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Plants That Will Grow in the Shade

Diana was a Member of the Royal Horticultural Society. She & her family all love gardening. She enjoys photographing & painting plants too.

Lace-cap Hydrangea grow well in shade and filtered sunlight.

Lace-cap Hydrangea grow well in shade and filtered sunlight.

I have many of these plants growing in shady spots of my garden, which encouraged me to create this article. It's common for people to assume that all plants want full sun, but as you'll see from this list, there are many beautiful, flowering plants that love the shade or dappled sunlight. These plants and shrubs do not require abundant sunlight to thrive, and they actually do much better with less light and heat.

10 Flowering Plants or Shrubs That Like Shade

  1. Black Lily
  2. Bluebells
  3. Hydrangea
  4. Primula and primrose
  5. Cotoneaster
  6. Pieris
  7. Virginia Creeper
  8. Fern
  9. Buddleia
  10. Pansies

Can Lavender Grow in the Shade?

People always ask me if lavender is the type of plant that you can grow in the shade. While there are some varieties that do better in shadier parts of the yard, generally lavender needs a lot of sun exposure, and it should not be planted in the shade.

A black lily.

A black lily.

1. Black Lily

If I had a gothic garden, I would plant black lilies for a gloomy effect. As you can see, the black lily is not truly black, but a deep purple. It has a surprising number of alternative names, including but not limited to Dragon Arum, Black Arum, Voodoo Lily, Snake Lily, Stink Lily, and Dragonwort.

Why "stink" lily? Regrettably, this epithet is accurate. The plant does have a distinctly unpleasant smell. That's not the only disadvantage. The black lily only flowers for a few days.

So why bother to give the black lily valuable space in your garden? Because it is spectacularly beautiful in full bloom. It looks almost eerie in an oppressive sort of way, and the leaves have an architectural majesty which gives shape and definition to a dark corner of the garden. And, as the flower dies, there is a short burst of reddish-yellow seedpods before the whole thing wilts, collapses, and looks awful. Work it out: Three or four months of pleasure and anticipation as the sculptured leaves develop and a burst of glory for a week, followed by a month of ignominy and then it's gone until the following year when it is likely to have multiplied.

I think it's worth it. My mother-in-law gave me my first black lily fifty years ago, and I am still growing them. My children grow them too, and no doubt so will my grandchildren, if I have a say.

Some English bluebells.

Some English bluebells.

2. English Bluebells

Did you know that English bluebells (as opposed to the more common Spanish bluebells) are dying out and are a protected species? It's partly to do to reduction of forest land, as bluebells are woodland plants. Perhaps part of the decline is also due to global warming and environmental changes.

English bluebells are now commonly hybridized with the Spanish type and are losing some of their characteristics.

Any of these characteristics can be a sign of hybridization:

  • Stems upright and not nodding.
  • Flowers borne on more than one side of the flowing stem.
  • The flower is more open and bell-shaped and does not have a long and more-or-less parallel sided tube.
  • The anthers, at least when young, are blue or cyan and not white or cream.
  • The leaves are broader.
  • The scent is less strong and less sweet.

So, in a way, we have a duty to encourage English bluebells where we can. I have always had bluebells in my garden but have only just identified them as the English variety, so I occupy the moral high ground here. It would be socially responsible to grow them if you have a shady border. I recently even planted some around the tree which grows in our road, outside my house.

Bluebells grow to about 9" (22 cm) high and flower in late spring for a couple of months. They come in a range of blue tones, from white to pale and bright blue and have a strong, sweet smell. These plants die back in early summer, so you may want to plant them close to late-flowering plants which will grow up around them and conceal the dying leaves.

RHS Encyclopedia of Plants and Flowers

3. Hydrangea

There are many different varieties of hydrangea, including small and large shrubs and strong climbers. They all do well in dappled shade.

Hydrangeas bear large heads of multiple florets in white, pink, or blue. You can actually change their coloring by the addition of chemicals. They have quite a long flowering period throughout summer and well into autumn, so they are what I would call "good value" plants.

A pink primula.

A pink primula.

4. Primulas and Primroses

Primulas and primroses come in a wide range of bright colors. There are many types of primrose, from the tiny wild ones to the great, big, F1 Hybrid primroses, which sometimes revert to smaller types in their later flowering years.

I have some tiny, wild, purple primroses, which grow in my rockery but the ones shown above are F1 Hybrids. They come up in spring and flower for about two months. They are perennials and come up year after year, as long as you don't let them dry out.

A cotoneaster.

A cotoneaster.

5. Cotoneaster

A cotoneaster attracts birds and bees. They like half-shade or dappled-shade. The plant bears red berries for much of the year, and the tiny leaves are evergreen. A cotoneaster has an attractive branching habit. You can shape and train it to spread up and along a wall, so it looks good at the back of a border.

A pieris during the fall when its color begins to fade.

A pieris during the fall when its color begins to fade.

6. Pieris

The leaves of the pieris change color as they grow. They start off red in spring and then later turn green and shiny. They have tiny, rather insignificant flowers. They like dappled shade. My pieris has never grown more than about two-feet tall and three-feet across, but I have seen other pieris shrubs which are a lot larger than this.

Virginia creeper

Virginia creeper

7. Virginia Creeper

Virginia creepers will climb up 50 feet with no problem. They are vigorous climbing vines that start off green and turn a brilliant shade of red in autumn.

You can see that they sometimes climb right up the side of a house and swarm over the roof. It looks wonderful for a couple of months, but heaven help you if you don't like pruning things. This little rascal can strangle a tree, block gutters, and cause damp to your walls.

So why do I mention it at all?

  1. Because it grows in the shade, and therefore has a place here.
  2. It is a very beautiful plant and provided you have the energy and right equipment (tall ladder and shears), you can keep it under control.

I grow it in a tub in my garden, and keep it well under control, allowing it to grow up a trellis nailed to a wall, but cutting it back if it starts to extend beyond the trellis.

Take the Poll Below About Weeds

Just a bit of fun. What's your attitude about weeds? Do you whisk them all out on principle—they have no place in a domestic garden—or do you really rather like them?

8. Fern

There are lots of different varieties of fern. I grow several different types in my garden. They look so cool and refreshing in the shade when the sun is blazing down, and everything else is looking a bit bleached and dry.

I grow Maidenhair Fern as well as this more unusual one, whose name escapes me. Any ideas from readers gratefully accepted!

9. Buddleia

Also known as the butterfly plant because it attracts butterflies, buddleias come in many shades of purple, from white through to dark heliotrope set against silvery green leaves. They are vigorous flowering shrubs that grow prolifically. In the building where I used to work, I saw them growing where they had seeded themselves in cracks in garage cement. Although preferring a sunny position, in my garden they grow happily in dappled shade. They need good drainage and should be cut back hard every year to flower on the new wood. Otherwise, they grow very tall and woody.

Best of all, they are fairly long-flowering—over most of the summer and into autumn.

Purple and white pansies.

Purple and white pansies.

10. Pansies

Pansies come in a range of magnificent colours. I love them, and their little faces always seem so welcoming.

You can get winter-flowering pansies, so it is possible to have pansies in pots flowering nearly all year round. They do a lot better if you give them plant food every two weeks or so. Otherwise, they might start to die off or simply not produce many flowers.

Pansies come in dark velvety reds, yellows, purples, and whites with many different combinations. I like to color-match them to other flowers in my garden so that you see a show of purples, pale lavender, or white flowers. An area where there are orange and red flowers growing together looks spectacular too.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

Question: Do pansies like full or partial shade?

Answer: Pansies grow best moist, fertile soil, in full sun or half shade. They should be dead-headed to prolong flowering.

Question: Do violas like full or partial shade?

Answer: The genus violas include pansies, in that all pansies are violas, but not all violas are pansies.

They need light and therefore grow well in full sun or partial shade rather than full shade. They can withstand quite low temperatures, but tend to die back a bit in sweltering weather, although they may recover when it gets cooler, or if moved to a cooler place. They also like rich, well-drained moist soil.

So, to answer your question specifically, they like partial shade, not full shade.

Question: Do Hostas Like Shade?

Answer: Hostas grow best in partial shade, rather than full shade, as they need some sunlight to photosynthesize.

Having said that, I do have some hostas growing in my garden in full shade, but after the first year, they started to look very weedy and are not thriving well, whereas the ones in my front garden which only gets morning sun are flourishing and look very bushy.

© 2011 Diana Grant

Do leave a comment!

Sara Pahl-Ramirez on August 01, 2020:

I love all kinds of flowering plants. I allow wild strawberry, violets, buttercups, and clover to mix freely with the (multiple) grasses of my back yard. In fact, I bought clover seed and sowed it, several years ago. I think that creeping charlie flowers are pretty, but pull it back to the fence line constantly because it is such a spreader! However, it is the only plant that will cover the ground beneath our cedar bushes, so I let it stay there. It’s odd, but I am a stickler about “no grass allowed in my garden -you have your own space.”

Leonora Anderson on June 23, 2020:

I've been growing climbing hydrangea as a ground cover over a rocky area behind my house, along a oak tree woods. Although it doesn't flower without sun, it thrives where nothing other than pachysandra, ferns and lily of the valley will grow.

Marco on June 19, 2020:

I love flowers in general, specially stella de oro

Diana Grant (author) from United Kingdom on June 11, 2019:

That's interesting, and I welcome your input. Not sure where TN is, possibly Tennessee? Anyway, here in the UK it is certainly controllable simply by cutting back. In fact my one is so delicate that I have to feed and water it to stop it dying back. Last year it hardly had any leaves, but looks a bit fitter now, in June.

Ryan on May 25, 2019:

Very surprised to see a "professional" recommend one of the most invasive and destructive plants in existence as an addition to a shade garden. Virginia creeper, much like the privet and Bradford pear trees, have decimated the natural landscape, especially in the southeast. Anyone who spends any time in nature and knows what they are looking for will confirm this. The three of them combined have managed to choke out many of the native plants here in TN, and elsewhere. I personally do invasive plant removal as part of my business and creeper and privet are my two biggest targets. I recommend killing it immeadiatley, before it spreads, not planting it intentionally. Always do further research when you read these blogs because I cannot tell you how much irresponsible advice I see in columns like this all the time.

Dale Anderson from The High Seas on May 03, 2019:

This was an interesting hub. I'll show it to my wife, who is a wannabe gardener.

John Kerse (NZ) on July 24, 2018:

Thanks for your comments & advice, we have some shaded areas that could do with some colour, sounds like I need to plant some pansies & Polyanthus.

Diana Grant (author) from United Kingdom on February 24, 2016:

Yes, I love my black lilies - so spectacular but sad that they only flower for a few days. I still think they're worth growing

Kathryn Grace from San Francisco on February 21, 2016:

I'm particularly fond of pansies and violas in the shadier part of a garden. I didn't know that buddleia could thrive in shade. Love that black lily, which is a totally new plant for me. Thank you!

Tolovaj Publishing House from Ljubljana on July 24, 2014:

It's great to know there are so many shade loving plants. Many of us don't have a lot of space and sometimes this place is almost without the sun. Thanks for the list.

Diana Grant (author) from United Kingdom on February 14, 2014:

@Frischy: Yes, I only have one border in full sunlight, and most of that is now given over to growing vegetables in raised beds. A bit sad really, because there are so many sun-loving plants I want to grow - not that there's much point in England - rain-loving plants would do better!

Frischy from Kentucky, USA on February 14, 2014:

I have several shady areas at my new house, including a space surrounded by walls on three sides on the north side of the house. It is so dreary now, but I hope to create a shady patio for summer. Thank you for the suggestions!

Jenny Campbell from Melbourne, Australia on June 11, 2013:

Thanks for this. I do have most of the plants you mention, especially the grand fence crawler, the virginia creeper.

anonymous on June 11, 2013:

you are making the world a better place to live madam Gloriousconfusion, I hope many will be able to read your lens to inspire them to go gardening, nice job here . congrats !

Diana Grant (author) from United Kingdom on May 24, 2013:

@chanis lm: Turn the house round!

chanis lm on May 23, 2013:

Thank you for this fantastic collection. I have an empty patch in my garden that is almost always in the shade. I think I'll try bluebells and forget me nots. I have them in my front garden anyway. Is there a way to move some to the back garden. Thanks!

burntchestnut on February 18, 2012:

You have some great gardening lenses.

Tony Payne from Southampton, UK on November 05, 2011:

What a great lens, very nicely done. I like some weeds, but others, especially things like Dandelions, I will spend all year trying to dig them up and eradicate them. Great job, blessed.

Patricia on May 24, 2011:

This is a good resource. Blessed it!

Moe Wood from Eastern Ontario on May 20, 2011:

I have a blue hydrangea which was split a few years ago and it definitely does better in the shade than the sun.

I had no idea that the creeper was so ferocious. I was considering it for an area but since I'm a lazy gardener I will definitely reconsider. Thanks.

Nancy Tate Hellams from Pendleton, SC on May 20, 2011:

Enjoyed learning more about these Plants that will grow in the shade. Lensrolled to my Limelight Hydrangea lens and Pendleton Elementary School Memory Garden

blessedmomto7 on May 19, 2011:

Great list, now I have to go find your original list. The front of my house is always shady, and I need some new flowers. I think I'll go w/ pansies and I really want a hydrangea!

Chazz from New York on May 19, 2011:

Beautifully made lens. Blessings.

anonymous on April 16, 2011:

This is a great lens. Thank you for sharing.

CherylsArt on April 02, 2011:

Thank you for this lists. Now I have new ideas for my shady area.

CruiseReady from East Central Florida on April 02, 2011:

Thank you! I have actually been thinking about planting some hydrangeas this year, and it helps to know they are shade tolerant.

Ruth Coffee from Zionsville, Indiana on March 28, 2011:

Very useful information, I'm on the hunt for more plants that grow in the shade as I write this!

Paul from Liverpool, England on March 27, 2011:

Another excellent gardening lens

RobGrawberger on March 27, 2011:

Was wondering what I was going to do in the shaded areas of the back yard this year. Thanks for the wonderful info.

bjslapidary on March 26, 2011:

Thanks for another great lens. Love shade plants so this was enjoyable.

I-sparkle on March 25, 2011:

Wonderful work. I learn so much from your lenses. I can't wait to have a yard so that I can put some of this new knowledge into practice.

Virginia Allain from Central Florida on March 25, 2011:

Wonderful selection. I'll be back this summer to get some plant ideas for under my big New Hampshire trees. Right now I use ajuga, hosta, and bleeding heart.