverly already solved the problem of which plants grow best in full sun, which in partial shade and which in perpetual shade. All you have to do is observe your gardening environment and pick the appropriate plant for a given spot. But, before you can pick a proper plant you have to know what kind of shade you have.

‘Full sun area’ is just what the phrase says, an area that receives a full day of sunshine, anywhere from 6-12 hours or more during the summer, depending on where you live.

Partial sun or partial shade occurs in areas where there is ample light, but it is supplied indirectly. This happens under awnings, beneath large or heavily-leafed trees or under any other kind of covered area.

All the light received, which is usually plenty for most plants, is reflected light. As it reflects off different surfaces it usually loses a lot of energy, which means there’s less for the plant. But that ‘less’ is often just the right amount for healthy growth without producing excessive drying or burning. That helps keep the soil warm and the plant’s leaves well supplied with sunlight for photosynthesis.

‘Full shade’, by contrast, means an area that receives very little light, even indirectly. It’s not completely dark, but it is dim and all the light reaching it has been reflected many times. That causes it to lose most of its energy, leaving little for the plant. Soil in such areas is often no more than cool at best.

Very few flowering plants do well in full shade, but it’s ideal for many kinds of ground cover. Mosses are the most obvious example. Walk around a heavily shaded forest and you’ll find moss growing. It’s often moist and accompanied by other types of fungi, wild mushrooms and the like.

A wide variety of plants, many of which produce beautiful flowers grow well in partial shade. In such areas there is often no more than 1-2 hours of direct sunlight per day, though there will be several hours of reflected light. The sunlight it does receive will rarely occur during the hottest hours of the day.

Hostas do well in partial shade. Their large leaves are great for absorbing the available light and they produce beautiful pale flowers on long stocks during late Spring and early Summer. Impatiens also do well in partial shade and produce a lovely pink or orange colored flower. Foxgloves, too, can thrive well in partial shade, provided the soil is warm enough.

Pick the right flower for the right conditions and you’ll be off to a great start.