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

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

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
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
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.
Fatsia japonica Mock Castor Oil plant Large evergreen shrub with large shiny bright green lobed leaves and creamy bunches of ball like flowers. Gives a good tropical 'feel' but pretty hardy in sheltered position.
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.
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.
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.
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 davidii   Evergreen low growing shrub with heads of white flowers. Female plants produce blue berries but need a male plant for fertilisation. Needs good drainage.
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
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.
Anemone x hybrida & Anemone hupehensis Japanese anemone Clumps of palmately lobed leaves produce tall stems of open flowers of pink or white with golden centres in late summer & autumn. Single and double forms available, some can be invasive.
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.
Astilbe   Leafy clumps of compound leaves with feathery spires of frothy white, pink or red flowers.
Astrantia major   Clumps of palmate leaves with stems of 'pincushion' like flowers in shades of pink and claret. Prefers a cool position.
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.)
Cimicifuga atropurpurascens   Clumps of green or bonze leaves with elegant spires of white or cream flowers.
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.
Dicentra eximia, formosa & spectabilis Bleeding Hearts and relatives Soft green to grey fern like leaves with pink, cream or white flowers. Disappears completely in winter.
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.
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.
Geranium phaeum   clump of leaves with flowers held tall above it in shades of deep blackish purple through pink to white.
Geranium sylvaticum   Our own wild cranesbill, comes in shades of white blue or purple flowers in late spring or early summer.
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.
Kirengeshoma palmata   Tall perennial with matt green palmate leaves with yellow waxy bell like flowers in loose cymes above the foliage. Lovely. 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 :-)
Ligularia (genus)   Good waterside plants with daisy like yellow or orange flowers. Some are lovely others a bit coarse. Prefer more sun than shade.
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.
Pachyphragma macrophyllum   Slow growing ground cover with white flowers.
Pachysandra terminalis   Small white flowers, evergreen spreading to 8" tall. Variegated form available. Good ground cover.
Phlox divaricata Blue phlox Semi evergreen, grows to just over a foot high with lavender blue flowers.
Phlox paniculata   Many cultivars in shades of pink, white and purple, two to three feet high.
Polemonium Jacob's ladder. Deciduous clumps of pinnate leaves with heads of funnel shaped flowers in shades of blue , white, mauve or yellow in summer.
Polygonatum Solomon's Seal Arching stems with dangling white bells. Spring shoots like shepherds crooks. May be stripped in summer by caterpillar-like larva of Solomon's Seal Sawfly.
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 with 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.
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.
Rodgersia   Clump forming perennial with big palmate leaves and frothy flowers of white or pink. Best with good moisture.
Smilacina racemosa False Spikenard or False Solomon's Seal Short spikes of white flowers on green leaves.
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.
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.
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.
Veronica chamaedrys Germander speedwell 8" tall herbaceous perennial with blue flowers with a white eye from summer to autumn.
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  
Dryopteris Male fern, Scaly male fern and Buckler ferns The male fern is the typical large fern of the countryside.
Polystichum lonchitis Holly fern Tough glossy leaves bearing only a slight resemblance to holly.
Polystichum aculeatum Hard shield fern Another glossy, leathery fern
Osmunda regalis royal fern Like most ferns happy in shade as long as plenty of moisture. Deciduous.
Polypodium vulgare Polypody Evergeen ferns, some hardy.

Name Common name Comments
Erythronium dens-canis Dogs' tooth violet clumps of glossy green or mottled leaves produce downward facing yellow, white or pink flowers with reflexed petals in spring. Other species and cultivars supposed to be easier than dens-canis.
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.
Leucojum Summer snow flake Like a giant snow drop. Spring or autumn flowering.
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.
Oxalis   Not all species are suitable for shade. Pretty bright green clover like leaves and small pink or white flowers. Some are invasive.

Name Common name Comments
Carex elata 'Aurea' Bowles' golden sedge Deciduous, gorgeous, yellow striped 'grass'


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