Hostas and geraniums

Plants for a north-facing border

We pick some the best plants to grow in the shade of a north-facing border.

North-facing borders are in shade for much of the day, providing the ideal conditions for a variety of shade-loving plants.

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With the right choices, you can transform this area into a valuable part of the garden. We’ve picked a collection of gorgeous plants with lush foliage, scented flowers and evergreen colour to fill your borders with.

The soil around north-facing borders and walls can be quite dry – if you’re after more plants for spots like this, take a look at our feature on plants for dry shade.

Not sure what aspect your garden is? Find out in our handy guide to the types of garden shade.

Discover five plants for a north-facing border, below.

Lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis) is well-known for its richly scented flowers. 

Snowdrops

Snowdrops are a cheery sight in winter as the fresh foliage and flowers emerge from dormancy. The flowers don’t last as long in sunny areas, so grow them in a north-facing border for the best display.

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Snakes’s head fritillaries

These pretty, native wildflowers are unmistakeable. They’re also trouble-free and easy to grow. Try combining snake’s head fritillaries with wood anemones and snowdrops, that enjoy growing in similar conditions.

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Lily of the valley

Lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis) is well-known for its richly scented flowers. It thrives in full shade and will gradually spread to form a carpet of foliage and flowers. Makes a great cut flower.

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Erythroniums

Dog’s tooth violets (Erythronium dens-canis) are pretty spring-flowering bulbs. They don’t grow to a great height, so are ideally planted towards the front of borders. Here’s how to plant dog’s tooth violets in autumn.

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Hostas

North-facing borders will receive a bit of morning sun, which for hostas helps to bring out the colour of the leaves. Here it’s planted with Gillenia trifoliata and Geranium phaeum ‘Album’, both of which can be grown in a north-facing border.

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Rhododendrons

Try growing rhododendrons if you’re gardening on acid soil. They provide evergreen colour, plus colourful, often scented blooms in spring. Not all cultivars can be grown in shade, so be sure to check this before buying.

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Hydrangea vine

Hydrangea vines (Schizophragma) are deciduous climbers producing panicles of summer flowers similar to those of hydrangeas. Ideal for covering north-facing walls and fences.

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Astilbes

Astilbes are moisture-loving herbaceous perennials that are often used in boggy planting schemes. The fluffy flower plumes are perfect for adding colour to borders. ‘Deutschland’ has white flowers and ‘Rheinland’ has ice-pink blooms.

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Ferns

There are lots of ferns you could grow in the shady conditions of a north-facing border. Large ferns include the royal fern (Osmunda regalis)  and shuttlecock fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris). For the front of the border, consider small ferns like the common polypody (Polypodium vulgare).

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Sarcococca

Sweet, or Christmas box (Sarcococca confusa) is an evergreen shrub, with sweet-smelling blooms that appear from December to March. Plant near a path or doorway to make the most of the fragrance.

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Improving the soil before planting

Before you plant, make sure you improve the soil you’ll be planting in by incorporating plenty of organic matter, such as leaf mould. Here’s our full advice on how to improve your soil.

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