Answer: Japanese maples actually prefer filtered shade from hot afternoon sunshine. If that describes the site, then the following maples will be happy:
Acer palmatum 'Bloodgood', with deep red oliage; 'Ornatum', also known as laceleaf maple; 'Butterfly', which grows to only 7 feet in height.
Suggestions for ferns include Adiantum (maidenhair fern), Athyrium, Pyrrosia (Japanese Felt Fern), Osmunda (Royal Fern) and Davallia (Squirrel's Foot Fern).
To brighten up the area, plant variegated leaf Hostas, Astilbe (with bright pink plumes), primroses and violets. With this combination of plants, your new shade garden will look spectacular!
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