It’s vital to understand what kind of shade you have, so you can choose the right plants. Are you dealing with dry shade or damp shade? And what degree of shade have you got? This all depends on what’s casting the shade and which aspect your garden has.
The ‘aspect’ is the direction your garden faces – north, south, east or west. This affects which areas get plenty of sun and which ones are in shadow for all or part of the day.
The easiest way to work out your aspect is to stand by the outside wall at the back of your house with a compass and see which way is south. If south is directly ahead of you, then your garden is south-facing.
For the degrees of shade explained, from deep to dappled (and what grows in it), don’t forget to check out the bottom of this page.
Use our handy guide to the types of garden shade, and pick up tips on which plants will thrive in it.
Little shade with lots of sunshine on the back of the house. The far boundary faces north, so will be mostly shaded all day. With your back to the house, your right-hand boundary will be east-facing (morning sun), while your left-hand one will face west (afternoon and evening sun). Our diagram shows the degree of shade cast in the morning, noon and evening (L-R).
South-facing planting tips
Climbers for the north-facing wall include Parthenocissus henryana and ivy. For foliage, add ferns and hostas, and for flowers plant daphne, brunnera and fragrant lily of the valley. In the hottest areas, grow sun-loving plants like Verbena bonariensis, bearded irises and Mediterranean plants.
This garden will have areas of shade for much of the day. Though, north-facing surfaces, like back of the house, will get decent evening sun from May-Oct. All but the most heat-loving plants enjoy midday shade, which also stops pale colours burning out. Our diagram shows the degree of shade cast in the morning, noon and evening (L-R).
North-facing planting tips
Try woodland plants, such as hellebores, snowdrops and pulmonaria, which flower early, before the tree canopy shades out the light, and put on growth through summer despite the shade overhead. They’re ideal for areas that only get early morning sun.
These gardens are in shade in the morning and get sun during the afternoon and evening, which is ideal for camellias. Plants in a west-facing garden or area must also be able to withstand the heat of the afternoon sun over the summer months. Our diagram shows the degree of shade cast in the morning, noon and evening (L-R).
West-facing planting tips
Plants that will suit these conditions include magnolias and camellias, which like the morning shade, and perennials such as sedums and fuchsias.
East-facing gardens get mostly morning sun. Plants that like partial shade and need shelter from strong sunlight will thrive here. Afternoon shade protects plants from the sun at its hottest while evening shade will enhance the impact of white flowers that attract pollinating moths. Our diagram shows the degree of shade cast in the morning, noon and evening (L-R).
East-facing planting tips
White-flowered Nicotiana sylvestris likes evening shade and adds scent to the garden too. Plants that will cope with morning sun and cool conditions include Clematis alpina, honeysuckle and berberis.
Deep shade – Found under evergreen trees, on the north side of walls or in the shadow of buildings. Tends to be cold and dry. Grow shade-loving plants like ferns, hostas, ivy, daphne and lily of the valley
Dappled shade – Common under deciduous trees – a patchwork of shade in summer, but full sun from autumn to spring. Ideal for woodland plants like anemones and primulas that flower in spring sun before trees come into leaf
Partial shade – Most gardens have areas that get sun for only part of the day – between three and six hours in summer – depending on their aspect. Alchemilla and hardy geraniums relish partial shade