10 shade plants – best flowering and evergreen plants for low-light gardens

Shade plants: Best 10 perennial, evergreen shade loving plants that will flower and thrive in low-light conditions.

Shade loving plants: pink rhododendron
(Image credit: Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash rhododendron)

Shade plants come in all varieties and there is lots to get excited about when planting up a shaded border, low or dappled light spot in your garden space. From evergreen perennials that flower all spring and summer long, only to keep their stunning foliage through the cooler months – which will still add structure and beauty to an outdoor space – to foliage heavy shade loving plants that are sure to add heaps of character, shade garden or not, you will find the perfect plants to make your space spectacular.

What plants grow in full shade?

We spoke with Chris Bonnett from GardeningExpress.co.uk who revealed some of the best shade loving plants if you have a north-facing garden or covered areas in your backyard. 'Homes with north-facing gardens can lack sunlight for a lot of the day but a shady garden doesn’t mean you can’t create a stunning display of plants and shrubs. Among the suitable plants are shade loving hostas, sweet smelling Lily of the Valley and colourful Rhodedendron. South facing gardens are top of the wish-list for lots of homeowners but if your garden faces the north, there is still lots you can do. It’s all about picking the right plants and shrubs – those which grow well in shade – and planting them in a suitable place in your garden. In no time at all you’ll have a flourishing space. South facing gardens can have their downsides too – some plants will find it too hot and sunny and constant summer sun can make the space too hot to enjoy.'

1. Hosta sieboldiana, a perennial shade plant

Shade loving plants: Hostas

(Image credit: Getty Images 551421919)

Hosta are gorgeous hardy and herbaceous perennials that will add structure and greenery to every outdoor space, especially in garden borders. Best suited to clay or loamy soils, they do well in sheltered spots of North-facing as well as East and West-facing gardens. Their leaves are often delightfully variegated or colored, as you'd find with many of your houseplants and some will give you bell-shaped flowers in the summer months. Note their need for moist but well-drained soil. Bonnet adds 'Hostas love the shade and only need a little sun to bring on the colour in their leaves. These are perfect for borders in a north facing garden.'

2. Rhododendron, an evergreen shade loving plant

Shade loving plants: pink rhododendron

(Image credit: Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash rhododendron)

This evergreen and deciduous shrub enjoys dappled sun and will reward you with flowers in spring. Most varieties are fully hardy but they do need protection from cold, drying winds and shouldn't be in dark shade under a tree for example. 'Not all Rhododendrons thrive in shade so check before you buy. Those that do will provide evergreen colour all year round as well as beautiful blooms during spring' says Bonnett. Rhododendron are surface-rooting so don't plant them too deep and remember they will loose their foliage but come back year after year.

Buy Rhododendron from Thompson & Morgan.

3. Lily of the valley, Convallaria majalis – a fragrant shade plant

Lily of the valley Shade loving plants

(Image credit: ibulb 44797)

A gorgeous addition to flower beds or to use as ground cover, Lily of the valley is pretty hardy and so a great low maintenance garden addition. 'This plant loves full shade so is perfect for a north-facing garden and will spread to create a lovely show of foliage and flowers. The small and delicate bell like flowers have a beautiful, rich scent' says Bonnett. 

Find Lily of the Valley varieties at Thompson & Morgan.

4. Brunnera 'Alexander's Great', Brunnera macrophylla – a perennial border shade plant

Brunnera 'Alexander's Great' shade loving plant for garden

(Image credit: Thompson & Morgan)

Brunnera 'Alexander's Great', or Siberian Bugloss, is a hardy, resilient plant that thrives in shady conditions. Its cool-green leaves are pretty, and shoots of sky-blue flowers appear every spring. You should water Brunnera plants regularly throughout summer until fully established and ensure the soil is well drained, moist and fertile soil. Use manure or homemade compost on drier soils. Brunneras do well at the front of a garden border and as ground cover also plus, you could use their flowers in a bouquet.

Shop Brunnera at Thompson & Morgan

5. Vinca major 'Maculata' – a great shade plant for ground cover

Vinca major 'Maculata' garden plant for shade

(Image credit: Thompson & Morgan)

Vinca, or periwinkle, is an excellent easy flower to grow in large dappled light spots in the garden. Its low-growing habit makes it perfect as ground cover, and the pretty violet-blue flowers add plenty of interest, ideal in sloped gardens and for cottage garden settings too. Water well until established.

Shop Vinca now

6. Pieris 'Forest Flame' – a shade loving shrub

Pieris 'Forest Flame' garden plant for shade

(Image credit: Thompson & Morgan)

This stunning shrub is surprisingly easy to grow and is very happy in a shady border. Its bright-red foliage makes a great addition to woodland gardens to add a little color. Be sure to protect plants from frost while young and find a spot with moderately fertile, rich, well drained and acidic soil. If container gardening, pick ericaceous compost.  

Shop Pieris 'Forest Flame' now

7. Bergenia 'Abendglut' – a shade loving plant that's bee-friendly too 

Bergenia 'Abendglut' garden plant for shade

(Image credit: Waitrose Garden)

Bergenias are perennials that do very well in dappled shade, producing lovely bright flowers in the spring and large, green 'elephant-ear' foliage through the year that turns deep red come winter. It's no surprise that Bergenias are attractive to insects and a great source of nectar for bee-friendly gardens too. Once flowered, remove faded flowerheads and cut off damaged foliage in spring. Then lift and divide large clumps in early spring to ensure healthy regrowth. They will do well in most soil types, including clay and dry soils.

Shop Bergenia now

8. Ferns, Athyrium niponicum – 

Athyrium niponicum var. pictum garden plant for shade

(Image credit: Waitrose Garden)

Ferns are perhaps the most popular plants for shade in the garden, but we think there is none prettier than the Japanese Painted Fern. Its delicate leaves make the perfect companions for all other shade loving plants on our list. Mix lots of leaf mould, pine needles, or compost into the planting hole, and in the fall/winter, mulch with straw. It prefers Moist, fertile soil which is neutral to acidic. 'Ferns are the perfect choice for a north-facing garden and will thrive in the shade. These won’t bring you big blooms but will add interest and texture' says Bonnett.

Shop Japanese Painted Fern now

9. Snowdrop, Galanthus nivalis

Snowdrops | shade loving plants

(Image credit: Dieter K on Unsplash)

These delicate floral shade plants will create the perfect little woodland area in low-light outdoor spaces. Snowdrops have hardy bulbs and both single and double flowered varieties make the loveliest ground cover within a lawn or around the base of trees and shrubs. They are easy to grow, thrive in full shade and moist, heavy soils. Bonnett adds, 'Snowdrops are always the first sign that spring is just around the corner. Grow snowdrops in a sunny spot and the flowers will only last a short time. Plant in a shady border and you will get the best display.'

Buy Snowdrops from Thomspon & Morgan.

10. Snake's Head Fritillary, Fritillaria meleagris 

Fritillaria meleagris shade loving plants

(Image credit: ibulb 209167 Fritillaria meleagris)

Snake's Head Fritillary is a truly unique shade flower boasting a colored, chequered-like design on white pendant blooms. Great ground cover, part of a lawn or not, and these guys usually self seed so your gardening is made easy. Bonnet adds, 'These beautiful wildflowers are eye-catching and very easy to grow. They are also great for attracting bee and butterflies into your garden.'

Buy Snake's Head Fritillary from Thomspon & Morgan.

Nothing shady about these 🌷

Anna is a professional writer with many years of experience. She has a passion for contemporary home decor and gardening. She covers a range of topics, from practical advice to interior and garden design.