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Plants for Shade FAQ
by Kay Easton and Karen Mountford
Dense Shade with Average Moisture

Shade FAQ:spacerMain Page | Annuals | Climbers | Shrubs | Perennials | Ferns | Bulbs

Name Common name Comments
Lunaria Honesty Annual Honesty comes with green or white variegated leaves with white or pink/purple flowers which produce those translucent oval remains of seed pods so beloved of dried flower arrangers. Lunaria rediviva is a perennial with highly scented much less conspicuous flowers.

Name Common name Comments
Hedera helix Ivy Self clinging but also makes good ground cover. Will succeed in very difficult conditions but may need watering for the first year. - one of the few things to survive under leylandii cypress. Many silver and gold variegations available.
Hydrangea petiolaris Climbing hydrangea A large deciduous self clinging woody climber with flat heads of white flowers
Parthenocissus quinquifolia Virginia creeper Deciduous, leafy, self clinging with good autumn colour. To 2nd storey roof height, vigorous.

Name Common name Comments
Berberidopsis corallina   Evergreen shrub good against a wall. Has bright red clumps of small berry like flowers. In early summer.
Camellia   Evergreen, spring flowers in shades from white through pink to red, many varieties available. Susceptible to dropping flower buds. Needs acid soil.
Cotoneaster   Evergreen shrubs with tiny scented white flowers and red berries. Many species and cultivars available from ground hugging to spreading small trees. Some species need to be kept firmly under control
Eleagnus pungens & x ebbingei   Many cultivars of evergreen shrub with silver leaves or green with yellow variegation. Has highly scented inconspicuous flowers in autumn. Doesn't like chalk soils.
Fuchsia (hybrids) Many and varied Hardy and half hardy deciduous shrubs with dangling flowers in shades of pink, purple, white and red. Some with foliage variegated white or pink. Likely to die back to the base if left outside over winter. Even hardy varieties may die in a hard winter.
Fuchsia magellanica   Hardy shrubs with dainty flowers in shades of purple pink, red and white. Some with variegated foliage. Likely to die back to the base if left outside over winter. Even hardy varieties may die in a hard winter.
Hydrangea macrophylla 'mop head ' hydrangea Pink or blue or white flowered varieties with blue colour only showing on acid soil.
Hypericum calycinum Rose of Sharon Large yellow flowers, spreading ground cover. Virtually indestructible, looks less tatty if strimmed at the beginning of the year. (One of Kay's pet hates).
Ilex Holly various species and varieties. Prickly shrub many variegations and leaf shapes available. Good evergreen, wind resistant hedging but some species not hardy in very cold areas. Berries produced on female varieties only, and only if there is a male nearby for pollination.
Mahonia aquifolium Oregon grape Scented yellow flowers in spring, purple berries with attractive bloom in autumn. Prickly, holly like leaves. To about 3 ft. Much more delicate than the 'architectural' species, and to Kay's eye, more attractive.
Mahonia various species and cultivars, such as 'Charity'. Evergreen shrubs which grow in witches gardens with sweet smelling yellow flowers in winter. Popular with gardening pundits as architectural plants, but one of Karen's pet hates. Kay is not that fond of it either!
Skimmia japonica   Evergreen, white scented flowers in spring, followed, if male and female plants are grown together, by red berries.

Name Common name Comments
Aconitum Wolfsbane/ monkshood Various species and cultivars with flowers in purple, blue and cream in mid to late summer. All parts poisonous and may cause skin irritation in some people.
Ajuga reptans Bugle Purple and multicoloured variegated forms available. 6" spikes of blue flowers May/June. Creeping ground cover can vigorously overgrow other plants when happy.
Alchemillia mollis Lady's Mantle Soft rounded leaves, frothy lime green flowers. Seeds abundantly and can be invasive. Forms mounds about 18in wide and 12 in high
Anemone nemorosa Wood anemone, windflower Native wood anemone. Low growing and spreading where happy. Delicate white flowers in spring over deeply lobed leaves or more expensively in shades of light to mid blue.
Aquilegia - various species Granny's bonnets / Columbine Perennial forming clumps of pretty green or greyish leaves with taller stems of bell shaped flowers, mostly with distinctive spurs. Vary in size from 6" alpines to 2', and in colour from yellow, red white and blue including combinations. Tend to be short lived but seed readily and cross breed prolifically. Many will survive in very dry and shady spots especially if sown in situ.
Asarum europaeum   Evergreen, creeping perennial with kidney shaped glossy leaves with inconspicuous flowers.
Convallaria majalis Lily of the valley White scented flowers, will spread once established. Happiest in light soils.
Digitalis Foxglove biennials or short lived perennials with basal rosette of leaves and a tall spike of flowers in shades of white, cream, yellow, pink, purple, orange……Native species D purpurea is very free seeding
Dodacatheon Shooting stars Rosette of leaves with pink, mauve or white cyclamen like flowers on tallish stalks. Dentatum and pulchellum prefer dense shade others partial shade.
Epimedium Bishops mitre more or less evergreen some with tinted leaves, fairly small flowers in shades of pink white and yellow. Will spread into large clumps when happy.
Euphorbia amygdaloides 'Rubra'   Reddish shoots on greyish green evergreen plant. Has very long lasting heads of green flowers in spring. Can be invasive.
Euphorbia characias   Greyish foliage large heads of lime flowers last for ages in late winter and spring. Gets large - about 4ft. Needs shelter from strong wind. Happy in sun too.
Euphorbia griffithii Fireglow Lovely translucent bright orange-red bracts against fresh green leaves
Euphorbia robbii   Lime green flowers, spreads by runners, invasive.
Galium odoratum sweet woodruff Sweet smelling when dried, creeping ground cover with bright green leaves and tiny white flowers.
Geranium (genus)   Many hardy species and cultivars are suitable for shade, some are specifically mentioned below but others are worth trying. Many come easily from seed and many flower for long periods. Jill Bell is the resident expert :-)
Geranium macrorhizum   Various cultivars with slightly different coloured flowers on a theme of pink. Excellent spreading ground cover, easy and reliable flowerer.
Geranium nodosum   Shiny green leaves with sparse flowers in purple or lilac. Easy even in dry shade.
Helleborus corsicus   Pale green long lasting flowers in late winter and spring, attractive evergeen heap of toothed greyish leaves, reputed not very hardy, variegated forms available. Slow to establish in dry sites. Seedlings readily produced
Helleborus foetidus   British native. Lime green long lasting flowers on dark green finger like leaves.
Helleborus niger Christmas Rose White flowers late winter. Dark green foliage
Helleborus orientalis   White, pink, yellow and purple flowering varieties available with and without spots.
Heuchera sanguinea   Evergreen clumps of leaves with various silver veinings, purple shadings or grey to pewter bloomed surface. Spikes of small flowers in shades of cream, green or pink in spring. Some cope better than others with dryness.
Hosta (genus)   Deciduous clumps of succulent leaves in shades of grey green and gold with various variegations. Some colours need specific shade conditions to bring out their best. Racemes of bell shaped flowers in pastel shades of mauve white or cream flowers. Slugs love them.
Impatiens   Fleshy, tender perennial. Easily propagated from cuttings and kept indoors over winter, or use as annual. Bright flat upward facing flowers in shades of red, pink and white. Varying types and sizes available from low growing to 18" tall. Moisture essential.
Lamium galeobdolon   Invasive pretty yellow or pink flowered deadnettle with nice silvery marked leaves. Spreads by runners at the speed of light. Good ground cover where you don't have anything you want to keep :-)
Liriope muscari   Spikes of lavender flowers in autumn from clumps of grassy leaves. Prefer acidic soils not water logged.
Lunaria Honesty Annual Honesty comes with green or white variegated leaves with white or pink/purple flowers which produce those translucent oval remains of seed pods so beloved of dried flower arrangers. Lunaria rediviva is a perennial with highly scented much less conspicuous flowers.
Pachysandra terminalis   Small white flowers, evergreen spreading to 8" tall. Variegated form available. Good ground cover.
Polygonatum Solomon's Seal Arching stems with dangling white bells. Spring shoots like shepherds crooks. May be stripped in summer by caterpillar-like larvae of Solomon's Seal Sawfly.
Primula various species and cultivars From native primroses to candelabra primulas, all shades and heights. Some are listed here specifically but conditions vary across the genus. Some need acid soil.
Pulmonaria Lungwort Low heaps of deciduous leaves plain green, or spotted or marked with silver. Spring flowers in shades of red, pink, purple blue or white. Will just about survive summer dryness dying back and resprouting in autumn but better with constant moisture.
Smilacina racemosa False Spikenard or False Solomon's Seal Short spikes of white flowers on green leaves.
Soleirolia soleirolii Mind-your-own-business Low creeping ground cover Suffers from frost damage but recovers in spring.
Symphytum Comfrey Spreading clumps of hairy leaves some smaller than others. Bell like flowers of white, pink, purple, blue. Some variegated varieties. Some are invasive.
Tiarella cordifolia   Vigorously spreading, hairy green leaves and dainty panicles or white flowers. Protect from excessive winter wet. Best in moist soil but reputed to tolerate wide range of conditions.
Tolmeia menziesii Pick-a-back plant Fast spreading ground cover. Lobed green leaves (one gold cultivar available). Late spring racemes of white flowers.
Tricyrtis formosana Toad Lily Herbaceous clump forming perennial with orchid like spotted pink flowers.
Trillium Wake Robin. Gorgeous herbaceous perennials, slow spreading, short stem with three sometimes spotted or streaked leaves at the top. One flower with three petals sits in the centre of the three leaves. The most spectacular have upward facing flowers, deep red, pink, yellow or white. Needs rich soil, mulch with compost. Preferably acid to neutral soil.
Vinca major periwinkle. Creeping, green or variegated foliage, purple or white flowers. Good ground cover. Tolerates dryish soils.Invasive, roots where shoot tips land.
Vinca minor periwinkle. Creeping, green or variegated foliage, purple or white flowers. Good ground cover. Tolerates dryish soils. Less invasive than Vinca major
Viola   Various species and cultivars of perennials, annuals and biennials which need varying conditions. Many crosses and cultivars have bigger leaves and hold their flowers clear of the foliage, making more interesting garden plants.
Viola odorata Sweet Violet Native violet, slow spreading clumps of low growing heart shaped leaves, with small intensely sweet smelling flowers in shades of mauve, pink or white.
Viola riviniana   Purple leaves, mauve flowers, unscented violet. Spreads easily by seed even in dry shade.
Waldsteinia ternata   Low growing ground cover with small yellow flowers in spring. Spreads steadily but well mannered and not invasive.

Name Common name Comments
Asplenium scolependum Hart's tongue fern Undivided strap like leaves
Athyrium filix femina lady fern 'cristata'  
Athyrium filix-femina lady fern  

Name Common name Comments
Anemone blanda   Daisy like flowers in spring in shades of white pink or blue over deeply lobed leaves. Spreads by seed easily where happy. Good in dry shade under shrubs and trees.
Cyclamen coum Hardy cyclamen as for hederifolium except leaves rounded with less obvious patterning. Flowers in late winter.
Cyclamen hederifolium Hardy cyclamen Good for under trees. Seeds fairly easily to flower (Autumn) in about 3 years, to form clumps 12 -15 in across with pink or white flowers giving way to green marbled leaves. Can't cope with wet conditions.
Eranthis Winter aconite Late winter low growing yellow flowers with bright green ruff followed by ferny green leaves that disappear as spring goes on. Slow to establish but self seeds eventually, likes it under deciduous shrubs.
Galanthus Snowdrop. Familiar white flowers in spring. Loves a moist clay soil and will spread enthusiastically in such conditions Subtle variations between cultivars collected by obsessives. Best planted 'in the green' - dry bulbs are difficult to establish.
Hyacinthoides non-scripta Bluebells. Native weed. Very hard to get rid of so be sure you want them before you plant. Beautiful blue bells with subtle scent produced in spring, followed by ground smothering leaves that eventually collapse to a mush and leave huge bare spaces for the rest of the year. Best transplanted direct from garden to garden as dry bulbs don't take well.
Oxalis   Not all species are suitable for shade. Pretty bright green clover like leaves and small pink or white flowers. Some are invasive.


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