Flowering plants for shade

By Andy McIndoe

Most gardens have areas of shade, whether it’s the result of neighbouring houses, walls and fences, or overhanging trees.

Some small gardens are in shade for much of the day and most of the year. This is not a disadvantage; it just means you need to choose the right plants that thrive in these conditions. Many beautiful foliage plants bring year round colour and a great variety of texture and form to shaded areas, but what about flowers? They may be a seasonal highlight, but we all crave at least some in our gardens. Here are a few of the best flowering plants for shaded situations.

Choisya ternata
Choisya ternata

The Mexican orange, Choisya ternata is deservedly one of the most popular evergreen shrubs. With shining emerald green foliage it grows in sun or shade on just about any well-drained soil. It is resistant to attack by deer and rabbits and the fragrant white flowers, produced twice a year: in spring and then again in early autumn are a real bonus. An excellent structure shrub, it is the foundation of many planting schemes.

Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Snow Queen’
Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Snow Queen’

Choisya would make a great planting partner for the deciduous oak-leaf hydrangea, Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Snow Queen’. The large, architectural oak-shaped leaves are wonderfully textured and make a superb setting for the huge panicles of double creamy-white florets which appear in late summer. The foliage will colour in fall, if the plant gets some sun, but they remain rich green in shade.In milder areas the leaves often remain on the plants through winter.

Rubus ‘Olympic Double’
Rubus ‘Olympic Double’

Rubus ‘Olympic Double’, like most brambles, is a suckering shrub with arching, tan-coloured stems and bright green leaves. The glowing cerise, double blooms appear on the stems as the leaves unfurl anytime from early spring through to early summer. Some gardeners find the suckering habit annoying, but in larger, naturalistic areas of shade it is a welcome colourful addition that thrives on any soil.

Hosta ‘So-Sweet'
Hosta ‘So-Sweet'

We tend to think about hostas for their wonderful foliage, however most also produce wonderful lily-like flowers on stems that rise above the foliage in summer. Hosta ‘So-Sweet' has lovely variegated foliage and tall stems of pure white blooms that are a real highlight in a shady border, The name is appropriate: the blooms are sweetly fragrant and lovely for cutting.

Convallaria majalis
Convallaria majalis

Scented flowers are always sought after and perhaps the most iconic fragrance is that of lily-of-the-valley. Along with jasmine and orange blossom it is the basis of many commercial fragrances. Convallaria majalis is a spreading perennial that thrives if left undisturbed in a shady spot that is not too dry.Its moment comes in mid to late spring when the bead like buds open to tiny porcelain white blooms; wonderful for cutting or left to enhance a shaded corner. Grow it with ferns, vincas, hostas and other ground huggers.

Cyclamen hederifolium
Cyclamen hederifolium

Many flowerbulbs are a great way to add flowers in shady spots. Narcissi and snowdrops, chionodoxa and erythroniums are just some examples. However these are all spring highlights. For later in the year establish Cyclamen hederifolium. Blooming anytime from late summer and going on for weeks, the flowers are followed by lovely marbled ivy-shaped leaves which remain decorative through winter. Cyclamen will grow in dry shade and associate well with vinca, or even small-leaved ivies.They are best established from plants, planted in autumn and left to seed and spread.

Epimedium ‘Amber Queen’
Epimedium ‘Amber Queen’

The epimediums, or barren worts are some of the most useful perennials for shade. There are both deciduous and evergreen varieties that, once established, make great ground cover. Known for their interesting foliage, which often colours in winter Epimedium rubrum and Epimedium perralchium are two of the most popular. However, do not ignore the beauty of their spring flowers. Some, such as Epimedium ‘Amber Queen’ are really extraordinary. These are wonderful detail plants, especially valuable in smaller gardens.

Lamium orvala
Lamium orvala

The lamiums or dead-nettles are also great subjects for dry shade, especially under trees. Lamium orvala deserves wider use. The strawberry-pink square stems carry deep green leaves and relatively large bruised pink blooms. It is clump forming rather than spreading and a lovely perennial to naturalise under birch trees.

Liriope muscari
Liriope muscari

Liriope muscari, lily turf, could be mistaken for a grass or sedge with its dark green, narrow, leathery leaves. The evergreen clumps make a useful contrast to spreading plants and other foliage forms. In autumn the flower spikes appear: rich blue, tiny blooms crowded on vertical stems. They last for several weeks, giving a welcome splash of late colour. That dark blue is surprisingly showy in low light.

Lunaria rediviva
Lunaria rediviva

The perennial honesty, Lunaria rediviva is not as widely grown as the familiar annual variety, well known for its papery winter seed heads. Lunaria rediviva does not seed as freely and produces tight clumps of bright green leaves crowned with the palest lilac blooms. These go on to develop into flattened oval seed cases of pale green turning parchment in fall.The delicate flowers have a delicate ethereal presence and really lift a shaded spot.

Andy McIndoe

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