Gardening tips, Plants,

How to Choose Plants for a Shady Garden — from Selection to Care

There's no reason why a shaded garden can't be abundant with colour and life. You just have to choose the right plants! Find out which plants are perfect for shade!

11 MIN 27 Jun
Last update: 06 Nov 2023
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Shade-loving plants are a gardener’s secret weapon when it comes to bringing life to those darker corners of your garden. So, if you thought that vibrant, beautiful plants required bountiful sunlight, you’re in for a delightful surprise. 

Table of contents:
  • Understanding the Different Types of Shade
  • Shade-loving garden plants
  • The best annual shade-loving plants
  • The Best Perennial Shade-Loving Plants
  • Planting and aftercare of shade-loving plants
  • Tip for selecting your shade-loving plants
  • Some successful shade-loving plant combinations
  • Beautiful shaded gardens
  • FAQs

From Hostas to Hellebores, Japanese forest grass to Impatiens, plants that thrive in the shade are incredibly diverse and can bring a unique, lush beauty to your garden. Indeed, they can inject colour, texture, and intrigue into the darkest reaches of your outdoor space, making every inch of your garden a showstopper.

This article is about the shade-loving plants that will brighten those dark corners with colour and texture. 

Ready? Let’s get started!

Understanding the Different Types of Shade

Before we dive into the world of shade-loving plants, it’s essential to recognise that not all shade is equally problematic. 

So, knowing the type of shade in your garden is crucial for choosing the right plants. 

Generally, shade falls into the following categories:

  • Light shade: areas with plenty of indirect sunlight for most of the day.
  • Partial shade: plants receive direct daylight for a portion of the day and spend the rest in light shade.
  • Dappled shade: sunlight filtering through overhead foliage, creating a blotchy or patchy lighting effect.
  • Deep shade: areas that receive little to no direct sunlight throughout the day.

You may think that areas of deep shade are no-go areas for plants — but consider how plants adapt in the wild. Think of plants that grow happily under the shadow of dense overgrowth, like bushy trees and wild shrubs.

Daisies in the shade

Shade-loving garden plants

Many garden bedding plants love the sun. But some plants prefer the shade, offering a lovely green texture in the dark corners of your garden.

In this guide, I’ll introduce you to the annual and perennial species that can beautify your shady corners. 

The best annual shade-loving plants

These eight shade-loving plants are the ideal choice to add texture and colour:

Coleus

Colourful coleus leaves
The colourful Coleus

Yellow, red, green, violet — coleus leaves are stunningly beautiful in striking colours. Also known as fly bush, hedgehog flower, spurflower, and hullwort. 

This annual shade-loving plant is simple to care for. However, it doesn’t like lime soil, so if you have hard, chalky water, it might not thrive if watered from the mains. 

Planting time: May, after the risk of frost

Growth height: 30-80cm

Flowering period: June to October

Care: needs a lot of water

Pansy

Multi-coloured pansies
Pansy

The Viola x wittrockiana (aka the pansy) is one of the most popular annual shade-loving plants, providing wonderful springtime blooms. Expect gorgeous white, yellow, or bright violet flowers, depending on the variety. 

Pansies are happiest in brighter shade, so they tolerate some direct sun. You can even plant them in October for autumnal colour. 

Planting time: March to October

Growth height: small plants, around 15cm

Flowering period: blooms for around 3 months

Care: deadhead regularly for continued blooms

Lobelia

A hanging basket full of lobelia flowers
Lovely Lobelia in a hanging basket

The lobelia is the plant that just keeps giving, thriving in full sun but equally happy in partial to full shade. 

These bushy plants produce hundreds of tiny blooms, are loved by the bees, and provide lovely blue, violet, or white flowers from May to September. 

Lobelia is happy in pots, hanging baskets, and flowerbeds. 

Planting time: May, after the risk of frost

Growth height: 15-35cm

Flowering period: June to September

Care: Use a low-nitrogen fertiliser

The Best Perennial Shade-Loving Plants

Perennial plants die off and return the following year. Or some remain evergreen, providing year-long interest. 

These are some of my favourite plant-tolerant perennials:

Ferns

Fern leaves, curled at the ends
Prehistoric Fern leaves

Ferns are classic shade plants that give your garden a slightly prehistoric charm. Not all ferns are happy in the shade, but most thrive in dark corners. Most ferns are happy in cool temperatures.  

Ferns are notoriously easy to look after — in fact, they often simply appear in your garden without specifically planting them.

Planting time: Spring

Growth height: 15-250cm

Flowering period: most ferns don’t bloom, but blooming varieties produce flowers from September to November

Care: prefers well-drained soil, but don’t let the earth dry out. 

Hosta

Variated hosta plant
Variated Hosta plant

Hosta is a perennial shade-loving plant famed for its attractive, heart-shaped leaves. Many varieties flower when they’re happy in their shady spot.  

Variegated varieties have lovely decorative leaves in various colours. 

Planting time: from May, after the risk of frost, until October

Growth height: 20-40cm

Flowering period: June to September

Care: keep the soil moist

Alchemilla

Alchemilla shade-loving plant
Fluffy Alchemilla flowers

Aka Lady’s Coat, Alchemilla is a perennial shade plant that stands out for its delicate green leaves and delicate yellow-green flowers. 

Ideal for shady locations, Lady’s Coat is hardy and easy to care for. 

Planting time: spring or autumn

Growth height: 15-50cm

Flowering period: June and July

Care: requires damp, well-drained soil

Heuchera

Lovely red flowers on the shade-loving heuchera
Pretty Heuchera

These perennial shade plants provide eye-catching, colourful leaves and delicate cone-like flowers. Aka Purple Bells, these plants thrive in the shade and are available in various colours. 

And as a little bonus, the heuchera also looks lovely during the winter!

Planting time: spring or autumn

Growth height: 20-90cm

Flowering period: April to September

Care: prefer acidic soil. Fertilise with coffee grounds. 

Woodruff

Shade-loving woodruff
Shade-loving woodruff

The Galium odoratum (aka woodruff) is a perennial shade-loving plant that produces a delightful, intense aroma. With tiny white blossoms, woodruff is an excellent addition to a rockery — often seen growing between the bricks in walls. 

Planting time: March or October

Growth height: 5-50cm

Flowering period: April to June

Care: prefers acidic soil and lots of water.

Lily of the Valley

Small, delicate Lily of the Valley flowers
Delicate Lily of the Valley flowers

The lily of the valley is a gorgeous shade-tolerant perennial with fragrant, bell-shaped flowers and shiny leaves. 

Easy to care for and tolerant of deep shade, this hardy plant is the ideal decoration for shaded gardens. 

Planting time: spring to autumn

Growth height: 15-30cm

Flowering period: April to June

Care: requires well-drained soil

Forget-Me-Not

Lovely, abundant Forget-Me-Not flowers on a bush
Caucasus Forget-Me-Not

The Caucasus Forget-Me-Not (Brunnera macrophylla) is a charming shade-loving perennial that stands out for its delicate, sky-blue flowers and attractive heart-shaped leaves. 

Planting time: spring

Growth height: 30-50cm

Flowering period: April to May

Care: don’t allow the soil to dry out

Asian bleeding heart

Close up of bleeding heart flowers
Striking Bleeding heart flowers

The bleeding heart is an extraordinary flowering plant that does well in the shade. The profusion of pink heart-shaped flowers has a white teardrop at the bottom tip, giving these exotic plants a very welcome place in your shady garden. 

Planting time: spring to autumn

Growth height: 40-80cm

Flowering period: May to June

Care: requires lots of water

Rhododendron 

Beautiful abundant rhodedendron flowers
The exotic Rhodedendron

These stunning shrubs grow large and are often found deep in British forests. Belonging to the heather family, Rhodies prefer shady locations and burst into blooms of various shades and colours. 

Most varieties are evergreen.

Planting time: April or May

Growth height: depending on the species, up to 4m

Flowering period: March to July

Care: prefers low-lime, aerated, moist soil. 

Yew

Yew berries on the bush
The stunning Yew bush

Yew trees grow large, but it’s possible to train your yew (Taxus baccata) into a shrub or bush. 

The yew bursts into Scarlett berries with hardy, evergreen leaves, which the birds love. 

Read more about growing and pruning yew tree varieties in our expert guide.

Planting time: spring

Growth height: up to 8m

Flowering period: March and April

Care: requires well-drained soil

Alpine Currant

Alpine currant bush with red berries
The lovely Alpine Currant

The Ribes alpinum is a perennial shade-loving plant that hails from the Alps. It thrives with very little daylight and is easy to maintain. 

This large bush is ideal for hedges — and the birds will be attracted to the berries. 

Planting time: spring to autumn

Growth height: up to 2m

Flowering period: April and May

Care: prefer well-drained chalky soil

Sedge

Swamp sedge in a pond
Wild sedge – Image by Hans from Pixabay

Sedges are ornamental grasses that thrive in shade or partial shade. Available in a range of varieties, sedges are robust and adaptable to a range of garden conditions. 

Planting time: Spring to autumn

Growth height: 20-120 cm

Flowering period: March to September

Care: give the soil some fertiliser in spring

Planting and aftercare of shade-loving plants

As you can see, most shade-loving plants are best planted in spring or autumn. Bulb plants are best planted in autumn to give them time to establish over the winter, ready for spring. 

Before planting, ensure that the soil is:

  • Loosened — either using an aerator or turning the soil over with a fork, especially for compacted soil
  • Cleared — removing stones, debris, and weeds
  • Fertilised — with a feed appropriate to the plant species

Immerse the root ball in water before planting, and ensure the surrounding soil gets plenty of water after transferring the plant into its final spot. 

All shade-loving plants need some daylight, so choose the appropriate spot according to the plant’s needs. Check the label when you buy plants for shaded regions of the garden; otherwise, the plant could die or look a little sorry for itself sitting in the dark. 

Generally speaking, plants with lighter-coloured leaves require more daylight than those with darker leaves. 

Tip for selecting your shade-loving plants

When choosing your shade-loving plants, consider the following:

  • The size and growth of the full-grown plant — are you creating harmony with the other plants in the garden?
  • Does the spot get any direct light (or is it in full shade)? Choose adaptable plants if the light conditions change throughout the day. 
  • Choose plants with complementary colours and textures to create varied and interesting beds. 
  • Pay attention to the water requirements of your shade-loving plant, remembering that over-watering can be as bad as under-watering. Shaded areas don’t dry out as quickly as soil in full sun. 

Some successful shade-loving plant combinations

  • Coleus and pansy — two annual shade plants that bring colour to dark corners, offering good contrast in texture
  • Lobelia and fern — the pretty small flowers of the lobelia harmonise beautifully with the delicate fern fronds
  • Hosta and alchemilla —  these perennial plants complement each other in leaf shape and colour
  • Asian bleeding heart and Forget-Me-Not — the striking red of the bleeding heart goes well with the delicate sky-blue Forget-Me-Not flowers. 
  • Rhododendron and yew — the bountiful rhodie flowers look great next to the yew’s evergreen foliage and red berries
  • Alpine currant and sedges — the blood-red Alpine currant berries contrast beautifully with the fine sedge stems. 

Beautiful shaded gardens

Shaded pergola path
Shady gardens can be stunning – Image by inkflo from Pixabay

A shady garden can feel like a disappointment, but it really doesn’t need to. Hopefully, we’ve demonstrated here that shady gardens can still be colourful and bountiful.

Transform shaded corners into lovely, restful havens, and you’ll enjoy colour and texture all year round. In fact, shade-loving plants often produce interest longer than sun-loving plants in the UK — because, let’s face it, we get more cloudy than sunny days.

FAQs

Which flowering plants grow in the shade?

There’s a long list of beautiful flowering plants that thrive in the shade, including lobelia, fuchsia, hosta, pansy, lily of the valley, heuchera, woodruff, forget-me-not, Asian Bleeding Heart, and Rhododendron.

Which plants are suitable for the shade?

Think about the plants you’re likely to see in a forest, and you have a list of plants suitable for full or dappled shade. Some of the best shade-loving plants include bluebells, wild garlic, sedge grasses, yew, alpine currant, alchemilla, and woodruff. 

Which perennial plants bloom in the shade?

Some of the best shade-bloomers include Asian Bleeding Heart, hosta, heuchera, woodruff, rhododendron, woodruff, and coleus. 

Any questions?

I hope I’ve given you plenty of food for thought regarding shade-loving plants for your garden. But if you have questions, don’t hesitate to get in touch (or add a question in the comments section below). 

Alternatively, check out our comprehensive Help & Advice section for a wide variety of gardening and lawn care articles. 

Thanks for reading! 

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