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Plants for Shade FAQ
by Kay Easton and Karen Mountford
Partial or Dappled Shade with Dry Soil

Shade FAQ:spacerMain Page | Climbers | Shrubs | Perennials

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.
Lonicera Honeysuckle Climbing varieties twine through shrubs and supports and have trumpet shaped flowers, most are scented. Shrubby sorts usually have small inconspicuous flowers with strong perfumes.

Name Common name Comments
Berberis   Many cultivars of deciduous or evergeen prickly shrubs, with yellow or orange flowers followed by inconspicuous red berries. Leaf colour in shades of green, yellow and purple often with good autumn colour. Habit includes dwarf rounded, pillar shaped and can form large shrubs. Won't cope with water logging.
Chaenomeles Japanese quince/japonica Deciduous with white, pink, orange or red flowers followed by yellow waxy edible fruits that make a nice jelly. Can be trained as a wall shrub, some produce suckers. Prefers acid soil but tolerant of some lime.
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.
Euonymus fortunei   Many cultivars of variegated evergreen foliage in shades of gold cream and green. Has inconspicuous flowers and fruit. Tend to lose variegation if limited light. Will climb eventually if placed beside a wall or fence.
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.
Ligustrum ovalifolium Privet Semi-evergreen shrub, most often used for hedging. Gold variegated version available, but needs sun for best colour. Produces white scented flowers very attractive to butterflies if not trimmed.
Lonicera Honeysuckle Climbing varieties twine through shrubs and supports and have trumpet shaped flowers, most are scented. Shrubby sorts usually have small inconspicuous flowers with strong perfumes.
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!
Pyracantha Firethorn Stems with robust thorns. Abundant orange or red berries. To about 6-8ft. Looks a lot better unpruned but makes a good thorny barrier hedge.
Rhododendron   Mostly evergreen shrubs, many cultivars and species in all sizes and colours. Must have neutral or acid soil. Some will just cope with summer dryness when established. Need acid or neutral soil.
Ribes sanguinium Flowering currant Deciduous medium sized shrub with hanging bunches of raspberry pink, white or greenish flowers in spring with a pungent scent which some people find very unpleasant and reminiscent to some people of tom cat. Struggles a bit in shade.
Sambucus nigra elderberry Large deciduous native shrub with large flat heads of small scented creamy white flowers (some pale pink) in spring. Produces purple berries in autumn. Foliage varieties available in shades of gold and purple and with various cut leaf forms. Needs well drained position.
Viburnum tinus   Evergreen large shrub with heads of white or pale pink flowers in late winter and early spring from prominent buds visible all winter.

Name Common name Comments
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
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.
Bergenia Elephants ears Clumps of round evergreen fleshy leaves with no stalks producing heads of whiteish pink or red flowers in spring. Some go ghastly blood red in winter. (One of Karen's pet hates - her other pet hate is Mahonia.)
Corydalis lutea   Clumps of pretty fern like green leaves with heads of yellow tubular flowers. Seeds in very inhospitable spots, including crevices in paving and walls. Pretty and useful.
Crambe cordifolia   Deciduous clumps of large leaves with tall (4') branched panicles of white flowers in summer.
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
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 robbii   Lime green flowers, spreads by runners, invasive.
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.
Geranium phaeum   clump of leaves with flowers held tall above it in shades of deep blackish purple through pink to white.
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.
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.
Liriope muscari   Spikes of lavender flowers in autumn from clumps of grassy leaves. Prefer acidic soils not water logged.
Primula vulgaris Primrose Many varieties and colours from Wandas variety (magenta) to picotee "laced" varieties. Many will die back in a hot dry summer but reappear with the autumn rain if the dry spell is not too long. Won't cope wth prolonged or regular drought.
Primula veris Cowslip Native flower, can die in summer dry spell but seeds prolifically and will usually regrow from seed the next autumn to flower the next year.
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.
Tellima grandiflora   Rosettes of green scalloped edged leaves with spikes of dainty white greenish white flowers in late spring or summer. Reputed to tolerate dry soil. Good ground cover.
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.
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
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.
Chionodoxa Glory of the snows Low growing intense deep blue, pale blue or white flowers in mid spring. Naturalise well in grass under deciduous trees.
Colchicum Autumn crocus, Naked Boys or Naked Ladies Leek like clumps of green leaves in spring die back for summer. Flowers like large crocus in shades of pink or white or mauve leap out of the ground in September. Good under deciduous trees or shrubs.
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.
Narcissus Daffodil Hundreds of cultivars, some more suited to shade than others. Similar variability can be found in their requirements for moisture, but on the whole they won't grow in dry shade - adequate moisture is needed to ensure flowers the following spring.


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