General gardening topics

12 of the best perennials for shade

Last updated on April 26th, 2022

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If you have a shaded area in your garden you might think that’s the end of it, that you won’t be able to grow anything well. We often think that having a shaded garden means the end of beautiful flowers and colourful blooms but that’s simply not true.

You can brighten up an otherwise sheltered area in your garden with colourful shade-loving plants that will come back year after year.

The 12 best perennials for shade help you to add interest to any point in your garden, we have a good selection to consider and our list is made up of some of our favourite perennials.

Below are our top 12 picks for the best perennials for shade

1. Tricyrtis formosana – Toad Lily

Tricyrtis formosana

Toad Lillies are very easy to grow and produce some very unique flowers that look like tropical passionflowers. They bear white flowers and some varieties produce large lavender coloured flowers. In addition to the six or so exterior petals along the perimeter, you will see a very large stamen that sticks up and fans out like a claw on top, much the same as a passionflower. They are very easy to grow, especially in shaded areas and many liken them to orchids too.

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2. Hosta

shade loving plants for containers

Hostas are one of the easiest shade-loving perennials to grow and you can find almost any type of variety you want, ranging from miniatures that remain just under 10cm or so to fill a small space to larger plants that sprawl upwards of two metres or more to fill a bigger space. You can also find leaves that are chartreuse, green, white, gold, or blue, with some even being variegated.

These are very fragrant so they will not only add colour appeal but an aroma to your garden as well. Hostas are a great way to fill a space with instant colour if nearby plants go dormant early and they work well when grown in pots as well, making them perfect for patio areas. However, keep a watch out for slugs because they do take a liking for them.


3. Geranium macrorrhizum – Big Root Geranium

The Big root Geranium is one of the strongest plants out there and it will grow really well in a shaded area. It is quite tolerant of drought and heat so if you go away on holiday during the summer you won’t have to worry about your plant wilting and dying in your absence.

If you have a problem with deer or rabbits munching around your garden and eating everything you grow, don’t worry, they typically walk right by the big root geranium in search of something that’s tastier. These are shade-loving perennials that produce white or pink flowers and some have scented foliage that smells like the forest. They grow just shy of 1 metre in height depending on the variety you choose. If you really want to add more than one perennial to your shaded area to make it more interesting, plant it in front of a Toad Lily.


4. Dicentra spectabilis – Bleeding Heart

Bleeding heart

The Old-fashioned ‘Bleeding Heart’ or Dicentra spectabilis is a beautiful shade loving plant that flowers from the end of spring or the beginning of summer. The flowers are tiny little heart-shaped flowers that are white or pink and they hang delicately off the stems.

There’s rich green foliage and through the foliage, you will see large arching stems with multiple tiny flowers drooping off them all at once. By the middle of summer, the plant usually goes into dormancy and loses its foliage. You really can’t go wrong by mixing and matching this amongst slightly smaller plants, making sure you plant it in the shade because it will often sunburn.


5. Pulmonaria officinalis – Lungwort

Pulmonaria officinalis

The Pulmonaria officinalis, also known as Lungwort, does have a slightly disconcerting name but don’t let it put you off because it is a beautiful shade-loving plant and gets its name because of the lung-shaped spots that cover the foliage. It has variegated foliage all season long and when the flowers appear in spring you get clusters of blue, pink, or white.


6. Athyrium niponicum – Japanese Painted Fern

Athyrium niponicum - Japanese painted fern - one of the most stunning shade tolerant ferns

The Japanese Painted Fern receives its name because as the leaves grow they look like they are brushed with paint near the tips. The fronds grow quite liberally and are often dappled with green, burgundy and silver.

This is a very low-maintenance fern that is resistant to deer and rabbits so if you have a problem with those animals in your area, rest assured they won’t eat this. It’s very low growing and slow growing, so it won’t quickly overtake the area. At best it reaches around 30cm so it’s perfect for smaller garden corners. 

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7. Astilbe – False Goat’s Beard

Astilbe - great for shade and wet soils

If you want more interesting blooms in your garden, this plant has feathery flowers in the early summer that grow up and fan out. It’s a very strong perennial and the flowers come in all manner of colours, ranging from white, pink and lavender all the way to burgundy.

As it grows you’ll get more than one colour at a time as well, to create a fabulous display. The foliage is finely cut and near the end of its growing season gets flushed with bronze. It does need very moist soil so if you have an area of your shaded garden that doesn’t drain well this might be the perfect plant to grow where other plants might fail.

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8. Asarum europaeum – Wild Ginger

Wild Ginger is an incredibly tough plant that produces heart-shaped leaves that grow fuzzy as the growing season continues. It will manifest from the beginning of spring all the way through until autumn.

This is yet another plant that’s very rarely eaten by deer or rabbits. It grows in a small clump so don’t expect it to spread too much and it reaches a full size of about 15cm. It’s another slow grower so you don’t have to worry about this one taking over your garden either.


9. Lamium – Dead Nettle

Yet another plant with an unfortunate name, the ‘Dead Nettle’ shows up in the middle of spring and it produces clusters of white or pink flowers. It’s a delightful perennial that is ideal for shaded areas because it will flower all summer long, producing stunning flowers and when it’s not blooming, the colour doesn’t end there.

The foliage is infused with silver up the middle of the otherwise hunter green leaves so it actually brightens shadier parts of your garden very easily. Most of the time Dead Nettle doesn’t grow larger than 20cm so it’s great for a smaller, shorter spot in the garden. It grows very well underneath a colony of other flowers or taller plants.

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10. Hellebore – Christmas Rose

Hellebore

Sometimes referred to as the ‘Christmas Rose’, this is a perennial that will manifest quite early on. In winter or the beginning of spring, you can enjoy beautiful flowers in a variety of colours, ranging from white, green, pink, or burgundy.

It will be a little delicate when you first grow it but after it establishes itself it becomes quite resistant to rabbits and deer. It reaches no more than 30cm in size once it’s established, again making it a perfect choice for those with smaller areas they want to fill with colour. There are different varieties, some of which have double-flowered blooms and others have single blooms but in a selection of colours. 


11. Brunnera

Brunnera perennial plant

This plant has sky blue coloured flowers that bloom in the spring, and for the remainder of the season, it has leaves that are going to be much more appealing to the eye.

They are robustly textured with hints of cream and yellow along the perimeters creating a lot of geometric shapes within a single leaf. It is a short-lived plant so it won’t bloom for a very long time but it does self-seed so it will remain in your garden year after year. If you have a problem with deer or rabbits, this is somewhat resistant so you don’t have to worry about them eating your plant.


12. Dicentra Luxuriant – Fern Leaf Bleeding Heart

The Fern Leaf Bleeding Heart is a great all year round perennial plant. Between spring and autumn, the shade-loving plant will flower on and off with delicate, small flowers. The clusters of flowers come in white, pink or red, and assuming you give them enough moisture, especially during the warmer summer months you can expect them to continue to produce flowers all season long.

This is a larger plant though and it can grow just shy of one metre in height and spread.


You can mix and match any of these perennials for shade and some are more tolerant of different soil conditions or light exposure than others. With so many great options it’s easy to add different stages of appeal at various heights and of course colour all season long. Find what works best for your space, the structure of your garden, and any containers you might have.

Related articles you may be interested in

The best perennials for clay soil

The best perennials for attracting bees

How to sow perennials from seed – easy to follow step by step guide

Last update on 2022-03-17 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Welcome to my site, my name is John and I have been lucky enough to work in horticultural nurseries for over 15 years in the UK. As the founder and editor as well as researcher, I have a City & Guilds Horticultural Qualifications which I proudly display on our About us page. I now work full time on this website where I review the very best gardening products and tools and write reliable gardening guides. Behind this site is an actual real person who has worked and has experience with the types of products we review as well as years of knowledge on the topics we cover from actual experience. You can reach out to me at john@pyracantha.co.uk

1 Comment

  1. Anonymous

    Thank you for specifying the groups of flowers and shrubs to suit town,shaded patios, and even patios with no soil and only containers. (My case)
    Really helpful.

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