Hellebores make quite a splash in the shade during spring. A few years ago my Mom and I attended the "Hellebore Hurrah" at Phoenix Perennials (www.phoenixperennials.com, @PhoenixPer) and between us we bought three for my garden (thanks Mom!). Two of my hellebores are currently blooming. They have an amazingly long bloom time, starting at the end of January and still going strong at the end of April. Apricot Blush is a medium-sized plant with nodding blooms. This plant is a prolific self-seeder; last year it produced masses of shiny black seeds, which planted themselves around their parent.
My other hellebore ("Double Queen mix") puts on a spectacular show during the dreary rainy days here. It's a bushy plant that produces striking pure white nodding flowers that fade to a yellowish/greenish/pinkish tone.
Living on the West coast, it is fantastically easy to grow ferns in the garden. I planted a Maidenhair fern the first year we lived in our current house. It has been moved around a couple of times, but has found its permanent home along a north facing fence. It tends to spread in a rather crowded garden bed, but doesn't mind getting trimmed back a bit in midsummer.
My Japanese Tassel fern grows in a difficult spot in the garden beside a row of cedar hedging. Talk about low maintenance! This fern gets mulched in the spring, gets plenty of rain for 3/4 of the year, and seems to not have a care in the world.
As far as shade plants go, heucheras are all the rage here. I'm not really a fan, but I do grow three different varieties (imagine if I was a fan?!). My favourite is "Green Spice".
Green Spice is truly one of my favourite garden plants. Who could resist those amazing purple, green and silver leaves? As an experiment (and because I really wanted to buy another one), I have a second Green Spice planted in a mostly sunny area in my front yard. The colours fade in the sun, but it gets its flowers just a little bit earlier than its alter ego in the shade. Unlike some heucheras, the flowers on this plant really add nothing to its beauty; they are a nondescript and spindly.
These are the plants I'm enjoying in the shady parts of my garden right now. The corydalis will be blooming next, followed by hardy fuschia.
Imperfect gardener, learning everything the hard way.