Shade gardens have their own unique charm and can be lush, beautiful and full of interest. You can create a wonderful woodland effect if you’re planting under trees, or if you have a small, enclosed or north-facing garden, you can choose plants that will provide plenty of colour and texture with their lush foliage and flowers.
The key to planting in shady spaces is to choose the right plants for the space – plants that prefer sun will sulk if they’re positioned in a shady spot and never fulfil their potential, but there are many shade-loving varieties that will romp away happily – here are 10 of the best:
Hellebores are very easy to grow and once you have a few in your garden, they begin to self-seed and naturalise, forming attractive groups. Flowering every year in winter and spring, they add plenty of early interest to kick off the season. Combine them with woodland bulbs, like anemones, snowdrops or bluebells for a really colourful spring display.
This resilient and hardy evergreen plant provides year-round ground cover with its glossy, green foliage. In late spring, you can also enjoy its beautiful mauve flowers which are produced continuously for months along its spreading stems. If you have a large area to fill, go for a greater periwinkle (Vinca major). For smaller spaces, try the more dainty lesser periwinkle (Vinca minor).
Hardy geraniums are tough as old boots – not only can they tolerate shade but they also don’t mind being in dry soil. Forming an attractive mound of soft foliage, they produce masses of flowers throughout summer providing much-needed colour to a shady space. Their flowers attract bees and butterflies too.
Hostas are great for growing in containers as well as in borders, so they’re a great choice for shady courtyards. They do have a reputation for getting eaten by slugs, but you can put a ribbon of copper tape around your pot which will stop the slugs reaching them. These wonderful foliage plants come in an array of green, blue and variegated shades, thriving in moist, shady conditions.
Saxifraga (also known as Saxifrage) is typically a rockery plant and looks great nestled between large stones or in gravel gardens. They tolerate shade as well as sun, so they can be repeated in sunnier areas of the garden too. These low-growing plants are ideal for the front of a border, forming neat rosettes of foliage which are topped with delicate pink or white flowers on slender stems during early summer. The foliage is evergreen so it provides year-round cover and interest.
Ferns are a shade-garden classic and look particularly good planted under trees or within shrubberies, providing a woodland effect. Ferns add height, structure and texture to a shade planting scheme and combine well when interwoven with ground cover plants as well as other woodland plants, like hellebores and foxgloves.
This wonderful plant has long, spreading stems and does a great job of quickly covering ground in shade, working particularly well under trees. The silver-patterned foliage adds light to a shady space all year round which is complemented by blue or yellow flowers in summer.
Add height and movement to shady borders with this beautiful shade-loving perennial. The flowers sit on tall, swaying stems and return for a repeat performance in summer every year. The flowers turn into attractive fluffy seed heads which provide additional interest in autumn, and the foliage forms a neat mound that quickly fills a space.
Grown mainly for the broad, glossy, upright leaves, bergenias make a lovely ground cover for shade and partial shade. Plant them in large groups or swathes at the front of a border for the best effect. In late spring, they produce dense, bright pink flowers which light up the garden and also attract bees.
Peonies have bold and beautiful blooms that look fantastic in the garden, with the added bonus of being excellent cut flowers too. They tolerate shade well and prefer a rich, moist soil. They’re ideal for planting in shady beds and borders among perennials and small shrubs. It’s a good idea to stake peonies before they bloom to avoid the stems becoming weighed down and flopping.
Tips of planting in under trees:
- Remove some of the lower or over-hanging branches from trees to let in a little bit of extra light. Doing this will also allow more rain to fall on the soil to give your plants the moisture they need to thrive.
- Lots of ground-cover plants tolerate shade well. Choose shade-loving ground cover plants like periwinkle or lamium to fill the spaces between tall shrubs and perennials – they’ll provide additional colour and interest and also supress weeds.
- For best results, choose well-known varieties or those with an RHS Award of Garden Merit – these have been given this prestigious award for reliable garden performance as well as for their looks.
- Plants in shady areas often have to compete for moisture and nutrients with surrounding trees and shrubs. Water them thoroughly and regularly in the following weeks after planting to help them anchor their roots. Once they’re established they should be able to source water in the ground without additional watering. You can also feed them fortnightly with a liquid feed to give them a head start.
- As with any planting scheme, opt for a bit of repetition with your plants. Choose a few varieties that will suit the shady space and repeat groups of them to give a good overall effect.
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