Melica altissima 'Alba'

Five plants for a deep shade border

Transform bare, shady areas into lush, green oases with these five key plants for deep shade.

Almost all gardens have some shady spots. This is especially true in towns and cities that often have side alleys, basement wells or gardens surrounded by tall buildings or trees.

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There are a few things you can do, such use light coloured materials or paint walls a pale colour to help bring up the ambient light levels. However, when it comes to planting it’s best to fully embrace the shade – there are so many wonderful shade lovers to choose from.

The key plants we’ve picked here can be planted together to create a semi-formal green and white border, with white flowers that will come and go over the seasons.

More on gardening in shade:

Discover our key plants for growing in a deep shade border.


1

Pittosporum tobira ‘Nanum’

Pittosporum tobira
Pittosporum tobira

These tidy evergreen shrubs are ideal for providing low-growing structure, sometimes as an alternative to box. They’re neatly mounded and compact, plus their glossy, slightly exotic evergreen foliage helps to bounce light around a shady spot. In a warm summer they carry heavenly scented creamy-white flowers. May need some winter protection in cold areas.

Height x spread: 2.5m x 2.5m.


2

Hydrangea anomala subsp. petiolaris

Climbing hydrangea flowers. Photo: Getty Images.
Climbing hydrangea flowers. Photo: Getty Images.

This classy climber relishes deep shade and is self-clinging, so the walls won’t need wiring to support it. The leaves are heart-shaped and a fresh lime green when they first appear. It blooms in early summer when it’s covered in masses of large, lacy, pure-white flowerheads.

H x S: 10m x 4m (but can be contained by pruning).


3

Anemone hybrida ‘Honorine Jobert’

Japanese anemone 'Honorine Jobert'
Japanese anemone ‘Honorine Jobert’

Japanese anemones are perfect for shady spots under trees and next to boundaries, plus, once established, they’ll cope with dry soil. ‘Honorine Jobert’ has pure-white flowers that last for ages. In spring it clumps up well, its large leaves acting as a tough ground cover, and from August into early autumn the flowers are held high on strong, wiry stems. It’s robust yet elegant and doesn’t need staking.

H x S: 1.2m x 1m.


4

Geranium sanguineum ‘Album’

Geranium sanguineum 'Album'. Photo: Getty Images.
Geranium sanguineum ‘Album’. Photo: Getty Images.

This lovely little clumping geranium copes well with shade and is ideal for the front of the border or to help fill gaps between shrubs and larger perennials. It has deeply cut leaves which make a great textural carpet when planted in quantity and will smother weeds. In May and June it produces large amounts of dainty, open white flowers.

H x S: 25cm x 30cm.


5

Melica altissima ‘Alba’

Melica altissima 'Alba'
Melica altissima ‘Alba’

This ornamental grass is an excellent early leafing and flowering plant ideal for shady conditions. It has the knack of combining perfectly with other perennials without dominating and sways beautifully in the lightest of breezes. Its leaves start off a fresh green and in May its white flowers appear to give the impression its been splashed with a brush. Overall, the appearance is both lush and soft.

H x S: 90cm x 60cm.


Border care plan

Buying and planting

  • The pittosporum will be the most costly, but are quite fast growing so don’t feel you need to buy a large plant for immediate effect
  • Look for large pots of the geranium and Japanese anemone that could be split into a few plants and will be better value than lots of small ones
  • All the plants in this border like moisture retentive soil, so add lots of organic matter before planting
  • Angle the hydrangea back toward the wall when planting so some of its stems are touching and it should self-cling as it grows
  • Water well after planting

Year-round maintenance

  • Feed all the plants in spring with fish, blood and bone or pelleted chicken manure
  • Prune the pittosporums in spring if they need it to keep them compact and in shape
  • To keep the hydrangeas in check, prune back any shoots immediately after flowering in summer
  • Cut back the faded stems and foliage of the geranium after flowering, then feed to generate new leaves and possibly a second flush
  • In late winter or early spring cut back the anemones, grasses and geranium and divide every two or three years once established
  • Water all plants during dry spells
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Creating seasonal interest