Stars of the shade

Discover shade-loving plants to brighten up those dim areas

Shady spots in the garden can sometimes present a challenge. We asked five Partner Gardens for their recommendations on outstanding plants to grow to bring colour and interest to even the dimmest of areas.

Deinanthe caerulea. Image: Stone House Cottage GardensDeinanthe caerulea
Stone House Cottage Gardens, Worcestershire

Deinanthe caerulea is a Chinese woodland plant that looks a bit like an herbaceous hydrangea. It has waxy rich purple-blue flowers in mid-summer and fresh light green hirsute leaves.

Keep it shady, moist and out of the wind and this plant will fairly quickly bulk up to make an impact when the first flush of spring flowers are on the wane. The foliage contrasts well with ferns or hostas and it flowers at the same time as some Roscoea.

It could be used to grow through early bulbs or Anemone nemorosa to hide the dying foliage and extend the season of interest. It grows to about 18” or 2’ depending on the conditions.
-Louisa Arbuthnott, owner

Maianthemum racemosumMaianthemum racemosum (American spikenard)
Spinners Garden, Hampshire

In our woodland garden this is the perennial that attracts the most attention in May, when it is sporting its fluffy white flowers with their delicious smell.  While smell may draw you to the plant, it has many other attractive features to offer.

The lily-like leaves are  deeply  veined and unfurl on long arching stems not dissimilar to Solomon’s seal. Unlike Solomon’s seal, the creamy-white flowers are held in terminal panicles to be replaced by berries in late summer.

M. racemosum is native to north America and grows well in the dappled shade and moist conditions of our woodland garden. We place it near the paths so the smell can be appreciated, and between shrubs where it gives interest after most of our other woodland perennials have faded away.

It forms clumps which slowly spread by underground rhizomes and we have found these can be split in early spring, just as the leaves begin to appear, so they can be offered for sale in our nursery.
-Vicky Roberts, co-owner

Saxifraga stoloniferaSaxifraga stolonifera (strawberry saxifrage)
Coleton Fishacre, Devon

Saxifraga stolonifera is normally a house plant, but it seems to grow well here. As you see from the photo it is low growing and produces many stolons which root readily.  We grow it in a damp, shady border at the base of the wall in our Rill Garden. 

I like it as it covers well and provides interest in a bed which is difficult to fill with suitable plants.  The rosettes of pink leaves bear white star-like flowers later in the year. 

The planting has been here more than 10 years, so has survived some of our colder winters.  It is well behaved in that it is not invasive and requires very little maintenance.
-Martyn Pepper, Senior Gardener

Gentiana asclepiadeaGentiana asclepiadea (willow gentian)
Bide-a-Wee Cottage Gardens, Northumberland

Fresh green, arching stems produce deep blue flowers in late summer when little in the garden provides such cool tones. It will tolerate  soils both sides of neutral, as long as it is not too dry at the root, and has shade when the sun is at its strongest.

At Bide-a-wee it is planted in all our shade areas with ferns such as Polystichum setiferum 'Dahlem' , with seedings now  established in cracks in rock faces. It also works well in the foreground of Hydrangea arborescens 'Annabelle', which flowers at the same time.

-Mark Robson, owner

Pulmonaria Mary MottramPulmonaria ‘Mary Mottram’
Stillingfleet Lodge Garden and Nurseries, North Yorkshire

So many woodland plants flower early in the year, so I am going to recommend a plant that flowers in spring but continues throughout  summer, to really earn its keep.  From March to May Pulmonaria 'Mary Mottram' is covered with large, pinky-mauve flowers which are full of pollen for the bees.

The foliage is silvery with an edging of green dots,  and the leaves become larger throughout the summer, suppressing all weeds! The foliage stays on the plant all winter, lightening up a dark corner. Pulmonaria have few pests; mildew occasionally affects some varieties but is easily dealt with - just cut off all the foliage and within a week, new, unaffected foliage will appear.

All Pulmonaria grow well in shade and there are varieties with flower colour from white through to pale blue, dark blue and rosy pink as well as different leaf colours (note: some with plain green leaves do not keep their foliage during winter).
-Vanessa Cook, owner

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