25 Shade Loving Plants That Grow Well in UK Gardens

By   | Last Updated :   August 10, 2021 | Filed In :   Garden Design

Do you have a garden that is shaded almost all the time? You probably know how challenging it can be to get anything to grow, but it doesn’t have to be. Despite the challenge, it’s still possible to fill your shaded garden with a variety of plants as long as you choose wisely.

The right plants will make gardening in the shade quite enjoyable, even to novice gardeners. Let’s take a look at the best plants for shaded gardens.

which garden plants grow well in shade

It is possible to grow a beautiful garden in the shade. By Sue Manus, via CC BY 2.0

Which plants grow well in shaded UK gardens?

There are quite a few shade-loving plants to choose from. We’ll go into more detail, but if you’re in a rush, consider the following:

If you’re taking the time to plan a shaded paradise, it is important to know what kind of shade your garden has.

Understanding garden shade

Did you know that there are many degrees of shade when it comes to gardening?

You might see shade as an area with a shadow where the sun is blocked by some kind of object, building or plant but it’s not that simple. Let’s take a look at the different degrees of shade and how it will affect the plants in your garden.

Deep/heavy shade:

In deep or heavy shade, also referred to as full shade, the plants will get less than two hours of direct sun a day.

This type of shade can usually be found underneath dense trees or shrubs. The soil in these areas tends to be very acidic and dry making it an extremely harsh environment for plants to live in. Only the hardiest, shade-tolerant plants will survive here.

Moderate shade

Moderate shade means the plants receive two or three hours of direct sunlight each day.

Midday sun will also supply a significant amount of dappled sunlight making it easier for plants to thrive instead of just surviving.

Dappled shade

In dappled shade areas, the plants will receive more than three hours of direct sunlight each day.

The sunlight will also be filtered through mostly open tree canopies creating an area with lots of bright light that is still protected against the harshest rays of the sun during midday.

Partial or semi-shade

In areas with partial shade, the plants will receive around 3 to 6 hours of direct sun each day.

They will also more likely be shaded during the morning and evening receiving direct sun or only light shade around midday.

Light shade

Areas with light shade are often open to the sky, but the sun is blocked by a high wall, building or row of trees part of the day. Plants in light shade areas will usually receive around 6 hours of direct sunlight, with light shade in the morning and evening.

Full sun

Full sun means the area receives direct sunlight for most of the day.

In the morning or evening, there might be some light shade depending on the layout of your garden. Plants grown here need to be able to tolerate the harsh midday sun.

Shade-loving plants that grow well in UK climate

There are some great plants to choose from for shaded gardens. Quite a few plants are excellent as background plants, ground cover or even climbing plants and just because they love the shade, doesn’t mean they have to be dull.

Loads of shade-loving plants will flower, giving your garden some colour. Here are a few plants that do more than just survive in shade.

Foliage for shaded gardens

Some plants look great without even flowering. Here are a few shade lovers with stunning foliage to choose from:

1. Plantain lilies (Hosta)

Plantain lilies, also commonly known as Hosta, is a genus of plants that are commonly grown as shade-tolerant foliage.

plantain lilies hosta giboshi

Hostas are an elegant solution for shady spots, just protect from hungry slugs and snails! Credit: Shutterstock

They are very hardy, making them an option for an area with deep shade. These plants will die back in autumn leaving the ground bare in winter, but they will reliably return in spring.

2. Ferns

Ferns are ideal to fill up those empty shaded areas in your garden with a bit of green.

scenic fern forest

A blanket of ferns is an ideal solution for areas of deep shade. Credit: Shutterstock

They are adapted to a variety of shaded conditions having developed in dense woodlands and forests. There are quite a few fern species available that will tolerate deep shade.  Try Hart’s tongue fern, rasp fern, soft shield fern, and Mr Wallich’s fern, just to name a few.

3. Elephant’s ear (Caladium)

Elephant’s ear, also known as heart of Jesus, angel wings or simply caladium, is a genus of plants belonging to the Araceae family.

elephant ear caladium in the garden

The elephant’s ear plant is a striking addition to a shady spot. Credit: Shutterstock

There are over 1000 named cultivars available around the world. They are great for shaded areas and have stunning foliage to fill those dark, dull corners of your garden with some colour. Elephant’s ears are perennial but don’t leave the plant outside during winter.

4. Japanese forest grass

Japanese forest grass (Hakonechloa macra) is a slow-growing, shade-loving grass.

japanese forest grass hakonechloa macra

Japanese forest grass is ideal for adding structure and colour to shaded spots. Credit: Shutterstock

This grass is great at lighting up dark areas and will even thrive in deep shade. This grass is often used as ground cover in the garden or grown in a pot as an ornamental grass.

5. Coleus

The name Coleus refers to a genus of plants with beautiful coloured leaves.

different varieties of coleus

Coleus are shade-tolerant plants with colour. Credit: Shutterstock

They come in a variety of shapes and sizes, but all of them are shade tolerant to some degree. These plants are usually annuals.

Flowering shade-loving plants

Just because your garden is mostly shaded, doesn’t mean you can have flowers around. Here are a few shade lovers from which you can expect flowers:

6. Hydrangea

Hydrangea refers to a genus of plants that thrive in shaded areas. The most common hydrangea found in the UK is Hydrangea macrophylla, also known as mophead or lacecap.

hydrangea macrophylla flowers

Hydrangeas thrive in shady areas. Credit: Shutterstock

7. Foxglove

Foxgloves are herbaceous perennials, shrubs and biennials that make up the Digitalis genus.

foxglove purple flowers

Foxgloves are a typical cottage garden plant. Credit: Shutterstock

These plants are grown for their beautiful bell-shaped flowers and will self sow creating years of joy. They are best grown in areas with partial sun if you’d like them to flower.

8. Impatiens

Impatiens or busy Lizzies (Impatiens walleriana) are great plants to grow in a shaded area.

impatiens walleriana busy lizzie

Busy Lizzies provide a welcome burst of colour. Credit: Shutterstock

They produce flowers that can vary widely when it comes to colour. These flowering plants do best in partial or dappled shade.

They can be grown in deep shade, but you can expect fewer blooms under these conditions. These plants are annuals and do best in sheltered locations.

9. Hellebores

Hellebores is a genus of herbaceous or evergreen perennial flowering plants that consist of about 20 species. These plants tolerate a wide range of shady conditions from almost full sun to almost deep shade.

winter flowering hellebores

Add some colour to your shady garden with hellebores. Credit: Shutterstock

They are very hardy plants which makes them perfect for UK gardens. If planted in deep shade, the plant will produce fewer flowers.

Vines for shaded garden walls

If you have a north-facing wall that just looks too bare, there are a few vines to consider as decorations.

10. Climbing hydrangea

This climbing species of the Hydrangea genus (Hydrangea petiolaris) doesn’t need a fancy trellis to climb on. It will cling to the wall all by itself making maintenance super easy.

climbing hydrangea on a wall

Impressive blooms on a shade-tolerant, evergreen climbing hydrangea. Credit: Shutterstock

Climbing hydrangeas are vigorous plants but can take several years to establish and flower, patience is key with this beautiful shade-lover.

11. Honeysuckle

Honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymenum) is a common vine plant through the British Isles.

honeysuckle privacy wall

Honeysuckle thrives in shade and has an incredible fragrance. Credit: Shutterstock

Even though the leaves prefer sunlight, the base of the plant does best in partial to deep shade.

12. English ivy

English ivy (Hedera helix) is probably the first plant that jumped into your head as soon as vines were mentioned.

english ivy covering walls

Ivy is a classic shade-loving climber. Credit: Shutterstock

They are very popular in British gardens and do very well in shady conditions. This vine will even grow in deep shade and can cover a large area in no time.

Shade-loving vegetables

If you’d like to create an edible shaded garden, there are a few vegetables that tolerate shade just fine. Here is a short list you can try:

  1. Beets
  2. Broccoli
  3. Cabbage
  4. Carrots
  5. Celery
  6. Kale
  7. Leaf lettuce
  8. Leeks
  9. Mustard
  10. Parsnips
  11. Peas
  12. Spinach
  13. Turnips

Tips for growing plants in shade

To grow shade-loving plants successfully, there are a few things to keep in mind:

1. Check the shade requirement of your chosen plant

Just because your plant loves shade, doesn’t mean it will grow in deep shade. Some plants prefer dappled shade or even light shade to thrive.

2. Make sure you have the right soil

Some plants will prefer soil that drains well, while others will prefer the damp or even acidic soil in deep shade to thrive.

3. Use mulch

Many plants that have adapted to growing in the shade require lots of rich plant matter on the ground.

mulching the garden

Consider adding mulch to boost the nutrient content of the soil. Credit: Shutterstock

Mulching is an easy way of creating organically rich soil that will support your plant when sunlight is unavailable.


What can I grow in full shade?

If you want to grow plants in deep/full shade, consider growing Lamium, Maculatum (dead nettle), Tiarella cordifolia (foamflower), Pulmonaria (lungwort), Astilbe, Digitalis (foxglove), and Hakonechloa (Japanese forest grass).

Can hydrangeas take full shade?

These plants grow best in partial shade, but they will tolerate full shade. You can expect fewer flowers when grown in full shade, however.

What vegetables grow in shade?

For shade-tolerant vegetables, consider leafy greens as your first choice. Among these vegetables, you can find kale, spinach, arugula and chard. Their growth rate will be reduced, but they’ll still produce a great tasting crop in the end.


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