We feel one of the best places to situate your garden bench is in the shade, maybe under a tree, in the corner of your space. You can sit coolly and calmly admiring the beauty of your garden without fear of sunburn or heat stroke. You don’t have to sit in a wasteland. You can still make the most of this area with some gorgeous planting. Therefore, to give you the best of both worlds: a cool seat with beautiful flowers, we offer you this guide to the best plants for dry shade.
If you are looking for a quick general rule before you pop to the garden centre: avoid the large-leaf hostas or rodgersia, especially if planting under a tree. The tree takes much moisture out of the soil, and this lush foliage must have much moisture in the ground. Also, if you want a quick fix, you could always buy a wildflower mix that would love to be scattered in your shaded area and create a haven for bees and butterflies and other wildlife. If you have time for more detailed advice about your dry border, here are the plants we would choose.
We guess the clue is the name, as the Dryopteris loves the dry soil of the shaded areas! This fern offers some drama to a border with extravagant, fan-like leaves. This is a great way to add some height to a shaded area that might be dominated by flowering shrubs.
Ivy thrives in the shade and will spread over a wall or fence to create a blanket of greenery. You could even use the ivy for ground cover. The ivy is its own master and if left will quickly take over. Be wary of allowing it to grow into structures, as it can loosen mortar. However, you should choose ivy for the drama and the ease.
New Zealand Wind Grass (Anemanthele lessoniana) is an attractive ornamental grass that will add a pop of colour to your garden all year round. Its fronds start out green, but slowly become yellow, red, and orange over time. During the winter months, it is reminiscent of a ball of fire! Anemanthele lessoniana does best in partial shade and should be combed through to remove dead leaves in the spring.
Plantain lilies are a hardy Hosta variety that do well in zone 3. They usually grow to around a foot tall, but they can get much bigger (such as the Big Daddy variety, which can grow to a metre tall and a metre wide. Gardeners love Hostas because they can become dense enough to choke weeds and can be used for borders.
Snowdrops are the heroes of winter. Just when you think nothing lovely will ever grow again in your grey garden out pops, the white flower gathered in bunches. You need a cruel heart not to smile when you see your first snowdrop.
Wood Anemones are perfect under trees in that offers dry, shaded soil. They create a blanket of flowers across the earth and offer the most delicate pink blooms. Snowdrops and wood anemones are perfect partners in your shaded area. Just as your snowdrops are making their last gasp, out will pop the anemone.
After starting so simple and so English, we thought we would bring something of the exotic. Fatsia Japonica is an evergreen plant, hardy as anything, but producing the most incredible explosion of white flowers that will add some height to your shaded area.
We love the Japanese Anemones because they offer flowers into the late summer and early autumn. It is essential to take any opportunity to extend the flowering season. You will love the delicate white and purple with a splash of yellow here and there. The flowers are held on tall stems, which will offer some subtle movement in the breeze.
Astrantias are delicate flowers that bloom for the summer in clumps. You can go for more pastel shades of pinks and whites, or something with a bit more oomph, with the deep red. These might not be the best for under a tree where there may be little water; however, if you dig in some mulch, they may well tolerate the drier area.
Hellebore will be a pleasant surprise in February/ March. You may expect only to see the hardy delicacy of the snowdrop. However, this luxurious flower loves to bloom from late winter. You could get yourself a lovely plum-colour or maybe go for the more dramatic near-black flower.
If you want a delicate flower with a heady fragrance, then you can do no worse that lily of the valley. It might look like it would lose in a fight, but this is a robust plant that will cover ground and create a dense growth of leaf and flower.
We end with epimediums for those who love nothing more than to plant and walk away. These perennial flowers thrive even with the most laidback gardener. They are low-maintenance and love dry soil. Be aware they are best grown in acidic soil.
Spotted dead nettle (Lamium maculatum) do best in zones 4 to 8. Their silvery leaves and pretty magenta flowers look lovely in any garden. While some people find spotted dead nettles too invasive, you can prevent it from spreading with careful attention.
Hydrangeas are a common garden favourite. Mopheads have round balls of flowers, while Lacecaps have flat flower heads with tiny flowers. Most hydrangeas are lilac, blue, or pink, depending on the acidity levels in the soil. Acidic soil results in lilac flowers, while alkaline soil results in pink flowers.
Cyclamen (Cyclamen hederifolium) is hardy yet pretty, offering silver backed green leaves and tiny pink blooms. Cyclamen is great at the base of the trees and shrubs, which makes it a favourite for dry shade. It does best in moist but well-drained soil and will self-seed on its own.
Vinca minor vines provide low ground cover that goes so much further than a green carpet of leaves – it sprouts precious purple flowers in the spring. Tend to vinca minor vines regularly to prevent it from becoming invasive.
Sure, Lenten Rose (Helleborus orientalis) may not actually be a rose, but its little flowers sure do look like rosebuds! Its name come from the fact that it blooms around Lent when it warmer climes (but in colder climates it blooms later in the spring).
Bugleweed (Ajuga reptans) sends out runners, so it can be quite invasive. Make sure you always tend to it with care. It is perfect if you want to cover a large area, but it will completely take over all other plants, so be careful and keep it away from your flowerbeds.
Lily Turf (Liriope muscari) is a perennial with grassy foliage and blue-purple spikes. It works well in a mixed border and will eventually become a ground cover that needs little maintenance. It tolerates drought well, and so it does well beneath shrubs and trees.
Meadow Rue (also known as thalictrums) provide dainty flowers and glaucous foliage. They have a floaty character and can grow to over 2 metres tall. They add a lovely airy quality to your herbaceous borders.
Cranesbill, also known as hardy geraniums, are perennial plants with small pink, white, blue, and purple flowers. They look lovely in borders and add to a sweet pastoral feel in any garden. The absolutely thrive in the shade, and are magnetic to bees, making them a firm favourite all year round.
Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) is beloved for its extravagant display and tall height, often growing to nearly 2 metres! Do note that foxglove is poisonous, so you need to keep it away from kids and pets. It won’t tolerate full shade and loves the sun but will do well in dappled shade and cooler climates.
The Stella de Oro Daylily (Hemerocallis ‘Stella de Oro’) is an elusive creature – its flowers only last for one day a year! However, another flower is following just behind in its tracks. It reblooms again and again, making this the showgirl of the garden! It does excellent in a large swath of planting zones (3 to 9) and does very well in dry shade.
Firethorn (Pyracantha) is a rugged shrub that can withstand both shade and exposed conditions. Look out for this one – it produces dense and thorny foliage that can pack a punch. This also makes it perfect as a border plant, along walls, or for covering boundaries. True to its name, it produces bright yellow or red berries.
Box (including Buxus sempervirens ‘Elegantissima’ and while B. microphylla ‘Faulkner’) are favourites for dry shade, as they can withstand many different conditions. While they prefer sun, they can thrive in the shade once established, so it is best to start them in a planter or pot.
Skimmia japonica is an evergreen shrub that bears dark green leaves with a spicy, aromatic aroma. You can expect dense clusters of pink-tinged fragrant white flowers in the spring, followed by red berries throughout the winter months. You should start Skimmia in a pot, and then transplant it into your garden.
Japanese Laurel (Aucuba japonica) goes by many names, including gold dust plant, spotted laurel, or Japanese aucuba or gold dust plant. It has reddish leaves, and bears red berries in the fall, and can grow to more than 3 metres tall!
Laurustinus (viburnum tinus) is an evergreen or deciduous shrub that has small clusters of white and pink flowers and blue-black berries. It does well in the shade and can grow to more than 3 metres tall.
With bright lime flowers and hardy, glossy leaves, Euphorbia amygdaloides var. robbiae is known for its rugged character. It spreads with underground runners and will eventually create a carpet that will smother weeds and take up a lot of space. This is great if you have a large plot to cover under a tree or shrubs.
Anna is the marketing and office manager for Garden Benches – a premium supplier of high-quality wooden benches and other outdoor furniture.