Urban Shade

Designer Conal McGuire tackles the problem of gardening in shade in his RHS Urban Show Cube

Urban Shade Cube
Urban Shade Content Cube planting Urban Shade Content Cube structure

An inspiring solution for urban growing

One of the most common problems facing urban gardeners is shade, owing to the close proximity of tall buildings. Urban Shade at the RHS Urban Show presents solutions using shade-tolerant planting and vertical growing to make the most of the light and space available to the city gardener.
Designer Conal McGuire created the ‘Grow Frame’ system used in the space for the basis for his RHS Flower Show Tatton Park garden in 2023, Brickyard, which won Gold, Best in Category and People’s Choice. The system is transportable – great for those who rent or have limited access to their garden.

See Conal’s RHS Tatton Park Garden Brickyard

Plants for shade

Light is one of the essential needs of nearly all plants, they convert the energy it gives them into food in the process of photosynthesis. However, light requirements vary and many plants have adapted to compensate for low-light environments, such as the forest floor or valley basins.

Choosing plants

Shade-tolerant plants in containers

Phototropism is one such adaptation whereby growth is directed towards light, making climbers a popular choice for shade as they make the most of what sun there is. Larger, thinner leaves are more efficient at capturing and converting light. This is why many popular houseplants have lush foliage, such as Aspidistra and begonia.

Buy plants for shade
Dry shade combination
Structured shade combination
Damp shade combination

There is a difference between shade-tolerant plants and rarer, shade-loving (sciophilous) plants, but there are still many varieties to choose from which will thrive in urban gardens.

Plant list

Ajuga reptans ‘Burgundy glow’
Ajuga reptans ‘Catlins giant’
Asplenium scolopendrium
Bergenia cordifolia ‘Purpurea’
Blechnum spicant
Clematis armandii ‘Snowdrift’
Clematis montana jackmanii
Clematis ‘Apple blossom’
Cyrtomium forunei ‘Clivicola’
Dicksonia antarctica
Digitalis ‘Pink panther’
Dryopteris erythrosa
Epimedium ‘Niveum’
Hakonechloa macra
Heuchera ‘Autumn leaves’
Hosta ‘Halcyon’
Lemon balm
Lettuce ‘Rosso’
Liriope muscari ‘Big blue’
Marjoram sweet
Mint mixed
Pulminaria opal ‘Ocupol’
Rhubarb ‘Victoria’
Tiarella ‘Spring symphony’

RHS Guides


Meet the designer

Conal McGuire

Conal says: “I have held a long running interest in horticulture, and at age fourteen was the youngest individual to ever be issued a plot on my local allotment. It was here I learned about plants and was able to play around with layout and design. I now find myself running a design studio and often look back to working on my allotment after school, this was definitely a formative part of my horticultural journey. My style is quite contemporary, distilling classic ideas, weaving through better ecological practices and constantly developing my design aesthetic.”

Conal’s tips for Urban Gardening

  • Don’t be afraid to try out new ideas, trial and error is a great way of learning.
  • Use what’s available to you by planting big and upwards, this will make your garden feel larger and greener.
  • Think of the bigger picture, a neighbour could be inspired by your space and this could start a whole new community of gardeners massively helping the environment.

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The Royal Horticultural Society is the UK’s leading gardening charity. We aim to enrich everyone’s life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place.