Many gardens have shady areas, where sun-loving plants won’t thrive. The good news is that there are plenty of plants that can tolerate or even prefer a shaded position.
The most important thing is to understand the type of shade that you have – there are various kinds. Light shade means slight shade for all or most of the day; partial shade means plants are in sun for some of the day; dappled shade is blotchy shade created when the sun filters through overhead foliage. Plus, the soil in your shady spot could be damp or dry. All of these factors will determine what plants you can grow.
More advice on gardening in shade:
- Types of garden shade
- 20 plants for dry shade
- 10 best fruit crops for shade
- 10 best vegetables for shade
- Container plants for shade
- Climbers for a shady wall or fence
- 10 unusual perennials for shade
- Choose plants for shade
When choosing plants for shade, remember that too many dark greens can make a shady area look gloomy. Instead, use them for background structure and texture, then bring the area alive by making use of pale, pastel colours. White, cream, pale yellow, lilac, light mauve and pale pink show up best. Add variegated plants for splashes of cream, yellow and white.
We recommend 20 of the best plants for shade, below.
Stinking iris, Iris foetidissima
Stinking iris thrives in full shade, particularly beneath trees. It has architectural evergreen foliage and dull purple-green flowers, but it comes into its own in autumn when its large seedpods split open to reveal rows of orange-red seeds that remain well into winter. The Royal Horticultural Society has given it the prestigious Award of Garden Merit (AGM).
Height x Spread: 75cm x 45cm
(Please note, some plants may not always be in stock at smaller nurseries, and at certain times of the year.)
Wood spurge, Euphorbia amygdaloides var. robbiae
There are many varieties of spurge, but Euphorbia amygdaloides var. robbiae is one of the lovliest. From late spring it bears lime-green flowers above dark green leaves. Perfect for dry shade, it works well beneath trees and woodland borders. Left unchecked it can become invasive. The Royal Horticultural Society has given it its prestigious Award of Garden Merit (AGM).
H x S: 70cm x 1m
Snowdrop, Galanthus nivalis
The snowdrop, Galanthus nivalis, flowers at the end of winter, often pushing up through frozen ground and blooming for weeks until the daffodils appear. It thrives in full shade, particularly in heavy, moist soils. The Royal Horticultural Society has given it its prestigious Award of Garden Merit (AGM).
H x S: 15cm x 8cm
Winter aconites, Eranthis hyemalis
Aconites grow into clumps, eventually bearing masses of bright yellow flowers in late January and February. They thrive in damp shade so are perfect for growing in a damp, shay border or woodland garden. The Royal Horticultural Society has given it its prestigious Award of Garden Merit (AGM).
H x S: 10cm x 5cm
There are many varieties of bellflower, most of which thrive in shade. Campanula lactiflora (pictured) bears pretty clusters of purple-blue bell-shaped flowers, above heart-shaped green leaves, from summer to autumn. It’s perfect for growing toward the back of a border and works well in traditional or cottage garden planting schemes. Like all bellflowers, its blooms are a magnet for bees and other pollinators.
H x S: 80cm x 60cm
Foxglove, Digitalis purpurea
Our native foxglove, Digitalis purpurea, is a woodland plant that thrives in dappled or partial shade. There are many cultivars and varieties that flower in different colours and have different shaped blooms. Most thrive in partial shade but some require more sun.
H x S: 1.5m x 45cm
Granny’s bonnet, Aquilegia
Aquilegias are a charming, old-fashioned cottage garden plant with bonnet-shaped flowers, perfect for growing in partial shade. Aquilegia flabellata (pictured) is a dwarf columbine, bearing blue nodding flowers over a compact mound of waxy grey-green foliage. The Royal Horticultural Society has given it its prestigious Award of Garden Merit (AGM).
H x S: 30cm x 15cm
Bleeding heart, Lamprocapnos spectabilis
Bleeding heart, Lamprocapnos spectabilis (Dicentra), bears pink-red, heart-shaped flowers with white tips, which hang from arching flower stems in late spring to early summer. It grows well in light, damp shade and looks good growing in clumps amongst shrubs. The Royal Horticultural Society has given it its prestigious Award of Garden Merit (AGM).
H x S: 60cm x 45cm
Lungwort, Pulmonaria, is named after 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 groundcover plants, especially for shady borders. Funnel-shaped flowers are borne in shades of blue, violet, pink, purple, red and white.
H x S: 50cm x 50cm
Siberian bugloss, Brunnera macrophylla
Brunnera macrophylla is the perfect plant for shady gardens. With mid-green, heart-shaped foliage and forget-me-not like blooms forming on tall stems, it’s great for edging paths and mixing with other shade-tolerant plants, particularly in woodland borders.
H x S: 45cm x 45cm
Lords and ladies, Arum maculatum
A native woodland perennial, Lords-and-Ladies, Arum maculatum, is perfect for growing beneath trees and shrubs, which suck moisture from the soil. It bears unusual spring flowers, followed by dense clusters of dark red berries.
H x S: 45cm x 45cm
There are many types of cranesbill geranium, many of which thrive in shade. Dusky cranesbill, Geranium phaem (pictured) is particularly shade tolerant, and quickly grows to a dense weed-suppressing matt of green, deeply lobed leaves with distinctive purple blotches around the centre, from which small, nodding, purple flowers with yellow centres appear on tall stems, from late spring to early summer.
H x S: 90cm x 50cm
A winter-flowering staple in the cottage garden, hellebores thrive in dry shade, bearing large clusters of saucer-shaped flowers with white, pink, green, mauve or smoky purple flowers. Helleborus ‘Garden Red’ (pictured) bears single red flowers.
H x S: 30cm x 30cm
Astrantias are superb perennials for growing in shade beneath under trees or in a moist border. They prefer moist soils but will tolerate drier conditions as long as the plants are mulched. Astrantia major ‘Gill Richardson’ (pictured) is a gorgeous variety with large, cherry red flowers.
H x S: 90cm x 25cm
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Ivy, Hedera helix
English ivy, Hedera helix, is the ultimates shade-loving climber. It can be used to cover shady walls and trained to climb up or spread out along a low wall. Being evergreen, ivy is perfect for covering pergola poles, or creating a leafy backdrop beneath clematis and climbing roses.
H x S: 10m x 10m
Sow bread, Cyclamen coum
Hardy cyclamen, Cyclamen coum, is a pretty hardy perennial, bearing delicate silver-lined dark green leaves and dainty blooms in shades of white, pink and red, from late winter to early spring. It’s perfect for growing in partial shade, at the base of small shrubs and trees, and naturalising in grass. The Royal Horticultural Society has given it its prestigious Award of Garden Merit (AGM).
H x S: 8cm x 10cm
False goatsbeard, Astilbe
False goatsbeard, Astilbe, bears showy plumes of dramatic flowers, over fern-like foliage. It’s perfect for a shady corner, where its dramatic blooms add height and colour.
H x S: 60cm x 45cm
Solomon’s seal, Polygonatum x hybridum
Solomon’s seal, Polygonatum x hybridum, is an old cottage garden plant, bearing graceful, arching stems with paired, oval leaves and dangling, green-tipped, white bell-shaped flowers from late spring to early summer. It’s perfect for growing in a partially shaded border or woodland planting scheme, and looks lovely paired with corydalis and bleeding heart.
H x S: 1.25m x 30cm
Himalayan blue poppy, Meconopsis baileyi
Himalayan poppy, Meconopsis baileyi, bears spectacular, bowl-shaped blue flowers with bright yellow centres, in late spring to early summer. It makes a dramatic statement when grown en masse, and does best when grown in moist, neutral to acid soil in a partially shaded spot. The Royal Horticultural Society has given it the prestigious Award of Garden Merit (AGM).
H x S: 1.2m x 45cm
Coral bells, Heuchera
Heucheras are attractive, mound-forming plants, perfect for growing in light shade. There are many heuchera cultivars to choose from, coming in a range of unusual colours and forms. Some are tolerant of dry soils while others prefer damper habitats.
H x S: 50cm x 40cm
In this short video, Monty Don selects two beautiful flowering perennials to add instant colour to borders in light or dappled shade. Watch and you’ll see why he’s chosen them: Thalictrum delavayi, with its airy froth of small mauve flowers, and the elegant white-flowered Japanese anemone Anemone x hybrida ‘Whirlwind’. Plant them in summer and they’ll flower into autumn, establishing quickly in the warm soil.