How to plant an enchanting, shade-loving garden border

The shady garden border, north-facing or under a luxurious tree canopy, can be one of the most enchanting and interesting spaces within your landscape. But why do many of us struggle with creating idyllic shady borders?

Most of us have some full or dappled shade spaces within our garden, and a shady border need not be feared or avoided. In addition to [often] requiring less weeding than other beds and borders that boast full sun. They provide a fresh opportunity to grow flowers and foliage that cannot survive anywhere else, and the perfect opportunity to create an exciting and unique space.

The Front of your Shady border

Start with shade-loving classics such as Hosta, aka Plantain lilies. With so many shapes, colours and textures to choose from, you’re guaranteed to find a variety to complement your garden colour scheme. Or, you could choose to display a selection of different varieties of Hosta, whilst still creating a visually diverse display. The Hosta El Niño works brilliantly for cool colour schemes, with deep blue-green and white leaves and delicate lavender-coloured flowers. Alternatively, the Hosta Jules with golden yellow and green foliage will complement any warmer garden boarders

Alongside Hosta at the front of your shady border, plant starry clusters of Astrantia Astrantia major. In addition to being much-loved by pollinators, Astrantias are clump-forming. This means that creating a dense display of flowers is their forte, and they require little maintenance. Aside from the occasional division if they become too chaotic over time. For a shady border, look out for varieties with paler flowers, such as Astrantia rosea. Varieties with darker flowers tend to prefer more sunlight and won’t flourish in more shady beds and borders.

Blue Corydalis Corydalis Flexuosa, is another excellent choice and a must-have for cool colour schemes. The violet and powder blue tubular flowers create a sea of low-growing ground cover. Tumbled over large stones or a rockery will create almost magical results. The clusters of small leaves that sit at the base of the plant also help to create a ‘fluffy’ texture and work beautifully in contrast with any larger foliage. For example the large heart-shaped leaves of Hosta Guacamole or the strap-shaped fronds of ferns like Asplenium scolopendrium.

Other shade-loving plants to include at the front of your borders are Common Lungworts Pulmonaria officinalis or Barrenwort Epimediums. English bluebells Hyacinthoides non-scripta planted in shady areas will also thrive well into the summer months, experiencing a prolonged blooming period than those planted in full sun.

Woodland bluebells growing under large trees in a shaded woodland garden

The middle of your shady border

Japanese Forest Grass Hakonechloa Macra, is an ornamental grass that provides lush verdant foliage and swarms of tiny flowers over the summer. Before transforming into firey golden swathes in Autumn and winter. It is ideal for adding movement or texture within your border. It can also be used to soften edges if placed towards the front or on the corner.

Bearing delicate creamy-white flowers, that resemble fine jewels laced along the delicate chain of a necklace is Solomons Seal polygonatum x hybridum. A worthy winner of the RHS Award of Garden Merit, Solomons Seal possesses dangling flowers that create intriguing patterns, movement and repetition in any cool shady border.

Ferns such as Dryopteris wallichianaDryopteris affinisMatteuccia struthiopteris and Asplenium scolopendrium are all ideal for planting in the middle of a shady border. Creating excellent texture and softness. If you’ve ventured much of the Sound East Coastal path you may have spotted several varieties of pinnate-leaved ferns thriving in the full or dappled shade beneath the large tree canopies, paired with the more waxy and slender foliage of bluebells. When planted together the contrasts exaggerate each species’ individual beauty, creating something that is wildly informal and magnificent.

You may also consider Red Champions Silene dioica or varieties of shade-happy Anemones Anemone, such as canadensis, sylvestris, or hybrida.

The back of your shady border

A true shady border must-have, Foxgloves Digitalis purpurea. These plants are native to woodlands and therefore tend to prefer partial/dappled shade, but will also bloom magnificently in full sun. In particular, the pristine white f. albiflora variety will undoubtedly grow in almost complete shade.

Image of shade loving plants - hydrangeas and Anemones. In a shaded area of the garden

Hydrangeas Hydrangea macrophylla also enjoy a shady border, and climbing varieties are ideal for North facing structures, Similar, are the flowers of Guelder Rose Viburnum opulus. Growing up to 8meters in height, they are suited to line the back of your border. Displaying flowers through spring and summer, and bright red fruit in the autumn. Guelder Roses are deciduous, departing theatrically in flaming reds, oranges and yellows when the colder weather arrives.

False Goatsbeard Astilbe is recognisable by its plume-like flowers and midsummer colour. They perform best in partial shade but will grow, albeit slower, in full shade. Their colours range from creamy white to vibrant fuschia, with a variety of pinks and purples in the middle to choose from. Look out for taller varieties such as Rivularis, chinensis var. davidii, or chinensis var. taquetii. These make ideal choices for colour to fill the backs of your garden borders. There are several dwarf varieties to choose from too if you’d like to mix them into the front of your shady garden border.

Plants to grow in shade