My favorite find of the past few years hands down is 'Little Honey' oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia 'Little Honey', zones 5 to 9). If you know oakleaf, you know it is an easy-to-grow plant, works well even in dry shade and blooms in summer with big cones of white flowers. This honey of a hydrangea adds outstanding gold foliage to that mix, and at 4 feet by 4 feet, it's a smaller plant that will fit well in gardens of any size. The more sun it gets, the more gold it will be, but it grows best is part shade.
Another introduction in recent years is a new twist on an old favorite: Dream Catcher beauty bush (Kolkwitzia amabilis 'Maradco', zones 4 to 8). This gold plant is often marketed for sun, and it will grow there, but in part shade I've found it's just as happy, and its foliage tends not to bleach or burn like it might in full sun. Beauty bush blooms light pink in springtime on old wood, but I grow it more as a foliage plant. If you want your beauty bush to grow taller, and you notice it's sending up long antennae of new growth, prune off the moplike growth at its base to encourage those new, tall stems to thicken up. Mine has tripled in height in three years.
In the category of gold perennials for shade, several gold spiderworts (Tradescantia cultivars, zones 5 to 9) have hit the market over the past few years. Some can take more sun than others, but they truly shine in light to partial shade. 'Sweet Kate' is a common variety, with blue flowers. 'Sunshine Charm', pictured, has pink. Spiderworts are adaptable plants when it comes to water, but I think these gold varieties do better in average to moist soil. They also tend to be modest clumpers (to 18 inches tall and wide), unlike their spreading, nongold counterparts.
I know I've mentioned it before, but I'm absolutely gaga for 'All Gold' Japanese forest grass (Hakonechloa macra 'All Gold', zones 5 to 9) for shade. Japanese forest grasses are dynamos for shade, take dry soil once they're settled in, and mature to 1½ feet tall and wide. This variety glows like a beacon, and for gold, you'll be amazed at how well it meshes with other colors — it goes with just about anything.
I wish I had a better photo of this last gold plant for shade, because it's a doozy: 'Golden Arrow' fleece flower (Persicaria amplexicaulis 'Golden Arrow', zones 4 to 7) not only features gold foliage, but it blooms with reddish-magenta flowers anytime from mid to late summer. This hearty plant will grow in sun if the soil is wet, but it's happiest in at least partial shade, regardless of the soil. Some fleece flowers have a reputation for being weeds, and this one will spread around if it's happy, but never to the weedy extreme. It grows to 3 feet tall and 2 feet wide.
More: Great foliage plants
More: Great foliage plants