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.
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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.'
- Find more garden ideas in our feature.
1. Hosta sieboldiana, a perennial shade plant
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.'
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2. Rhododendron, an evergreen shade loving plant
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.
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3. Lily of the valley, Convallaria majalis – a fragrant shade plant
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.
4. Brunnera 'Alexander's Great', Brunnera macrophylla – a perennial border shade plant
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.
5. Vinca major 'Maculata' – a great shade plant for ground cover
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.
6. Pieris 'Forest Flame' – a shade loving shrub
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.
7. Bergenia 'Abendglut' – a shade loving plant that's bee-friendly too
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.
- See all the best cottage garden plants in our edit.
8. Ferns, Athyrium niponicum –
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.
9. Snowdrop, Galanthus nivalis
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.'
- Take a look at our guide to gardening for beginners.
10. Snake's Head Fritillary, 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.'
- See more purple flowering plants to brighten up your garden.
Best places to buy shade loving plants for the garden
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