Planting a shady border

Planting a shady border

Posted 19th Jun 2017

Garden expert Kate Gould tells us all we need to know about planting a shady border

A shady border need never be dull. Texture is the key to adding interest, but before we consider plants we should evaluate the aspect. There is shade; gentle and dappled with shafts of bright light at different times of the day as the sun moves across the sky and then there is shade; dry, dark, dense and unforgiving. Needless to say if you have the conditions of the latter then that is rather unfortunate and establishing any planting will be a labour of love. The former, though it too has its challenges is far simpler to achieve and is perhaps the level of shade many of us have in our gardens.

Preparing your ground is vital for any new scheme but especially so with a shady border. Well rotted organic matter, pH appropriate to your site should be incorporated in and around the generous planting hole (twice the size of the pot at least) and prior to planting deluge two or three full two gallon watering cans of water into each hole before you put the plant in to soak the surrounding earth. Let the water drain away and then place the plant in the hole, backfill with the original soil mixed with new organic matter, top soil, fertiliser and compost and then a final water and a mulch over the top to prevent water loss through transpiration are all well worth the effort. While the plants are young watering will be vital throughout the drier months.

It is tempting to buy larger specimen plants but in shady spaces starting small (2-3L) is more likely to produce better and quicker results than planting a mature shrub. Smaller plants establish better and will attune themselves to the location and conditions much more easily.

The colours that work best in the shade are not surprisingly whites, pale blues and pinks.

Some plants to consider for a successful partly shady border:


- Hydrangea vars. - Deciduous

- Sarcococca vars. - Evergreen

- Mahonia eurybracteata 'Soft Caress' - Evergreen

- Dicksonia Antarctica - Depending on your climate Dicksonia can hold their leaves all year or they will require winter protection.

- Leucothoe keiskei - Evergreen with a red flush.

- Rhododendron vars. – Evergreen or Deciduous


- Ferns - Deciduous and Evergreen.

- Hosta Vars – Deciduous

- Euphorbia amydaloides var. – Evergreen

- Vinca minor vars. – Evergreen


- Crocus speciosus – Deciduous

- Anemone blanda – Deciduous

- Erythronium ‘Pagoda’ - Deciduous

- Convallaria majalis - Deciduous

These are of course only a few of the plants that will grow happily in shade but there are many more. The key to success for a shady area is preparation and research. Taking the time to plan and planting appropriate plants means that a once difficult space could be transformed into a colourful border that provides interest throughout the seasons.

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