Best Plants for a Shady Border

by KathleenDuffy

A patch of garden permanently in shade can be home to a variety of plants. With careful planning and forethought, a shady border can be created for a year-long display.

Nobody has the perfect garden and shade can often be seen as a drawback. But with careful planning and a thoughtful use of plants that shaded area can be a permanent year-long delight.

It is very enjoyable to research the kind of plants that are shade-loving. During the chill winter months, study books and magazines, and surf the Internet for inspiration.

Think about the position of the shady border – does it back on to a tree, a wall or a hedge? These factors can influence the plants chosen and the amount of organic matter to be dug into the soil.

Make a Plan of the Shady Border

A Shade Garden
A Shade Garden

As with any area in the garden which requires planting, the first thing to do is make a plan of the shady border area. A simple drawing made on squared-up paper which roughly reflects the shape and measurements of the actual border is a good place to begin.

Then think about the planting scheme. Consider foliage, texture and flower to make the shaded area interesting. There will be a limited colour palette but this doesn’t mean that the area has to be boring.

Also, bear in mind height and ground coverage. Sketch into the plan where the chosen plants will be. Obviously the larger plants will be positioned at the back or side, depending on the line of sight. Plants grouped in threes or fives make a more interesting display than single species dotted here and there.

Plant Suggestions for a Shady Border


Here are some suggestions for plants suitable for a shady garden area. Height and spread are given so that gardeners can decide on the number of plants to buy.

Dryopteris erythrosora
Dryopteris erythrosora

Dryopteris erythrosora



A part-evergreen fern very useful in the border. (Height 50cm x spread 35cm.  or 19" x  13")






Helleborus orientalis
Helleborus orientalis

Helleborus orientalis



This is also called the Lenten Rose. It flowers in late winter and early spring with purple, white or pale green flowers. (Height x spread 45cm. or 17")


Sarcococca confusa
Sarcococca confusa

Sarcococca confusa




Evergreen shrub which produces small, white scented flowers. (Height 1.8m x spread 1m or 42" x 39")





Geranium macrorrhizum
Geranium macrorrhizum

Geranium macrorrhizum



This plant is low-growing with a faintly unpleasant smell. However, the pretty pink flowers which provide autumn colour make up for this!

(Height 50cm x spread 60cm or 19" x 23"). 




Geranium phaeum
Geranium phaeum

Geranium phaeum



The deep purple flowers mean it is also called Mourning Widow. It flowers in May.

(Height 75cm x spread 50cm. or  29" x 19") 






Luzula Nivea



Also known as Woodrush, this is a grass-like evergreen which spreads slowly and produces small white flowers in summer.

(Height x spread 45cm or 17") 




Luzula Nivea
Luzula Nivea
Honorine Jobert
Honorine Jobert

Honorine Jobert

This is an Anemone hybrid with white flowers and yellow centre which bloom in late summer. Leaves are semi-evergreen and it will slowly spread over the ground.

(Height 90cm x spread 60cm  or  35" x 23")




Things to Consider When Planting a Shady Border


Here are a few tips to consider before planting.

  • Prepare the ground well before planting the shady border. Adding organic matter gives plants a great start.
  • When buying geraniums always purchase the largest and strongest. They can be divided straight away, making two plants for the price of one.
  • Position the plants, still in their pots, according to your plan but remember this is only a guide.
  • Add bonemeal, general-purpose or slow release granular fertiliser to each planting hole to give the root system a flying start.
  • Sprinkle organic mulch around the plants to retain moisture and suppress weeds.
  • Water in the new plants. Keep an eye on the plants and water regularly, especially during the first season when they are getting established.

The shady border will take about two years to reach its full potential. It will fill out and become a beautiful, subtle addition to the garden with a variety of colour, shape and texture.




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Updated: 04/23/2014, KathleenDuffy
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frankbeswick on 10/13/2017

Dear Kathleen

It is nice to hear a comment from you after so long. I hope that all is well with you.

KathleenDuffy on 10/13/2017

Thanks for that comment.

dustytoes on 07/31/2015

I'm reading this again, and wanted to mention that I have great luck with bleeding heart plants growing in the shade. They have pink or white flowers.

KathleenDuffy on 02/19/2014

Poutine - thank you :)

KathleenDuffy on 09/14/2013

Dustytoes: I've added the inches conversion. Hope that helps.

KathleenDuffy on 09/14/2013

Glad that the Lenton Rose was such a success - yes, I agree, inches would be handy. When I have a minute I will convert ...

dustytoes on 09/14/2013

My whole yard is mostly shade, so I'm always looking for plants that will grow under trees. Last year I planted 2 of the lenton rose and I am hooked on them! The flowers were the first to bloom in my yard, they lasted a very long time, and the leaves still look great in Fall. I will be getting more of those. Your height and spread info is a great idea (but I would personally like it in inches).

KathleenDuffy on 09/14/2013

I hope it helps out a bit. Thanks jptanabe!

jptanabe on 09/14/2013

I have several shady spots in my yard. Going to check out these ideas to see if I can brighten them up a bit!

KathleenDuffy on 09/14/2013

You are very welcome. :)

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