Plants for shady gardens

Plants for shady gardens

Shady gardens can be beautiful. On blazing hot summer days, what could be better than a comfortable seat in the shade? Flower colours are softer in the darkness, and green foliage takes centre stage, creating a tranquil setting with just a hint of mystery.

How to choose plants for a shady garden

To make the most of a shady garden, don’t try to fight it. Sun-loving plants like lavender, roses and dahlias will look spindly and miserable in too much shade – not a recipe for a delightful garden.  Choosing plants for a shady garden calls for a change of viewpoint. Instead of brightly coloured flowers, use contrasting foliage colours and shapes to keep things interesting all year round.  Lacy ferns and tall grasses look sensational next to bold-leaved plants such as hostas.

And if you crave colour, you can always add it through garden furniture or pots. Red and green are complementary colours, so a red pot will stand out vividly against a green background, while soft blues and mauves harmonise beautifully with dark green foliage.

Plants for dry shade

Even the sunniest garden is likely to have some dry shade under trees or near walls. This is the most robust area to plant anything in, but some plants will grow and even thrive under these conditions. To help your plants cope, dig in lots of well-rotted farmyard manure when planting, and mulch annually. Here are a few stalwarts for dry shade:

  • Aucuba japonica ‘Crotonifolia’ – a reliable evergreen shrub with yellow-spotted green leaves and bright red berries in winter.
  • Mahonia aquifolium – a large architectural shrub with holly-like dark green leaves and spires of sensationally scented yellow flowers in late winter, followed by dark blue berries which birds love.
  • Hellebores – the palmate evergreen leaves look good all year round, and the beautiful winter flowers are a bonus. 
  • Geranium macrorrhizum – an excellent groundcover plant with aromatic evergreen foliage and bright pink flowers in spring.
  • Dryopteris wallichiana – a deciduous fern with long, elegant bright-green fronds.
  • Epimediums – heart-shaped leaves and tiny, dainty flowers in spring.

Plants for damp shade

Reliably moist soil in the shade is the ideal situation for a whole range of gorgeous plants, even including a few with brightly coloured flowers. Here are a few to try:

  • Hostas – bold architectural leaves and lilac or white flower spires in summer. The thicker-leaved varieties are slightly less prone to slug and snail damage.
  • Astilbes – fern-like foliage and plumes of pink, red or white flowers in summer.
  • Primula japonica (Candelabra primula) – tall, upright flower spikes with brightly coloured flowers in summer.
  • Lamprocapnos spectabilis (previously Dicentra, also called Bleeding heart) – arching stems bear pretty locket-shaped pink flowers in spring.
  • Brunnera macrophylla – sprays of blue forget-me-not flowers in spring, and boldly variegated leaves that look good right through to late autumn.