Shady areas of the garden have a reputation as being difficult to make look good. But, contrary to popular belief, there are plenty to choose from to turn a lifeless-looking area into an inviting, pretty space.

Like all gardens, it’s a good idea to include plants of varying heights and widths in order to make the space look interesting.


If the area is shaded by tall buildings or hedging, planting the right type of tree can help block the view of the buildings. Additionally, in the process, they help to create a private, peaceful spot.

Plus, if your garden is in full sun you might actually want to create a shady area!

Trees also help filter out noise and air pollution, as well as being a haven for birds and other types of wildlife.

Before choosing a tree assess whether the area is lightly, moderately, or deeply shaded as this will affect the type of tree that will grow well.

Most trees thrive in light or part-shaded areas.

Just make sure you choose one that doesn’t have a dense leaf canopy, with branches growing close together, as this can make the space feel oppressive.

Trees like Birch, Kousa Dogwood and June Berry have light, airy open canopies, and often more than one season of interest.

kousa dogwood

Amelanchier leaves ‘Snowflakes’ (June berry)

This tree is covered in clusters of larger-than-average white flowers in spring, followed by edible berries in the summer, but you’d need to pick them before the birds do!

Finally, in autumn, the leaves turn beautiful shades of red and yellow before falling to the ground, making this a wonderful tree for a partly shaded spot.

  • Flowers March to April
  • Hardy
  • Grows to 600cm tall and 600cm wide
  • Well-drained soil
  • Sun to part shade
  • Exposed

Trees that grow well in lightly shaded areas will also grow in more shady conditions, but the trade off could be less flowers, and/or less vibrant autumn leaf colour.

Prunus lusitanica (Portuguese Laurel)

A tree that copes well with more dense shade and poor soil is the Portuguese laurel, with the added advantage of being evergreen and, therefore, providing year round cover for privacy.

  • Flowers April to May
  • Hardy
  • Grows to 500cm tall and 600cm wide
  • Well-drained soil
  • Deep shade to full sun
  • Exposed

The dark green, shiny leaves and red-coloured new shoots make this a great choice for shady areas.  Portuguese laurels are very versatile and can also be used for hedging or creating specimen topiary trees.

Herbaceous Perennials

Adding taller, shade-loving perennials to grow above-ground cover plants is a great way of adding height and texture to your planting scheme.  Most shade-loving perennials prefer consistently moist soil to grow well.

Therefore, if your soil tends to be on the dry side, water the plants in well after planting.

Then add a good layer of mulch on top of the soil around the plants to help retain soil moisture.

Choose perennials that will flower from early to late summer to maximise interest in your shady border.

Aruncus dioicus (Goatsbeard)

An easy-to-grow, trouble-free, large, tough plant, which will flower from late spring into early/mid-summer producing masses of tall, creamy white flower spires.

  • Flowers June to July
  • Hardy
  • Grows to 180cm tall and 150cm wide
  • Soil that stays moist
  • Light to deep shade
  • Exposed
Aruncus dioicus

Acanthus mollis (Bear’s breeches)

Bear’s breeches are good-looking plants that are also easy to grow.

These easy-going, impact-making plants, reach heights of around 150cm when in flower. Also, they have deeply cut, dark green, shiny, serrated leaves with purple-white flowering stems.

They have the added bonus of being drought resistant and generally not eaten by slugs and snails!

  • Flowers June to August
  • Hardy
  • Grows to 150cm tall and 90cm wide
  • Well-drained soil
  • Light to deep shade
  • Exposed
Acanthus mollis

Anemone x hybrida ‘Honorine Jobert’ (Japanese anemone)

For late season interest Japanese anemones are a great choice for a shady part of the garden and look wonderful planted en masse.

Their flower colours range from pure white to magenta pink, with the white flowering varieties showing up well in shade.

  • Flowers August to September
  • Hardy
  • Grows to 90cm tall and 75cm wide
  • Most moist, well-drained soil types
  • Light shade
  • Exposed
Anemone x hybrida honorine jobert

An elegant looking plant that produces beautiful, single, white flowers from late summer until early autumn on tall stems.  If planted in spring they are likely to flower that same year.


Shrubs are plants that develop a permanent woody structure and can help provide year-round interest to a shady part of the garden.

Taller examples of evergreen shrubs with scented flowers are mahonia and osmanthus.

Osmanthus delavayi (Osmanthus)

A spring flowering shrub that produces masses of small, white, scented flowers on arching branches in spring and, for that reason, is best planted near a path to fully appreciate the delightful scent.

Osmanthus delavayi
  • Flowers April to May
  • Hardy
  • Grows to 300cm tall and 400cm wide
  • Most moist, well-drained, moderately fertile soil
  • Light shade
  • Exposed

Hydrangea paniculata ‘Great Star’

Hydrangeas are a good choice if looking for colourful flowers over a long period of time.  They aren’t evergreen but, keeping the spent flowerheads on the shrub not only protects the new flower buds from the worst of winter weather, but also provides visual interest over winter.

Just snip them off in February/March before the new flowering buds start to develop.

The star-shape flowers on this large shrub are pure white and scented, appearing from late summer into autumn when they turn pink!  The flowers also make great cut flowers.

Hydrangea paniculata great star
  • Flowers April to May
  • Hardy
  • Grows to 150cm tall and 100cm wide
  • Most moist, well-drained, moderately fertile soil
  • Part shade
  • Exposed

Hydrangea flowers react to your soil type, turning pink if the soil is alkaline and blue if it’s more acidic, worth bearing in mind when making your choice as the blue flower plant you see in the garden centre/plant nursery may turn out to be pink flowering in your garden!

If you’re unsure of your soil type choosing a white flower variety might be a good idea!  Plus white flowers show up very well in a shady area.

By choosing any of these plants, you can add a little privacy and protection from the summer sun. This can help you enjoy your garden even more through the warmer months!

To find out more about growing hydrangeas, read this blog answering commonly asked questions!

Or check out my Pinterest board for more ideas: