Plants For Deep Shade
Perennials And Ferns

Most gardens have areas that are heavily shaded and this is where choosing plants for deep shade is essential.

While most plants need a good dose of sunlight to survive and thrive, true shade loving plants are adapted to heavily shaded conditions.

I hope the shade loving perennials and ferns that I've chosen meet with your approval and give you some ideas for brightening up those shady corners.

They range from the tough Brunnera, with its 'frost' kissed leaves, through the stately and graceful Solomon's Seal and the fascinating three-petalled Trilliums, to the textured foliage of the evergreen ferns.

Not forgetting, of course, one of my childhood favourites - the delightfully scented bells of Lily of the Valley.

Perennials for Deep Shade

Brunnera macrophylla 'Jack Frost' (Siberian Bugloss)

Plants for Deep Shade, Brunnera macrophylla Jack Frost, Siberian Bugloss
  • Form: clump forming perennial
  • Foliage: deciduous
  • Hardiness: UK - fully hardy; USDA zones 3 to 8
  • Soil: any reasonably fertile, moist but well drained soil
  • Situation: partial to full shade
  • Height: 45cm (18in)
  • Spread: 45cm (18in)
  • Awards: RHS AGM

Reasons to grow: An excellent low maintenance groundcover for shaded areas. Delightful sprays of bright blue forget-me-not flowers in spring and attractively textured heart-shaped leaves with beautiful, frost-kissed variegation.

Convallaria majalis (Lily of the Valley)

Perennials for Deep Shade, Convallaria majalis, Lily of the Valley
  • Form: creeping, herbaceous perennial
  • Foliage: deciduous
  • Hardiness: UK - fully hardy; USDA zones 2 to 7
  • Soil: moist, humus rich soil
  • Situation: light sun to deep shade
  • Height: 23cm (9in)
  • Spread: 30cm (12in)
  • Awards: RHS AGM

Reasons to grow: One of the best plants for deep shade providing effective groundcover with the bonus of enchanting spikes of tiny white nodding flowers with the most heavenly fragrance in late spring and early summer. It spreads rapidly in the right conditions. Mulch well in autumn when the leaves die down.

Also consider: C. m. 'Albostriata' for variegated foliage and C. m. 'Rosea' for pinkish flowers.

Lamium maculatum (Spotted Deadnettle)

Shade Loving Lamium maculatum, Spotted Deadnettle
  • Form: herbaceous perennial
  • Foliage: semi-evergreen
  • Hardiness: UK - fully hardy; USDA zones 4 to 8
  • Soil: moist, well drained soil
  • Situation: light/dappled shade to full shade
  • Height: 20cm (8in)
  • Spread: up to 1m (40in)
  • Awards: RHS AGM

Reasons to grow: Excellent groundcover plant for shaded areas forming a mat of prostrate foliage, often with attractive variegated markings, and spikes of purple, pink or white flowers in summer.

Also consider: L. m. 'Beacon Silver' for silvery leaves with narrow green edges and pink flowers; L. m. 'White Nancy' for two lipped white flowers.

Polygonatum x hybridum (Solomon's Seal)

Polygonatum hybridum, Soloman's Seal
  • Form: rhizomatous perennial
  • Foliage: deciduous
  • Hardiness: UK - fully hardy; USDA zones 4 to 8
  • Soil: any fertile, humus-rich, moist but well-drained soil
  • Situation: sun to full shade
  • Height: 1.2m (48in)
  • Spread: 50cm (18in)
  • Awards: RHS AGM

Reasons to grow: A lovely and imposing plant for a shady border with long, bright green leaves. Hanging clusters of tubular white flowers are borne on the graceful arching stems in late spring, these are followed by black fruits in summer and autumn.

Also consider: P. multiforum 'Striatum' is slightly smaller at 90cm (36in) with variegated foliage; P. x odoratum is also smaller with fragrant flowers.

Pulmonaria 'Lewis Palmer' (Lungwort)

Pulmonaria Lewis Palmer, Lungwort
  • Form: rhizomatous perennial
  • Foliage: deciduous
  • Hardiness: UK - fully hardy; USDA zones 6 to 8
  • Soil: any fertile, humus-rich, moist but not waterlogged soil
  • Situation: full or partial shade
  • Height: 35cm (14in)
  • Spread: 45cm (18in)
  • Awards: RHS AGM

Reasons to grow: Pulmonarias are good groundcover plants for deep shade with hairy, dark green leaves spotted with white. In early spring clusters of funnel shaped flowers open pink and then turn blue.

Also consider: P. officinalis 'Sissinghurst White' for white flowers; P. rubra for lime green leaves and salmon pink flowers; P. saccharata Argentea Group for silvery leaves and flowers that turn from red to violet.

Tiarella cordifolia (Foamflower)

Tiarella cordifolia, Foamflower
  • Form: perennial
  • Foliage: evergreen
  • Hardiness: UK - fully hardy; USDA zones 4 to 9
  • Soil: any moist but well-drained soil
  • Situation: full or partial shade
  • Height: 30cm (12in)
  • Spread: 30cm (12in)
  • Awards: RHS AGM

Reasons to grow: Foamflowers are excellent groundcover plants for deep shade. Also effective used as edging in a woodland border. The ivy shaped light green leaves colour well in autumn and in summer the upright stems are covered in a foamy profusion of tiny starry flowers - hence its common name.

Also consider: T. wherryi 'Bronze Beauty' for bronze leaves; T. 'Heronswood Mist' for unusual green, pink and white marbled leaves; T. 'Ninja' for deeply lobed leaves with central markings of rich brown that turn purple in winter.

Trillium grandiflorum (Wake Robin)

Perennials for Deep Shade, Trillium grandiflorum, Wake Robin
  • Form: clump forming perennial
  • Foliage: deciduous
  • Hardiness: UK - fully hardy; USDA zones 5 to 8
  • Soil: neutral to acid, fertile, humus rich, moist but well drained soil
  • Situation: light to deep shade
  • Height: 40cm (16in)
  • Spread: 30cm (12in)
  • Awards: RHS AGM

Reasons to grow: Also known as the Wood Lily, this spring blooming Trillium bears large, pure white, three petalled flowers above a whorl of three large, dark green veined leaves.

It looks very effective planted in groups with other shade loving perennials. Trilliums really benefit from an annual mulch of leaf mould.

I believe it is called Wake Robin because it blooms at the same time that the robin begins to sing.

Also consider: T. grandiflorum 'Flore Pleno' for double flowers; T. sessile is less spectacular but is easier to grow!

Ferns for Deep Shade

Asplenium scolopendrium (Hart's Tongue Fern)

Ferns for Deep Shade, Asplenium scolopendrium, Hart's Tongue Fern
  • Form: fern
  • Foliage: evergreen
  • Hardiness: UK - fully hardy; USDA zones 6 to 8
  • Soil: prefers well drained alkaline soil but tolerates neutral to acid soils
  • Situation: full shade
  • Height: 70cm (27.5in)
  • Spread: 60cm (24in)
  • Awards: RHS AGM

Reasons to grow: Wonderful prehistoric looking strappy fronds unfurl in the spring and remain throughout the year to form a textured carpet of green. The old foliage dies down just before the first flush of new growth.

This fern is one of the best plants for deep shade. It is a true shade lover and the leaves will discolour if it receives more than a couple of hours of sunshine a day.

Also consider: A. scolopendrium 'Crispum' for fronds with wavy margins.

Blechnum penna-marina (Alpine Water Fern)

Blechnum penna-marina, Alpine Water Fern
  • Form: fern
  • Foliage: evergreen
  • Hardiness: UK - fully hardy; USDA zones 6 to 9
  • Soil: neutral to acid, moist but well drained soil
  • Situation: full or partial shade
  • Height:15-30cm (6-12in)
  • Spread:30-45 cm (12-18in)
  • Awards: RHS AGM

Reasons to grow: An elegant fast growing fern forming mats of narrow feathery fronds. It is evergreen and provides year round interest, and, as a bonus, the new growth in spring is a lovely rosy red colour.

Polystichum setiferum (Soft Shield Fern)

Polystichum setiferum, Soft Shield Fern
  • Form: fern
  • Foliage: evergreen
  • Hardiness: UK - fully hardy; USDA zones 5 to 8
  • Soil: any well drained, fertile, humus rich soil
  • Situation: full or partial shade
  • Height: 1.2m (4ft)
  • Spread: 1m (3.3ft)
  • Awards: RHS AGM

Reasons to grow: Tall, finely divided evergreen fronds which are soft to the touch. A really handsome plant which adds year round architectural interest and structure.

Also consider: Polystichum setiferum 'Pulcherrimum Bevis' is suitable for smaller spaces as it only reaches a height of 60cm (24in).

Related Pages

Perennials and ferns for partial shade.

Perennials and ferns for dry shade.

Evergreen shade tolerant trees.

Deciduous shade tolerant trees.

Gardening in the shade gives an overview of the subject and an explanation of how to identify the different degrees of shade.

Links to other 'plants for places' pages can be found at plant guides.





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Deirdre