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Best plants for shade 2022: Create an oasis at home from just £10

Fill your shady spots with a burst of colour with these beautiful, shade-loving plants

Contrary to popular opinion, you don’t have to plant all your flowers in the sun. In fact, there are plenty of beautiful plants that dislike direct sunlight and will prefer shadier conditions.

But first you need to know exactly what conditions you’re working with. What type of soil and shade do you actually have at your disposal? Is it deep shade at the base of a wall, or does the shade receive some dappled sunlight throughout the day, or at particular points of the year? Then there’s the moisture level of the soil to consider, as different plants will fare better or worse in damp shade (which receives rainfall) versus dry shade (which sits in a ‘rain shadow’).

Before you begin to plant, check out our handy guide to analysing the shady parts of your garden. We’ve also put together some of our favourite shade-loving plants to help add colour, brightness and varied foliage to your outdoor space.

Best plants for shade: At a glance

How to choose the best plants for shade

What direction does my garden face?

One of the easiest and most important ways to get to grips with your garden’s growing power is to know which direction it faces. This is sometimes referred to as the ‘aspect’, but it just means which compass point your garden faces. North-facing gardens usually have shade for much of the day, while south-facing will receive a wealth of sun. Southeast-facing gardens often have sunshine until mid-afternoon, while northeast-facing typically only sees sun from the afternoon onwards.

What type of shade do I have?

Full sun: a spot is deemed ‘full sun’ if it receives more than six hours of direct sunlight per day.

Partial shade: an area that receives only a few hours of sunlight – between three and six hours. Most gardens will have areas like this.

Light shade: an area open to the sky which is still shaded at times due to the position of an obstacle – trees, shrubs, walls or fences.

Dappled shade: an area that receives more shade coverage during the summer months from deciduous trees, but gets full sun between autumn and spring when the trees are yet to grow their foliage.

Heavy/deep shade: an area under dense cover of evergreens, or the shadow of buildings. A spot like this gets less than two hours of direct sunlight each day.

What level of moisture does my shaded soil have?

Dry shade: There’s typically less rain absorbed into the soil at the base of walls and the foot of trees, so plants with plenty of foliage won’t thrive here as they need lots of moisture to keep growing. Dry shade-loving plants include Japanese anemones, hellebores, hydrangeas, cyclamen, snowdrops, and classic Hedera helix ivy.

Damp shade: An area with an abundance of moisture, it’s often cooler here and certainly won’t receive direct sunlight. Bleeding heart, cowslips, camellia and hydrangea will all be happy in damp shade.

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The best plants for shade you can buy in 2022

1. Pulmonaria ‘Blue Ensign’ (Lungwort): Best low ground plant for shade

Price: from £8 | Buy now from Crocus

Pulmonaria lungwort is a low, steadily-spreading, deciduous plant with gorgeously rich blue and violet flowers in small clusters that pop up on stems during the spring. They’re some of the first flowers to appear each year, heralding the warmer weather. While various varieties have different leaf markings, they all have a lovely contrast between their dark foliage and bright flowers.

Lungwort likes partial shade, and is usually happiest in a location with some bright morning sunshine to start off the day. As a perennial, it will die back to the ground in autumn before blooming again the next year. To get the best results, lift and divide your clumps of lungwort every few years to encourage new leaf growth, and cut back any plants that are suffering with mildew.

Key details – Position: Partial shade; Flowering: March to May; Soil: Well-drained & moist

Buy now from Crocus

2. Dicentra spectabilis ‘Alba’, or ‘Bleeding Heart’: Best elegant shade-loving plant

Price: £20 for three plants | Buy now from YouGarden

With its heart-shaped blossoms and arching stems, the beautifully delicate ‘bleeding heart’ is a stunning plant for shady borders and pots.

It typically grows in woodland and does really well in partial shade – although it can feasibly handle full sun provided the soil is moist enough. Planting at the base of a deciduous tree is best, if possible, as the summer foliage provides the right amount of shade. You can also plant up in a container as it’s happy in a compact space.

An early bloomer, bleeding heart flowers in spring then goes dormant in summer, so it’s a good idea to intersperse it with summer blooms and water well to avoid any scorching. This perennial is hardy throughout the winter and virtually maintenance free – though some plants might need a helping hand with a stake, as the branches can be susceptible to drooping.

Key details – Position: Partial shade; Flowering: Late spring; Soil: Well-drained & moist

Buy now from YouGarden

3. Digitalis Purpurea Wild Foxglove: Best plant for dappled shade

Price: £4 for 900 seeds | Buy now from YouGarden

Growing foxgloves from seed is a worthy pursuit – they’re easy to grow and will happily self-seed once established.

Reaching heights of up to 150cm tall and with large, bell-shaped flowers on tall, spiky stems, foxgloves are great for adding height and structure to a border, and the pollen-rich flowers make local bumblebees very happy too. They don’t like to be overly wet or dry so keeping the soil consistent is advised. As a biennial, they’ll take until the second year to actually flower, so consider foxgloves a plant you’re planning ahead for.

Remember to be cautious around foxgloves though, as handling all parts of the plant and flowers can cause allergic reactions, and ingestion is poisonous. As a result, planting foxgloves in places frequented by young children and/or pets might be ill-advised.

Key details – Position: Partial shade; Flowering: April to July; Soil: Well-drained & moist

Buy now from YouGarden

4. Honeysuckle ‘Graham Thomas’: Best climbing plant for deep shade

Price: from £20 | Buy now from Thompson Morgan

While there are very few plants that will reach their full potential in deep shade, there’s still a selection that find the sunshine harsh and prefer to grow in the cool, dark parts of the garden.

Lonicera periclymenum honeysuckle is a great plant for deep shade. They really like the shaded conditions offered by fences and walls, and will happily climb upwards with their twisting vines, though you might need to support them a little on this endeavour. The fast-growing ‘Graham Thomas’ variety is a particular fan of climbing, and will produce large, white, tubular flowers with a delicious scent if given optimum conditions. It’s a fantastic attraction for pollinating insects, and hungry birds love the red berries that appear in the winter after flowering.

As honeysuckle climbers don’t like drying out, try to plant them about 45cm away from the base of the wall – so they’re outside of the ‘rain shadow’ area – and then lean the plant into the wall instead. Keeping the soil moist, and mulching annually, will help a honeysuckle tremendously too.

Key details – Position: Cool shade; Flowering: July to September; Soil: Rich & moist

Buy now from Thompson Morgan

5. Hosta: Best evergreen plant for shade

Price: from £11 | Buy now from Suttons

When your colourful summer flowers have all faded, a shady garden can feel a little lacklustre. Luckily, there are evergreen plants that will happily thrive in the shade all year round. We’re big fans of the hosta, a perennial with large, rounded leaves that’s a great, resilient option for ground cover.

Hardy hostas are weatherproof through all seasons and their dense foliage contain multiple shades of green – some varieties, like the ‘September Sun’, even have a golden hue to their leaves! Hostas like consistent soil moisture, so sunny spots aren’t a good idea as the soil dries out too fast.

A collection of differing hosta plants is a good way to include some variety in your evergreens, as each has a unique style of foliage in shape and colour.

Key details – Position: Partial to full shade; Flowering: No; Soil: Rich & moist

Buy now from Suttons

6. Nasturtium ‘Jewel Mixed’: Best edible plant for shade

Price: £4 for 35 seeds | Buy now from Suttons

Nasturtiums are a no-brainer for partly-shady spots outdoors. Quite aside from the burst of colour they produce, nasturtiums are wonderfully robust double and semi-double blooms that last from early June until late September – and, as they’re edible, they also make a fantastic addition to summer salads.

Nasturtiums do require a good dose of sunshine each day, but are still okay with afternoon shade – if they get around 3-6 hours of sun, they’ll probably still bloom but might look a little lacklustre. Though hardy, nasturtiums are an annual so you might need to plant them up each year but, as they’re happy to self-seed, there’s a chance you won’t have to. Nasturtiums also tend to do well even in poor soil conditions.

Key details – Position: Partial shade to sun; Flowering: June to October; Soil: Poor & fairly dry

Buy now from Suttons

7. Standard Camellia: Best tree for shade

Price: £20 | Buy now from YouGarden

Camellia’s big, bold flowers are some of the first to bloom at the start of spring, and have a gorgeous fragrance. And, as an evergreen shrub/tree, camellia grows surprisingly well in the shade, yet still produces stunning flowers that continue through the spring alongside its lush and glossy, green foliage. Because of the early blooming, it’s worth watching out for early frosts too as it can hit the growing buds rather hard.

This bright pink camellia from Yougarden comes as a 70cm tall, straight-stemmed plant in a three litre pot. You’re free to either keep it potted, or transplant into a chosen area of the garden – in which case it will require some Ericaceous (acidic) compost.

Key details – Position: Partial shade to sun; Flowering: March to early summer; Soil: Ericaceous (acidic) compost

Buy now from YouGarden

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