Rodgersia ‘Herkules’

The best plants for shade

Discover the best plants for shade with our collection of flowers for a shady spot in the garden, chosen from Chris Moss' garden designs

The best shade-loving plants for the garden from Chris Moss’ garden design in rural West Sussex

A shady spot in the garden is an opportunity to create something special, a tranquil retreat to retire to on hot, summer days.

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Plants typically suited to shade will often be early to flower, but will continue the season with foliage that has a lush appearance. Chris’ designs mix ferns with ornamental grasses and classic woodland perennials, with the aim of creating a shady tapestry of contrasting texture, shape and form. He prefers to be generous with his quantities of shady plants, creating rivers of single species that flow into one another.

Pastel container flower display
© Eva Nemeth

“I like to layer the planting to create a shade understorey. This helps to cover the soil, offering protection, while adding interest.” By way of example, he indicates a Vinca minor that gently scrambles among some shade-loving hellebores, a less vigorous species than Vinca major and better behaved in a shady, woodland setting. Plant selection is key to success  with shade in the garden and ongoing pruning of the canopy above and around the site is essential.

As the planting matures, canopies will require lifting and thinning (usually best completed in winter) to prevent light levels from becoming too low. In dry but shady areas, the use of organic mulch will help, although additional irrigation may be required during any prolonged hot weather.

 

1

Dryopteris affinis

Dryopteris affinis
© Jason Ingram

Handsome, semi-evergreen fern. Long, mid-green fronds with contrasting golden stems are held upright to form a shuttlecock. Prefers a moist, shady site. 1.2m. AGM. RHS H5.

2

Astrantia major ‘Alba’

Astrantia major ‘Alba’
© Jason Ingram

Cottage-garden classic with fresh-green, bold, palmate leaves that have a toothed edge. Steely white, pincushion flowers from late spring to mid-summer. Most soils, but dislikes drying out. A plant for light shade to full sun. 70cm. RHS H7.

3

Persicaria alpina

Persicaria alpina
© Jason Ingram

Deciduous perennial plant of great stature and endurance. Large, oval leaves arch from central stems. Tiny, soft-white flowers turn rich pink as summer progresses. Heavy, rich soil in sun or part shade. 2m. AGM. RHS H6, USDA 4a-9b.

4

Rodgersia ‘Herkules’

Rodgersia ‘Herkules’
© Jason Ingram

Strong-growing, rhizomatous perennial with large, attractive palmate leaves tinted copper when young. The plant has panicles of tiny, pink, star-shaped flowers in summer. Moist soil in part shade to full sun. 1m. RHS H6.

 

5

Geranium Rozanne (= ‘Gerwat’)

Geranium Rozanne (= ‘Gerwat’)
© Jason Ingram

Violet-blue flowers from late spring to autumn among soft, palmate leaves that form a vigorous clump with a sprawling habit. Rich, free-draining soil in full sun to part shade. 60cm. AGM. RHS H7, USDA 5a-8b.

6

Gillenia trifoliata

Gillenia trifoliata
© Jason Ingram

Demure, rhizomatous perennial plant with delicate, three-lobed leaves on thin, black stems. Panicles of white, star-shaped flowers, with contrasting reddish calyces, appear from late spring to summer. Rich, free-draining soil in part shade to light sun. 80cm. AGM. RHS H7, USDA 4a-8b.

7

Geranium phaeum ‘Album’

Geranium phaeum ‘Album’
© Jason Ingram

Clump-forming, upright woodlander plant. Mid-green, palmate leaves from spring to autumn, with small, white flowers on thin stems. Any reasonable soil with some organic matter, in sun and shade. 1.2m. RHS H7.


8

Hakonechloa macra

Hakonechloa macra
© Jason Ingram

Deciduous, perennial grass with emerald-green leaves and fine flower panicles from late summer, followed by golden hues in autumn. Any soil but the driest, in light shade to full sun. 40cm. AGM*. RHS H7†.

9

Iris ‘Flight of Butterflies’

Iris siberica 'Flight of Butterflies'

Rhizomatous perennial with linear, grass-like leaves. Abundant, early summer flowers in violet with white marking. Moist, free-draining soil in full sun or light shade. 90cm. AGM. RHS H7.

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Discover more about Chris Moss’ garden design here.