Great Perennial Plants for Shady Gardens - Squire's Garden Centres

Great Perennial Plants for Shady Gardens

If you’re looking to add some life and interest to your shady garden, then you’ll be pleased to know that perennial plants are a great choice. A perennial is a plant that lives for more than two years. There are two main types of perennial plants. Herbaceous perennials are those that reach their full height, flower in the same year, and then fully die back in the winter months but will return year after year. Evergreen perennials take many years to reach their full height and spread, but usually flower annually, which they then lose in autumn or winter, but they’ll keep their foliage throughout the cold months for year-round interest

The abundance of plants that come under the perennial categorisation means there’s so much choice available, even to those of us with shady gardens. Perennials also come in a wide variety of colours, shapes, and sizes and are a perfect way of adding something permanent to the garden you can look forward to seeing year after year. Here are some top perennial plants that will do well in shady gardens and add a cheerful touch to your space:


Hostas are herbaceous perennials. These are a classic choice for heavily shaded gardens because they prefer only a little sunshine and moist soil. With their large, lush leaves in a variety of colours, from deep green to variegated cream and white, hostas can add a lot of texture and interest to your garden. They don’t grow very tall, so they are better suited as a ground cover option, perhaps underneath or among larger growing shrubs or trees.


Also known as lungwort, pulmonaria is a low-growing herbaceous perennial that does well in dappled shade and moist soils. It blooms in early spring and its flowers come in shades of pink, blue, and purple, and they’re often speckled or mottled. Pulmonaria also has interesting foliage, with leaves that are often spotted or variegated.


Astilbes are herbaceous perennials that need to grow in a dappled or part shady location in damp soil to thrive. With their feathery plumes of pink, red, and white flowers, astilbes are a cheerful addition to any shady garden. They bloom in mid-summer and can add a lot of colours to your garden if planting all several in different colours.


Geraniums, specifically hardy geraniums, can be evergreen or semi-evergreen and are an excellent choice for planting in dry shade such as under trees where many other plants struggle. They are well adapted to these conditions, with many cultivars being able to tolerate extended periods of drought. In addition to their resilience, hardy geraniums also produce stunning flowers in a range of colours, including white, red, purple, pink, and blue. The flowers typically have five petals and a distinct central column of stamens (the reproductive part), giving them a classic look. These blooms can last for several months, from spring to autumn, adding vibrant colour and interest to any garden or landscape.


Also known as coral bells, heucheras are herbaceous perennials and are a great choice for adding a pop of colour to gardens with partial or dappled shade and damp soil, but not dry or waterlogged. They come in a wide range of colours, from lime green to deep burgundy, and their foliage can add a lot of interest to your garden even when they’re not in bloom.


Ferns are herbaceous perennials. There are evergreen and semi-evergreen varieties as well as deciduous types that die back in winter. Most ferns will do quite well in dry and damp shaded areas of the garden. If you’re looking for a more natural look in your garden, ferns are a great choice. With their delicate fronds (the large leaflike part of a fern), ferns can add a lot of texture and interest to your space. They also come in a variety of sizes, from small groundcovers to large, dramatic specimens. Bear in mind though that ferns don’t flower if that’s something you want.

Bleeding Hearts

Bleeding Hearts are beautiful herbaceous plants that take their name from their pinky-red heart-shaped flowers that dangle from arching stems. They bloom in late spring and come in shades of pink and white. They can add a lot of charm to your shady garden. Bleeding hearts look great, and they are well suited to light shade conditions with a damp soil. It is a real eye-catcher. Plant in front of greener foliage or amongst less colourful shrubs to create interest and make them pop even more.


Hellebores are herbaceous perennials and bloom in late winter or early spring when little else is blooming in the garden. They are woodland plants, so they can tolerate dappled shady conditions.  Their flowers come in a range of colours, from white to pink to purple, and they can add a lot of interest to your shady garden. They can also tolerate moist to dry soil conditions but do better in consistently moist soil.


Most dianthus are herbaceous perennials and are attractive, compact, mound-forming plants that offer gloriously scented white flowers from early spring all through the summer. They need a lightly shaded spot that still gets some sun and a moist soil with good drainage. Dianthus make fantastic plants for more informal, cottage-style gardens.


Rhododendrons are typically evergreen perennials and prefer a partially shaded spot. They are a fantastic way to brighten up a shady garden with their large beautiful and varied colours of fragrant flowers that flower from spring to early summer and in colours from pinks to purples, reds, and whites. They are slow growing but can reach heights of around two metres. They are also quite easy to care for but require a more acidic soil which is easily achieved by digging in relevant material when planting.


We can’t mention rhododendrons without also highlighting azaleas. All azalea flowers are usually smaller, but come in a more vivid array of shades, and are very fragrant. They also flower from spring to early summer. People typically talk about rhododendrons and azaleas together but just remember that all azaleas are technically rhododendrons but not all rhododendrons are azaleas. This is because most azaleas are deciduous but there are growing varieties that are evergreen whereas true rhododendrons are evergreen. Just something to keep in mind. Azaleas do well in partial shade in a sheltered spot with moist soil.

Skimmia Japonica

Skimmia Japonica is a great choice for shady gardens because they prefer a shaded spot and can even tolerate deep shade. The plant itself is slow growing but depending on the type can be as tall as a metre or several. The leaves are oval-shaped and dark green typically of a leathery feel. The male variety has creamy-white or purply-red fragrant flowers that come in late autumn and stay through until the spring followed by lovely white or red berries. The female variety has red berries for most of the year, or year-round, depending on the variety. Top tip, best to have a male and female plant close by, as male varieties don’t produce berries otherwise, and female varieties will bear fruit only if grown near a male.


Campanulas also known as bellflower, can be herbaceous or evergreen perennials. They produce lovely delicate, purple-coloured bell-shaped flowers and thrive in most shade levels in moist but well-draining soil. It flowers during summer through to autumn. It’s easy to care for and quite adaptable so they are a great option for planting in shady parts of the garden.

Lily of the Valley

Lily of the valley is an excellent choice for shaded areas in the garden. This herbaceous perennial plant thrives in moist and cool environments, making it a perfect fit for areas that receive little direct sunlight. Its delicate white flowers bloom in the spring and emit a sweet fragrance that can fill the entire garden. Lily of the valley is also easy to care for, requiring minimal maintenance once established.

What Plants Will You Choose?

These are just a few of the many perennial plants that can do well in shady gardens. With the right plants, you can add a lot of life, and transform your garden into your own little haven of interest. At Squire’s Garden Centres, we have a wide variety of plants to choose from, and our expert, friendly team can help you find the perfect plants for your particular space and needs.


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