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The best shade-loving plants

Shade can be difficult if your heart is set on growing summer bedding, fruit and veg, or Mediterranean plants, which need direct sun to flourish. But there are plenty of beautiful plants which thrive in shady conditions.

Many people imagine that the only way to tackle a shady patch is to turn it into a foliage garden filled with box, ivies and ferns. But too many dark greens can make a shady area look gloomy. Instead, use them for background structure and texture, then bring the area alive by making use of pale, pastel colours.

White, cream, pale yellow, lilac, light mauve and pale pink show up best. Add variegated plants for splashes of cream, yellow and white.

Types of shade

There are various degrees of shade. Light shade means slight shade for all or most of the day; partial shade means plants are in sun for some of the day; dappled shade is blotchy shade created when the sun filters through overhead foliage.

For shady places with dry or damp soil it pays to be selective - some plants thrive in these conditions. You can even find plants that suit really difficult situations such as shady watersides or areas under large trees whose roots suck all the moisture out of the ground in summer. If you have borders of moist but well-drained and humus-rich soil in light shade, you can grow choice woodland species which need exactly these conditions.

Find plants to suit your conditions, with Alan's recommendations:


Deep shade

There are even plants suitable for growing in the darkest corner, such as butcher's broom, Iris foetidissima, wood spurge and various spring bulbs, like snowdrops (pictured) and winter aconites.


Light, partial and dappled shade

Many popular border plants, such as campanula, stachys and golden rod, grow happily in both sun and light shade. Some plants actually prefer shady conditions. These include aquilegia, foxglove, bleeding heart, pulmonaria and brunnera (pictured).


Dry shade

Dry shade is often caused by trees, which suck moisture out of the soil. Suitable plants include: lords and ladies, barrenwort, cranesbill geraniums, hellebores (pictured), masterwort, astrantia, ivy, cyclamen, Viola labradorica and sweet rocket.


Damp shade

Plants that will grow in these conditions typically suit boggy areas, at the edges of ponds and rivers. These include bleeding heart (pictured), monarda, astilbe, actaea, Solomon's seal, toad lily, Himalayan blue poppy and heuchera.

Discuss this plant feature

Talkback: The best shade-loving plants
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chobhamroll 24/11/2011 at 15:29

I'm a bit confused, thought this was just what I was looking for as have a dry shade area nr to trees, but having checked out the palnts that you sayn ar OK for this only one geranium (mourning widow) states soil dry. Am I limited to this all be it pretty geranium?

Andzik 24/11/2011 at 15:29

The second thumbnail of the four is described as "cranesbill geraniums", but clicking on the the link shows a different plant, Geranium macrorrhizum. The "mourning widow" link shows the same photograph as the original "cranesbill geraniums" thumbnail, so it appears that the morning widow (Geranium phaeum) is just one variety of many cranesbill geraniums. How confusing!

somhairle 24/11/2011 at 15:29

Very useful. I have been looking for some guidance on what plants I can plant in a shady area of my garden. I actually bought some heucheras but now that I have read this article, I can consider moving some of the plants that I already have in my garden which may do better in shade.

wasawasa 24/11/2011 at 15:30

This feature is very useful, but I would like to see something specific in the future:
if any of these plants are favoured by bees, butterflies etc. - please mention it.
They need all the help they can get.
Happy gardening!