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The best plants for shade: which species like dark places in the garden?


No plant can survive in dry shade, right?

Wrong. A shady place presents an exciting challenge if you want to have some fun. There are always areas of a garden that pose a problem, even to keen gardeners. The most common situation in which it's difficult to find things that will grow is that of dry shade. Under trees, next to a north-facing wall or at the base of hedges.

But even this seemingly inhospitable environment opens up a world of possibilities.

Take ferns, for example, including this gorgeous Blechnum spicant, pictured above. There are a few that can cope with dry shade, and what better way to cover the soil? Ferns are not blessed with gaudy colours, nor are they floriferous. But they are architecturally beautiful. Largely shade-loving, some ferns are drought-tolerant, once established. The stately maidenhair fern, Dryopteris filix mas 'Cristata' with fronds that grow up to 60cm tall is also a suitable candidate for dry shade, as is the low-growing, deciduous northern maidenhair fern called Adiantum pedatum 'Imbricatum', also known as the five-fingered maidenhair fern.

We should love ferns!

Plants for shade are a great bunch to include in a scheme because they bring a different atmosphere to a garden. Ferns are probably the most under-used plants in the garden. Why? Mainly because many people don't quite know what to do with them. They rarely cope well with full sun, yet every garden has a shady corner or a damp patch in which they will generally thrive. They fill the soil with green beauty and suppress weeds. What's not to love? Some ferns are tinged with red, including Dryopteris erythrosora, pictured below.


Some ferns have a silvery sheen and others have a luscious golden hue. All have a certain charm, particularly when planted in groups. The fern pictured below is Athyrium 'Metallicum' and it has a rather beautiful, silver sheen. It loves shady spots in the garden.

There are other plants for shade too!

If you want something other than green, consider Heuchera. The purple types, in particular, can survive in dry shade once they are established. Heuchera provide a great opportunity to plant en-masse in order to achieve ground-covering colour and they look particularly effective when contrasted against lime-green foliage such that that provided by ornamental grasses. Pictured below is Hakonechloa, which is also able to withstand a certain amount of dry shade. It certainly lifts the spirits when you see it. These are plants for shade that should be celebrated! And remember, the more soil you cover with luscious planting, the fewer weeds will colonise.



Brunnera and Epimedium - great groundcovers for shade




There are many different varieties of plants suited to shade planting. You might consider the elegant Brunnera (above). This brilliant groundcover sets the lower regions alight with its silvery sheen. There are many different varieties, all with something special to offer.


Epimedium is another great choice of plants for shade. It's all about foliage with this beautiful perennial which has heart-shaped leaves, often tinged with red. This plant even produces white flowers, generally flushed with pink during spring and early summer. Plant lots of them for instant coverage and they will gradually spread.

Plants for semi-shade

There are some plants that prefer dappled light or semi-shade rather than the deep, darkest corners that don't see a glimmer. Japanese anemone is one such star. ‍These glorious perennials thrive in many different garden positions and they reward their grower with pink or white flowers, held on tall stems.




The family of periwinkles, Vinca minor and major, are also worthy of a shade garden. These creep along the surface of the soil and produce lilac, blue, purple or white flowers to thank you for including them in your garden. Vinca minor is more manageable as Vinca major tends to loop about, rooting here, there and everywhere, looking rather untidy. Great plants for a shady bank, their little roots can help to anchor the soil. Some Vinca have variegated foliage which brings a splash of yellow too.


There are more...

The list above is by no means complete. There are plenty more plants that will enjoy shady places. Pachysandra terminalis is another groundcover evergreen perennial. Also known as the Japanese spurge, it will form a lush green carpet. The blue fescue grass, Festuca glauca is surprisingly shade tolerant - and also drought tolerant once established too, which helps where there are tree roots taking up moisture.


There are lungworts, or Pulmonaria, with their dark leaves sprinkled with white spots, producing blue flowers with a splash of lilac and pink in spring. And of course those lovely primroses which thrive in damp shade during spring in dark places which need a splash of yellow primrose sunshine.


Perfect Plants Ltd is an on-line supplier of garden plants, bulbs, house plants, garden equipment, furniture and gifts for all seasons.        


By Perfect Plants


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