Climbers and wall shrubs for shade

North- or east-facing walls and fences often receive very little direct sunlight, but that doesn't mean you can't grow plants in these places. When choosing a climber or wall shrub for such a spot, choose one that can cope with cold and shady conditions.

Ivy on a shady wall. Credit: RHS/Paul Debois.

Quick facts

Top five plants for shady walls:

Introduction

Climbers have a natural tendency to climb and some will even self-cling, without requiring tying-in to supports.
 
Wall shrubs, by contrast, do not naturally climb. If left alone, they bush outwards and grow like shrubs. With specific pruning and training techniques, they can be trained to grow against walls.

Practical considerations

Choose plants that will be happy in your garden soil conditions. Some plants are adapted to different soil types (clay or sand for example), and others require acid soil conditions.

Make sure your pruning and training technique encourages the plant to cover the wall as quickly and efficiently as possible. Climbers and wall shrubs require training and pruning as soon as they are planted.

Suitable plants

See the list below for some of our suggestions on climbers and wall shrubs suited to shade. A much wider range of climbers including other cultivars of those listed can be found at RHS Find a Plant.

(*) suitable for neutral to acid soils
(v) variegated foliage
(e) evergreen
AGM The RHS Award of Garden Merit 

Note: Height and spread for each plant is approximate. Location, soil conditions and prevailing weather will influence ultimate height and spread.

Self clinging climbers (requiring no support)

Euonymus fortunei ‘Silver Queen’ (v): (e) white margined leaves blotched grey-green and dark green. Height 5m (15ft)
Euonymus fortunei ‘Emerald n’ Gold’ (v) AGM: (e) bright green leaves with broad yellow margins, tinged pink in winter. Height 6-8ft (2-2.5m) or more
Hedera algeriensis ‘Gloire de Marengo (v) AGM: (e) (North African ivy) large deep green and silvery-green leaves, edged and blotched creamy-white. Height 4m (12ft)
Hedera colchica ‘Dentata Variegata’ (v) AGM: (e) (Persian ivy) light green leaves mottled grey-green and broadly margined creamy white. Height 5m (15ft)
Hedera helix ‘Buttercup’ AGM: (e) large lobed leaves, pale green in shade and bright yellow in sun. Height 2m (6ft)
Hedera helix ‘Glacier’ (v) AGM: (e) triangular, 3 lobed grey-green leaves marked and blotched silver-grey and cream. Height 2m (6ft)
Hedera helix ‘Green Ripple’: (e) prominently veined, pointed mid-green leaves. Height 2m (6ft)
Hedera helix ‘Oro di Bogliasco’ (v) AGM: (syn.‘Goldheart’) (e) dark green leaves with a central splash of bright yellow. Height 8m (25ft)
Hydrangea anomala subsp. petiolaris AGM: (climbing hydrangea) heart shaped leaves; domed flowerheads of white lace-cap type flowers in summer; Height to 15m (50ft)
Hydrangea seemannii: (e) leathery mid green leaves and in summer domed flowerheads of greenish-white. Height to 10m (30ft)
Parthenocissus henryana AGM: (Chinese Virginia creeper) dark green leaves conspicuously veined white flushed pink turning bright red in autumn. Height to 10m (30ft)
Parthenocissus quinquefolia: (Virginia creeper) palmate mid-green leaves turn brilliant red in autumn.  Height 15m (50ft)
Parthenocissus himalayana var. rubrifolia: purple young leaves become dark green then rich crimson in autumn. Height 6-10m (20-30ft)
Parthenocissus tricuspidata ‘Veitchii’ AGM: (Boston ivy) deeply toothed bright green leaves have dark red-purple autumn colour. Height to 20m (70ft)
Pileostegia viburnoides: (e) slender, leathery dark green leaves and in late summer and autumn dense panicles of creamy-white flowers  with prominent stamens. Height 6m (20ft)
Schizophragma hydrangeoides: creamy white flowers in flattened flowerheads in midsummer. Height 12m (40ft)

Twining climbers (require supports but tying in may not be necessary)

Akebia quinata: fragrant brownish-purple flowers in spring, sometimes followed by large purple fruits; Height 10m (30ft)
Berberidopsis corallina: (e) needs a sheltered, warm spot; dark red flowers from summer to early autumn; Height 5m (15ft)
Celastrus orbiculatus: (Oriental bittersweet) small green flowers in summer followed by yellow berries which open to expose pink to red seeds; Height 10m (30ft)
Most clematis thrive in any aspect but partial shade can help to prevent premature fading of flower colour, especially some in the Early large-flowered Group (Clematis pruning: Group 2). See the following:
Clematis ‘Barbara Dibley’: single large petunia-red flowers late spring. Height 2.5m (8ft)
Clematis ‘Barbara Jackman’: single bluish-mauve flowers have a crimson central bar, late spring-early summer and late summer. Height 2.5m (8ft)
Clematis ‘Bees Jubilee’: single mauve-pink flower with a darker central bar late spring and midsummer. Height 2.5m (8ft)
Clematis ‘Carnaby’: single bright pink flowers have a darker pink central bar and crimped petals, late spring to late summer. Height 2.5m (8ft)
Clematis ‘Dawn’: single pearl-pink flowers late spring-early summer and late summer. Height 3m (10ft)
Clematis ‘Fujimusume’ AGM: single light blue to purple-blue flowers with a velvety texture, early to midsummer and late summer. Height 2.5m (8ft)
Clematis ‘Guernsey Cream’: single creamy-yellow flowers with a deeper central stripe late spring-early summer fade to cream in late summer. Height 2.5m (8ft)
Clematis ‘Hagley Hybrid’: single shell-pink flowers with crimped edges early summer to early autumn. Height 2m (6ft)
Clematis ‘John Warren’: single large, pinkish-grey flowers with a deep pink central stripe late spring-early summer and late summer. Height 3m (10ft)
Clematis ‘Nelly Moser’ AGM: single pale mauve-pink flowers have a distinct dark pink central bar late spring-early summer and late summer. Height 2-3m (6½-10ft)
Clematis ‘Pink Fantasy’: single scalloped shell-pink flowers with a deeper pink central bar early summer to early autumn. Height 2-2.5m (6-8ft)
Clematis ‘Silver Moon’: single silvery mauve flowers have a satin sheen, from late spring to early autumn. Height 3m (10ft)
Clematis ‘Yukikomachi’: single pale lavender flowers with a white bar, late spring-early summer and late summer. Height 2.5m (8ft)
Decumaria sinensis: (e) glossy dark green leaves and honey-scented yellow or creamy-white flowers in pyramidal panicles, late spring and early summer Height 2m (6ft) or more
Lonicera caprifolium: (Italian honeysuckle) very fragrant tubular yellow flowers flushed red, midsummer to autumn. Height 6m (20ft)
Lonicera henryi ‘Copper Beauty’: (e) glossy dark green leaves have burnished copper young spring growth, flowers small tubular yellow throated reddish flowers midsummer. Height 10m (30ft)
Lonicera japonica ‘Halliana' AGM: (Japanese honeysuckle) pure white fragrant flowers age to deep yellow. Height 10m (30ft)
Lonicera periclymenum ‘Graham Thomas’ AGM: (common honeysuckle) fragrant creamy-white flowers turn yellow and borne over a long period. Height 7m (22ft)
Lonicera tellmanniana: tubular bright copper-orange flowers 5cm long from late spring to midsummer. Height 5m (15ft)
Muehlenbeckia complexa: small rounded dark green leaves on fine dark stems and greenish-white flowers in small racemes, in summer. Height 3m (10ft
Schisandra rubriflora: dark crimson flowers from late spring to summer. Height 10m (30ft)
Stauntonia hexaphylla: (e) dark green leaves with leathery leaflets, racemes of cup-shaped fragrant, violet-tinged white flowers in spring. Height 10m (30ft)
Trachelospermum jasminoides AGM: (Star jasmine) (e) glossy dark green leaves, bronze-red in winter; fragrant pure white flowers in mid and late summer. Height 9m (28ft)
Vitis coignetiae AGM: large, heart-shaped dark green leaves to 30cm (12in) long turn bright red in autumn, small ornamental blue-black fruits in autumn. Height to 15m (50ft)

Wall shrubs

Abeliophyllum distichum: long racemes of small fragrant white flowers late winter-early spring. Height and spread 1.5m (5ft)
Azara serrata AGM: (e) glossy dark green leaves and fragrant deep yellow flowers in midsummer. Height and spread 3m (10ft)
Chaenomeles speciosa ‘Geisha Girl’ AGM: small cup shaped double flowers are deep apricot-peach in spring followed by small aromatic quince-like fruits. Height and spread 2-3m (6-10ft)
Chaenomeles × superba ‘Pink Lady’ AGM: small cup-shaped deep pink flowers in early spring followed by green quince-like fruit ripening to yellow. Height and spread 1.5m (5ft)
Cotoneaster horizontalis AGM: branches form a herringbone pattern; pink-white flowers in late spring followed by red berries. Height 1m (3ft). Spread 1.5m (5ft)
Crinodendron hookerianum AGM: (Lantern tree) (e) (*) dark green leaves and lantern-shaped fleshy petalled scarlet-red flowers late spring to late summer. Height and spread to 5m (15ft)
Drimys winteri var. chilensis: red shoots and leathery glossy dark green leaves. Clusters of white flowers in spring. Height 4m (12ft). Spread 2.5m (8ft)
× Fatshedera lizei AGM: (tree-ivy) (e) palmate leathery dark green leaves divided into five deeply cut lobes, greenish white autumn flowers in umbels. Height 1.2-2m (4-6ft). Spread 3m (10ft)
Forsythia suspensa AGM: clusters of bright yellow flowers on arching shoots, early-mid spring. Height and spread 3m (10ft)
Garrya elliptica ‘James Roof' AGM: (e) long silvery catkins in mid-winter to early spring; 4m (13ft) height and spread
Itea ilicifolia AGM: (e) glossy dark green leaves and from summer to autumn highly fragrant, tiny green flowers in pendent, catkin-like racemes to 30cm (1ft) long. Height and spread 3m (10ft)
Jasminum humile ‘Revolutum’ AGM: (yellow jasmine) semi evergreen bright green leaves in leaflets and from late spring to early autumn fragrant bright yellow flowers. Height and spread 2.5m (8ft)
Jasminum nudiflorum: (winter jasmine) profusion of small yellow flowers in winter-early spring before the leaves. Height and spread 3m (10ft)
Lonicera standishii var. lancifolia ‘Budapest’: tubular scented pale-pink flowers from late autumn to early spring. Height and spread 2-2.5m (6-8ft)
Photinia × fraseri ‘Red Robin’ AGM: (e) dark green leaves are bronze to bright red when young. Small white flowerheads in mid-late spring. Height and spread 5m (15ft)
Pyracantha ‘Orange Glow’ AGM: (e) flowerheads of small white flowers in early summer followed by orange-red to dark orange berries. Height and spread 3m (10ft)
Ribes laurifolium: (e) scalloped leathery dark green leaves and cup-shaped greenish yellow flowers in pendent racemes in late winter and early spring. Height 90cm (3ft). Spread 1.5m (5ft)
Stachyurus praecox AGM: (*) tapered mid-green leaves and bell-shaped pale yellow-green flowers in racemes, late winter or early spring. Height and spread 3m (10ft)

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