Most gardens have some dry shade, at the foot of walls where foundations draw water from the soil, or under eaves where little rain falls. Trees also create dry shade, as their roots take up a lot of water.
As a general rule shade-lovers with large leaves, such as rodgersia and hostas, are best avoided when planting in dry shade, as such lush foliage requires a continually moist soil.
Discover 20 beautiful plants for dry shade that will thrive in these tricky conditions, as long as you look after them while they get settled in.
Long-flowering Japanese anemones, such as ‘Honorine Jobert’ are brilliant plants for late summer and autumn colour. Their white and pink flowers, with a ring of yellow anthers, are held on tall, swaying stems.
Astrantias have delicate, pincushion-like flowers from June to August. These clump-forming perennials come in a range of colours, from white and dusky pinks to deep red. Though they prefer moist soil, they’ll tolerate drier conditions if mulched.
Euphorbia amygdaloides var. robbiae
Revealing vivid lime flowers in late spring, this tough, fast-growing wood spurge, Euphorbia amygdaloides var. robbiae, is perfect for dry spots under trees.
One of the most dramatic shrubs for shade, Fatsia japonica is an exotic-leaved evergreen is completely hardy outdoors and will eventually make a magnificent plant.
The sumptuous flowers of hellebores open from late winter. The colours of this invaluable perennial range from white to pink, plum and near-black.
Hydrangeas are valuable plants with large, colourful blooms. They do well in shade, even under trees, and put on a show from summer to autumn.
This evergreen climber is synonymous with shade. Our native Hedera helix has glossy green leaves and is ideal for ground cover or clothing a wall.
Perfectly adapted to growing under trees, Cyclamen hederifolium sends up a volley of tiny shuttlecock flowers in early autumn.
Lily of the valley
Convallaria majalis has one of the loveliest fragrances in the garden, produced by small, waxy bells that appear in early summer. Surprisingly robust, it forms dense ground cover, even in sites with very limited light.
Liriope muscari is a tough perennial that copes even in the darkest and driest of conditions. Its purple blooms are a valuable asset in autumn, rising above its evergreen, straplike leaves.
A versatile grass with bronze-green foliage, Anemanthele lessoniana flowers from June to September, turning shades of copper and gold in the autumn. It self-seeds freely to create more plants.
Pyracantha ‘Soleil d’Or’
The zesty berries of evergreen shrub Pyracantha ‘Soleil d’Or’ almost glow during autumn in a shady spot. It can also be trained against a north-facing wall.
Skimmia japonica subsp. reevesiana
The vivid berries of Skimmia japonica subsp. reevesiana ride out winter intact, perking up a gloomy spot.
Snowdrops (Galanthus) has no issues with a shady spot and does particularly well under the canopy of a deciduous tree.
Meadow rue (Thalictrum) are gorgeous, airy perennials, producing clusters of starry blooms. Some species, such as Thalictrum aquilegifolium (pictured) can grow to over a metre tall, while others, like Thalictrum ichangense will stay around 20cm in height.
The shiny, evergreen foliage of Viburnum tinus sets off the white flowers, which appear from April to December. Trim away the lower leaves to reveal the shrub’s stems.
Native wood anemones, Anemone nemorosa, create carpets of spring flowers beneath trees. The blooms are often flushed with pink.
A beautiful geranium bearing delicate, pale flowers for months on end. Cultivars to grow include ‘Spessart’ and ‘Ingwersen’s Variety’.
Many species of Dryopteris can be grown in areas of dry shade, including Dryopteris wallichiana (pictured). If you’re after more ferns for dry shade, take a look at this video guide on how to grow ferns in dry shade.
Epimediums are great low-maintenance perennials that thrive in dry soil, and associate well with plants like hellebores and spring bulbs. Best grown in an acid soil.
Planting in shade
To give plants in dry shade the best chance, it’s a good idea to spend a bit of time improving the soil before planting. Incorporate plenty of organic matter such as leaf-mould or garden compost, to make the soil more moisture-retentive.