Shade affects almost every garden. Areas that get sun for half the day or less in mid-summer are described as having partial shade, whereas heavy shade, such as on the north side of a building, sees less than two hours a day. Fortunately, there are lots of enchanting plants that live happily in shade.
A colourfully-planted pot or two can be all it takes to give a shady area a lift. And you don’t need to stick to convention and grow in a standard terracotta pot. Be adventurous and create a truly unique display that will last for many months.
How to plant up a pot for shade
When creating pot displays it’s important to consider the colour and style of your container and check that it will suit the plants you’ll be growing in it. Also make sure it has drainage holes to avoid waterlogging – these can be drilled in if missing.
More on gardening in shade:
We’ve put together eight shade-loving combinations for pots, to brighten up a gloomy corner.
Corydalis and dryopteris pot display
Pots for shade – corydalis and dryopteris pot display
Feathery leaves and airy sprays of spring flowers give this pot display a dainty demeanour. A row of fern-leaved corydalis gives a long succession of blooms, backed by metallic young fronds of dryopteris ferns and bronze-tinted epimediums. The pendent pink flowers of bleeding heart add a fresh twist to the colour scheme. These plants can stay in the same container for a second spring, after which it’s best to divide them and plant them elsewhere.
We used: bleeding heart ‘Luxuriant’, Epimedium x versicolor ‘Sulphureum’, fern-leaved corydalis (Corydalis
cheilanthifolia), Japanese shield fern (Dryopteris erythrosora), bleeding heart (Lamprocapnos ‘Luxuriant’)
Euonymous and hosta pot display
Pots for shade – euonymous and hosta pot display
The yellow new shoots of the euonymus, coupled with the acid-green flower-like bracts of a centrally planted euphorbia, cut through any gloom and are set off by the sculptural blue-green foliage of the hosta. At its peak in late spring, this display holds its look throughout the year, although the hosta dies back over winter.
Take care when handling the euphorbia, as its milky sap can cause skin irritation.
We used: wood spurge (Euphorbia amygdaloides ‘Purpurea’), Euonymus fortunei ‘Emerald ’n’ Gold’, Hosta ‘Halcyon’
Tiarella and brunnera pot display
Pots for shade – tiarella and brunnera pot display
Silvery-leaved forget-me-not-flowered brunnera and frothy tiarella are the standouts in this pot display of easy-to-grow hardy perennials. The blooms last for many weeks and, if cut back once they fade, a fresh crop of handsome leaves will please for months. Carpeting ajuga and scallop-leaved alchemilla fill in with contrasting
foliage. All can be transplanted into the garden once they eventually become overcrowded.
We used: foam flower (Tiarella ‘Iron Butterfly’), Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’, dwarf lady’s mantle
(Alchemilla erythropoda), bugle (Ajuga reptans ‘Chocolate Chip’).
Bleeding heart and bergenia pot display
Pot displays for shade – Bleeding heart and bergenia pot display
Dwarf ferns are trusty long-term container plants. The locket-shaped flowers of bleeding heart are a graceful, if fleeting, treat on arching stems. Richly perfumed lily of the valley, pale-flowered bergenia and vivid blue spikes of ajuga are all good nectar sources for bees. When the flowers are over, the attractive foliage remains. In early autumn, re-pot the plants individually or transplant into borders.
We used: golden shield fern (Dryopteris affinis), white bleeding heart (Lamprocapnos spectabilis ‘Alba’), Japanese lace fern (Polystichum polyblepharum), bugle (Ajuga reptans ‘Catlin’s Giant’), lily of the valley
(Convallaria majalis), Korean rock fern (Polystichum tsussimense), elephant’s ears (Bergenia ‘Angel Kiss’).
Hosta and astilbe pot display
Pots for shade – host and astilbe pot display
This long season display features hosta, which will flower from early to midsummer, and astilbe, which will flower from mid- to late summer. The colourful leafy foliage of the golden grass will bridge any gaps of interest during the growing season.
We used: yellow-edged Hosta ‘Wide Brim’, Astilbe simplicifolia ‘Sprite’ and Milium effusum ‘Aureum’.
Asplenium, hosta and ophiopogon pot display
Pots for shade – hosta, asplenium and ophiopogon pot display
This long faux lead planter can be displayed on walls, windowsills or at the junction between walls and the floor. The upright hosta adds height, while the asplenium, ophiopogon and dichondra contrast with each other and soften the edges of the container.
We used: Hosta ‘Praying Hands’, Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’, Asplenium scolopendrium ‘Cristatum Group’ and Dichondra ‘Silver Falls’.
Heuchera and carex pot display
Pots for shade – heuchera and carex pot display
This upcycled wooden container complements the warm tones of the carex. Flowering spikes from the heuchera and heucherella will boost interest in late spring and early summer.
We used: Heuchera ‘Cappuccino’, Heucherella ‘Gold Strike’ and Carex comans ‘Bronze Form’.
Polystichum and asplenium pot display
Lush ferns and cyclamen in containers beside a white wall
Filled to the brim with ferns and cyclamens, this container is perfect for softening the hard features of a shady courtyard. Ivy-leaved cyclamen provide flowers for autumn interest, while the evergreen ferns ensure a lush display year round.
We used: Asplenium scolopendrium, Polystichum setiferum, Cyclamen hederifolium.
Pots and containers can dry out quickly, especially in hot weather. When planting, you can take steps to aid water retention by incorporating plenty of organic matter, like leaf mould. This will suit many shade-loving plants that are themselves woodland plants. You could also try incorporating water-retaining granules into the compost, that store water when wetted.