Shrubs growing in shade perform a variety of functions – from serving as a leafy foil to other plants, to lighting up dark areas with bright flowers or impressing with dramatic foliage. Small or low-growing shrubs can even be used for ground cover.
Many of the shrubs we’ve picked below are the perfect starting point for a shady bed or border. The shrub will be one of the largest elements in your border, serving as a backdrop to the plants growing in front of it.
Alan Titchmarsh shares his five favourite shrubs for shade, in this short video from BBC Gardeners’ World Magazine.
More on gardening in shade:
Browse our list of shrubs to grow in shade, below.
When not in flower, hydrangeas make a good leafy backdrop for other plants, but when in flower they shine out in shady areas, particularly those with white flowers. Leave the spent blooms to provide winter interest and prune the hydrangeas in spring.
In this clip from Gardeners’ World, Monty Don selects two choice shrubs for instant colour in dappled shade. Watch as he prepares the ground then plants the beautiful lacecap hydrangea, ‘Lanarth White’ and a Japanese snowball bush, Viburnum plicatum ‘Summer Snowflake’. Both shrubs do well in partial or dappled shade, producing elegant white summer flowers:
Many viburnums will do well in a shady spot. For evergreen colour try Viburnum davidii or Viburnum tinus. Viburnum opulus is a pretty UK native, while Viburnum x bodnantense has fragranced winter flowers.
Pachysandra is a small genus of dwarf evergreen shrubs. While they will grow in sun given moist soil, they’re particularly useful as ground cover plant in dry shade.
Japanese quince, Chaenomeles, are more than happy growing in shade. The flowers are a real delight in spring, appearing just before leaf burst on bare stems, they’re particularly noticeable. Unfussy about soil types, including clay, and can be trained against a wall.
If you’re gardening on ericaceous soil, acid-loving shrubs like pieris are a good choice. Evergreen foliage provides year round interest that is enhanced by bundles of bell-shaped flowers in the spring months. They combine well with other shrubs like rhododendrons and camellias.
Like pieris, enkianthus are acid lovers grown for their bell-shaped flowers. Unlike pieris, they’re known for their fiery autumn colour, which turns a beautiful plummy red. They respond well to cloud pruning.
Daphne blooms are renowned for their powerful fragrance. There’s a generous range of species and cultivars to grow, with varied flowering times, sizes and foliage colours, so you’ve plenty of choice. Take care when deciding where to plant them, as they resent being moved.
Christmas box (Sarcococca confusa) is great shrub for shade, but there are others you can grow, too. Sarcococca hookeriana var. digyna has longer, narrower leaves and scented blooms, while Sarcococca ruscifolia is more compact than both of the former.
Hardy scheffleras like Schefflera rhododendrifolia and Schefflera taiwaniana provide a touch of the exotic. The large, divided leaves make them especially architectural. They’re in the Aralia family, which includes familiar plants like fatsia and ivy, both of which enjoy shade, too.
- Buy Schefflera rhododendrifolia from Burncoose
Evergreen skimmias are brilliant shrubs for shade, staying green all year and helping to brighten up shady areas with pale, scented flowers and clusters of glossy red berries. The nectar-rich blooms are popular with bees.
White flowers for shade
Shrubs and other plants with white flowers really come alive in shadier spots. For more ideas, take a look at some of our favourite plants with white flowers.