Wildlife-friendly plants for shade – red campion, Silene dicoca

Wildlife-friendly plants for shade

Want to help wildlife but have a shady garden? We've got eight perfect plants for you.

Shade is a common problem in gardens. Nearly all gardens have some areas of shade, while smaller plots and gardens in built-up urban areas are likely to have significant areas without light. Growing shade-tolerant plants is therefore vital to successful gardening in shade, but what if you want to grow plants for wildlife?

Typically, bees, butterflies and other pollinators feed in full sun. They visit flowers growing in sunny borders and use large stones and fence posts to bask in the sun’s rays and warm up their cold bodies. However, in hot summers, areas of shade can provide a respite for insects, and flowers growing in shade are less likely to run out of nectar.

Shade is a common problem in gardens. Nearly all gardens have some areas of shade, while smaller plots and gardens in built-up urban areas are likely to have significant areas without light. Growing shade-tolerant plants is therefore vital to successful gardening in shade, but what if you want to grow plants for wildlife?

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Typically, bees, butterflies and other pollinators feed in full sun. They visit flowers growing in sunny borders and use large stones and fence posts to bask in the sun’s rays and warm up their cold bodies. However, in hot summers, areas of shade can provide a respite for insects, and flowers growing in shade are less likely to run out of nectar.

Birds seem less concerned by shade than insects, while moths, most of which visit plants at night, visit flowers that are never in light.

While you are limited to what you can grow for wildlife in a shady garden, there’s still a good range of plants to grow that will provide nectar, pollen, caterpillar food and even seeds and fruit for birds.

More on gardening in shade:

Browse our list of wildlife-friendly plants for shade, below.


Lungwort

Wildlife-friendly plants for shade – lungwort, Pulmonaria
Wildlife-friendly plants for shade – lungwort, Pulmonaria

Lungwort, Pulmonaria, is named for its mottled leaves, which are supposed to resemble lungs. Different varieties produce different leaf markings, which look their best in mid spring when putting on fresh growth after flowering. They make excellent ground-cover plants, especially for shady borders. Funnel-shaped flowers appear in shades of blue, violet, pink, purple, red and white. They’re extremely attractive to bees, particularly the hairy footed flower bee, Anthophora plumipes.

Height x Spread: 40cm x 50cm


Foxglove

Wildlife-friendly plants for shade – foxglove, Digitalis
Wildlife-friendly plants for shade – foxglove, Digitalis

Foxgloves are woodland plant and are therefore well suited to growing in shade. They bear tubular flowers in shades of pink, red and white. Most foxglove varieties are biennial, meaning they flower in their second year, before setting seed and dying. Their flowers are an important source of food for bumblebees and other pollinating insects, and their leaves feed the caterpillars of a number of species of moth.

H x S: 1.5m x 45cm


Primrose

Wildlife-friendly plants for shade – primrose, Primula vulgaris
Wildlife-friendly plants for shade – primrose, Primula vulgaris

Our native primrose, Primula vulgaris, thrives in damp shade in a variety of situations, typically woodlands and beneath hedgerows. Spring-flowering, it provides an early source of nectar and pollen for bees and other pollinators, and is used as a caterpillar foodplant by several species of moth.

H x S: 


Hellebore

Wildlife-friendly plants for shade – hellebore, Helleborus
Wildlife-friendly plants for shade – hellebore, Helleborus

Hellebores produce large clusters of saucer-shaped flowers with white, pink, green, mauve or smoky purple flowers. The large leathery, evergreen leaves persist throughout the year but should be cut back in spring when flowers and new foliage emerge. Plants hybridise and self-seed freely.

H x S: 30cm x 30cm


Red campion

Wildlife-friendly plants for shade – red campion, Silene dicoca
Wildlife-friendly plants for shade – red campion, Silene dioica

Red campion, Silene dioica, is a pretty, low-maintenence wildflower, bearing delicate pink flowers on tall, rich green stems. Eventually forming bold clumps, it’s often found growing wild in woodlands and roadside verges. Long-tongued bumblebees and moths visit the flowers.

H X S: 30cm x 30cm


Hardy geraniums

Wildlife-friendly plants for shade – hardy geraniums, Geranium
Wildlife-friendly plants for shade – hardy geraniums, Geranium

Cranesbill, or hardy geraniums, are perennial border plants with saucer-shaped flowers in shades of pink, purple and blue. They’re easy to grow and flower for months. Many thrive in shade.  Geraniums are popular in cottage garden schemes and offer a long season of pollen and nectar for a number of pollinators, particularly bees.

H x S: 85cm x 85cm


Snowdrop

Wildlife-friendly plants for shade – Snowdrops, Galanthus nivalis
Wildlife-friendly plants for shade – Snowdrops, Galanthus nivalis

Snowdrops herald the end of winter. Flowering at the beginning of the gardening season, they provide pollen and nectar for a variety of pollinators.

H x S: 20cm x 8cm


Ivy

Wildlife-friendly plants for shade – Ivy, Hedera helix
Wildlife-friendly plants for shade – Ivy, Hedera helix

English ivy, Hedera helix, has many uses around the garden. It can be used to cover shady walls and trained to climb up or spread out along a low wall. Its flowers provide a late source of nectar for bees, butterflies, flies and wasps, its berries provide a calorie-rich source of food for birds, and its leave are the caterpillar foodplant for the holly blue butterfly.

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H x S: 10m x 10m


Shade is a common problem in gardens. Nearly all gardens have some areas of shade, while smaller plots and gardens in built-up urban areas are likely to have significant areas without light. Growing shade-tolerant plants is therefore vital to successful gardening in shade, but what if you want to grow plants for wildlife?

Typically, bees, butterflies and other pollinators feed in full sun. They visit flowers growing in sunny borders and use large stones and fence posts to bask in the sun’s rays and warm up their cold bodies. However, in hot summers, areas of shade can provide a respite for insects, and flowers growing in shade are less likely to run out of nectar.

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