A shady border with a variety of ferns and blue and white flowers

Planting scheme for a shady border

Transform a shady part of your garden with this planting scheme

A shady border provides the opportunity to grow plants that enjoy a bit of shelter from the sun.

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Before you plant, it’s a good idea to assess the soil you’re working with. If it’s below a tree or next to a fence or wall, it may well be dry. Perk up the soil by spreading a thick layer of organic matter, such as leaf mould, over the surface.

Repetition is key to ensuring your border is cohesive. Try to avoid planting just one of each plant and instead aim for loose groupings of the same plant. If you find you have gaps in your border, consider adding filling with annuals or bulbs.

You can find lots more planting options in our articles on plants to grow at the front of bordersmiddle of borders and back of borders.

This planting scheme for a shady border gives you a framework of suggested plants – theme it by colour or colours by growing certain cultivars.

No shady border would be complete without the presence of a hosta or two.

Front of the border: astrantias

Astrantias are a favourite for planting in shade, owing to their starry flowers, in shades from white to deep purple-pink and many shades between. Check out 10 of the best astrantias to grow – keeping in mind that varieties with darker flowers prefer more sunlight.

Astrantia major 'Madeleine van Bennekom'
White, starry astrantia flowers

Front of the border: Corydalis flexuosa

Corydalis flexuosa is a reliable and long-flowering species with power blue flowers that are complemented by ferny foliage. Best grown in partial shade rather than full shade. Alternatives to consider include pulmonarias, epimediums and anemones like ‘Wild Swan’.

Corydalis flexuosa
Powder-blue, elongate corydalis flowers

Front of the border: Hakonechloa macra

This lush grass is perfect for softening the edges of your shady border, bringing with it plenty of movement and texture. Looks especially impressive if planted in generous swathes. Hakonechloa macra Enjoys growing in moist, rich soil.

Hakonechloa macra
A swathe of bright-green, feathery-flowered Hakonechloa macra grass

Front or middle of the border: hostas

No shady border would be complete without the presence of a hosta or two. For the biggest leaves go for a cultivar like ‘Empress Wu’ or ‘Big Daddy’. For the front of borders try miniature hostas like ‘Blue Mouse Ears’. Hostas with variegated leaves are perfect for complementing plants with white flowers. Watch this video for hosta growing advice.

Hosta 'One Man's Treasure'
Large, heart-shaped leaves of Hosta ‘One Man’s Treasure’

Middle of the border: polygonatum

The graceful, arching stems of Solomon’s seal (polygonatum) carry bell-shaped flowers that dangle from the stems in late-spring and into summer. Most cultivars have creamy-white flowers that do a good job of brightening up shady areas, but there are cultivars, like ‘Wakehurst’, that have pink flowers.

Solomon's seal, Polygonatum x hybridum
White flowers of Solomon’s Seal hanging in graceful arches, planted amongst ferns

Middle of the border: Dryopteris wallichiana

Dryopteris wallichiana is far from the only fern you could grow in a shady border, but we’ve picked it out here because of its darkened stems that contrast well with the fresh green foliage. Other ferns to grow include Dryopteris affinis, Matteuccia struthiopteris and Asplenium scolopendrium.

Dryopteris wallichiana
Dark stems and light-green foliage of Dryopteris wallichiana

Middle of the border: red campions

Red campions (Silene dioica) are UK natives with bright pink flowers that stand up well in shade. Once planted, they’ll gently self-seed around, or you can sprinkle the dried seedheads in gaps that need filling. Find out how to collect seeds from silene and astrantia.

Red campions, Silene dioica
Pink flowers of red campion

Back of the border: foxgloves

Foxgloves have tall spires of flowers that not only suit the back of a border, but will attract pollinators, too. There are lots of cultivars and species to grow, so don’t be afraid to experiment with colour. Find out more about growing them in our foxglove grow guide.

Digitalis purpurea 'Gloxinoides Group'
Tall spires of white and pink foxgloves

Back of the border: Viburnum opulus

Shrubs that enjoy or tolerate shade are a good starting point when planning your border. From here you can start establishing where the plants growing in front will sit. Viburnum opulus provides a long season of interest with white bunches of flowers, similar to those of hydrangeas, followed by glossy red berries and striking autumn foliage.

Guelder rose, Viburnum opulus
Ball-shaped, white flowers of the snowball tree

Back of the border: rodgersia

Rodgersias are largely grown for their large, divided leaves, but the fluffy flower plumes are gorgeous, too. They relish growing in soils that are moist and humus-rich, so it’s a good idea to incorporate lots of organic matter where they’re to be planted beforehand.

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Rodgersia pinnata 'Superba'
Pale-pink rodgersia flowers
Digging up weeds with a trowel

Border care tips

  • Before planting anything, prepare your border
  • Stake your plants before they need it – as they mature the supports will be hidden by foliage and flowers
  • Keep on top of deadheading spent blooms to trick plants into flowering for longer
  • Plant in autumn or spring, then mulch around the plants while the soil is moist to give them a boost and suppress weeds
  • Weed around your plants to stop them being outcompeted while they grow
  • Feed your plants from spring with a good all-round feed like blood, fish and bone or pelleted chicken manure