There is always an isolated spot in an open space that is shaded. Aside from woodland bulbs (Crocus / Bluebells) and perennials (Astrantia / Acanthus) there are some shrubs that prefer this aspect. Some are winter flowering so for dark and cold spots. It can be used to create a biodiverse paradise too. With some moisture and a bit of humidity fungi, ferns can be encouraged. It’s not so much the shade that affects them it’s the lack of water if anything.

Sarcococcoa (Christmas box) An evergreen often used a shrub but can be made into a hedge (mound forming). It provides white fragrant flowers in late winter. The fragrance is delicate notes of vanilla – sometimes referred to as sweet box too. The shrub has attractive foliage, can cope in shade although must be fertile and have substance. If it does get sun the soil must be kept moist.

Virburnum bodnantense “dawn.” A winter flowering shrub, be mindful not a neat one, no formal habit. It is very hardy though. It can be pruned to keep compact but taking away its character really. It flowers in winter and bears berries in summer. It loses its leaves in flowering but provides interest all times of the year. It flowers in winter through into spring. Virburnum tinus offers the same amount of colour, scent, leaves but is evergreen and flowers with its leaves. It prefers a sunny aspect. The soil needs some fertility too and have substance.

Mahonia A winter flowering shrub. An evergreen too with very attractive foliage, a vibrant yellow burst of colour. Its habit is slow growing so it keeps its shape very well. X media ‘charity’ and X media ‘winter sun.’ They are both slightly different. No maintenance to speak of. Mahonia needs a little shelter so not great in an exposed position but very straightforward otherwise. The shrub is very hardy offering attractive foliage, berries, flowers and fragrance. What more?

Ferns are usually very good in shade. They’re probably one of the oldest plants – prehistoric in fact. Some in damp shade, some in dry. Dryoptens erythrosora is an interesting type since it offers a copper glow along with pretty fronds like ferns have. Multiply on their own. Survive and adapt in the most adverse conditions. A woodland habit so under trees; poor soil; little nutrients; source their own moisture but I think a little humidity help is needed. Incredibly resourceful.

Skimmia japonica. A great evergreen, wonderful in drifts. Quite straightforward to maintain. It can become leggy and only produce at the top of plant so pruning periodically of unwanted growth can help this. This seems to happen in time. They are quite slow growing so not very often. It provides fragrant white flowers and berries in spring. you’ll get berries if you put a boy and girl next to each other.

Euonymous alatus is a decidious E. It offers wonderful red foliage in the autumn. Burning bush to most would be considered a specimen shrub although in some states it is regarded as invasive and a pest. It does produce berries but known more for its foliage. A little bit on the wild side though. There are Euonymous that are evergreen, have a different habit and offer different foliage. These usually have more compact habit as a shrub although there ground cover and climber varieties. The foliage is usually variegated and often cream and green E. ‘Emerald Gaiety’ and green and yellow ‘Emerald n Gold’ and ground cover ‘Colorado.’ Euonymous’s are great foliage plants. Low maintenance in any aspect. No pruning save unwanted growth. They are very resilient and often overlooked.


There are plants that are associated with Christmas, there are plants that have “Christmas” in their name too but have absolutely nothing to do with this festive season.

Mistletoe (Viscum album) is associated with amorous engagements purely since it was recognised as symbol of fertility and vitality. In reality toxic although not lethal. Mistletoe isn’t grown, it hosts off other flora sometimes killing the parent plant. So, actually a parasite and poisonous.

Poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima) or Spurge to you or me. Not very festive sounding. It is considered a house plant but under the right conditions can be transplanted after the new year and when conditions are warmer. These aren’t very easy to keep though. The conditions are important. The plant needs to be warm enough but not too hot. Some sunlight but not too much. It needs water but not excessive and the soil must be free draining. It will flower again if these conditions are adhered to.

Holly (Ilex aquifolium) associated with Christmas largely because of its berries are borne at this time. A much needed food source for birds over the colder months. This plant can take the form of a tree, shrub, or climber by its species. It can be argued that cotoneaster offers an equally stark contrast in the winter months yet it is not associated with this period. There are references to the leaves resembling thorns although this has no relativity to the plant.

Ivy (Hedera helix) is long associated and references made in carols. A very invasive plant. I’m not a fan of Ivy. I take the view that it does impede growth. It takes moisture from other plants and competes for space. Once in situ the growth is very prolific and can cause problems on brickwork or stone. Like other plants not the direct cause of its demise but a contributing factor. With brickwork, will not cause the deterioration but certainly does not help in preventing decay.

Christmas Box (Sarcococca) is perhaps referred to as a winter flowering shrub. It provides sweet fragrant white flora throughout the winter months. An evergreen it provides attractive foliage at other times of the year. It will bear berries after flowering so an important food source. But not directly linked to Christmas.

Lentern Rose / Christmas rose (Hellebrous niger) no link to Christmas or Roses. It is not related in anyway to Rosa. Perhaps because it provides winter interest. An effective perennial in a shaded area needing little maintenance providing colour and interest where there few other plants in bloom.

There are plants that are celebrated at Christmas purely because they flower at this time. Christmas Cactuses being one. Having said this, other cultures bring a wealth of richness with other forms of acknowledgement. Olives for peace, Opium poppy pods for prosperity and bulrushes for prosperity and good fortune which are equally important.


There are certain plants that rarely work well where you put them. In fact the growth can be rather prolific where you least expect them.

Lily of the valley (Nolinoideae) is one although it is good ground cover wherever it emerges. It never really grows in its intended spot. Or seldomly. A woodland perennial it will tolerate shade and is prolific in these areas. Few nutrients and attention. It is drought tolerant to an extent but it would prefer some moisture.

Crocus (Iridaceae), a spring flowering bulb will also pop up where you least expect. Crocuses are very resilient. The plant does grow in a woodland environment but it’s not tolerant of total shade and needs some sunlight. It is spring flowering and low maintenance save periodically dividing not only to propagate but regenerate the plant.

Primula (Primulaceae) is a primrose that doesn’t mind some shade although not full. The soil too needs to be on the fertile side and will not grow in particularly poor soil or do well. The soil needs to be light though needs to have some substance. It mustn’t get waterlogged either, hold enough moisture but be free draining. These conditions aren’t particularly straightforward.

Polyanthus (Primulaceae) also a primrose is very similar and flowers in spring. It can left in the ground or moved / distributed when its divided. The biggest difference is it has more flowers on each stems so the cluster appears bigger. It prefers a more dappled woodland environment. It’s been mooted that a primrose crossed with a cowslip and as a result has become a hybrid

Crocosmia / Monbretia – Valentine flower (Iridaceae) can be planted in one space. A perennial too. It will die back and re surface the following year, a summer flowering perennial. It can be orange, yellow or red. Monbretia is just another more traditional name. More associated with red for some reason. Perhaps the parent before cultivars and hybrids. These clusters can be divided and propagated effectively. Very easy, just cut back dead growth and it will return. It needs a degree of sun though and relatively dry soil, not waterlogged, compact or heavy.

Oat grass (Poaceae) A grass that is said not be invasive. The seeds from the plumes do germinate. An ornamental grass where you usually would cut it to the ground. Divide it to keep the shape, size and vigour of growth.

Everything that disperses its seeds, pollinated by birds / wind / insects can be invasive. It’s perennials on the whole since they have time to establish themselves, source the energy and develop underground. A bigger specimen will never come true, a little “rogue” seedling can be pulled out within seconds.

Shady spots

It can be a secluded spot in an open space that gets little or no sun. If we’re dealing with an NE/NW facing garden it can be in an area that is chilly / exposed to the elements. Any plant that’s in shade will generally grow slower but it’s worth knowing more plants tolerate these conditions than you’d think.

Daphne’s are known for their flowers / scent in the cooler months though they’re not hardy in extreme conditions. It can be partial shade provided there is some sunlight. It will flower from winter to spring. Daphne odora provides fragrant flowers / variegated foliage.

Rhododendrons, although tolerate full sun, prefer partial shade. Since they’re a woodland plant they often do well in poor soil. They will compete with other plants for moisture, although not to excess, so the soil needs to be free draining. The PH. is important and has a bearing on its performance too. They prefer an acidic soil as do Azaleas, an ericaceous base with organic matter, humus rich in substance.

Camellias prefer an acidic soil but these shrubs are OK in semi shade, not too chilly though. Camellia’s do prefer a warmer aspect, not particularly resilient to the cold, damaging winds. Most Camellias flower in early spring. These are C. japonica. The winter flowering variety, C. sasanqua needs protecting from the sun, cold dry winds – the more sheltered the better. C. ‘winter Star’, however, is hardy and early flowering. Camellia x williamsii is also hardier than C. japonica and flowers in winter. It is good in shade too.

Aucuba japonica (spotted laurel) is a good hardy shrub. It will withstand adverse conditions. It is an evergreen. It offers interesting foliage as a result of the mosaic virus. It is noting this is a friendly virus; doesn’t harm the plant, just mutates the colour. In order to retain this effect, cut out the reverting green growth.

Cornus alba (Dogwood) is very good in a shaded area and exposed conditions. C. canadensis particularly for shade, C. alba for exposed areas. It will provide flowers, foliage and attractive bark in the winter months.

Virburnum davidii is tolerant of sun and shade. A shrub that attracts beneficial insects and provides flowers, foliage and scent. It prefers well drained soil but generally very easy to maintain. It is worth noting it is not a tidy shrub. It has an informal role in a mixed border and will not stay compact. It’s not keen on being exposed so dark but not cold.

Mahonia ‘Charity’ and ‘Winter sun’ most common. These will flower from autumn, suited to a cooler environment. The shrub tolerates being in shade – a strong possibility for those difficult areas. It’s a hardy shrub and provides scented flowers / bursting colour in winter. There is no real pruning, just removing unwanted growth in spring.

Skimmia is an evergreen providing flowers, foliage and berries throughout the year. A scented flower in spring attracting beneficial insects, much needed berries throughout autumn / winter. They will tolerate most conditions; soil, aspect, adverse weather but again partial shade. Skimmia can become leggy so do cut out bolted growth and cut out any unwanted in spring.

Kalmia (Mountain Laurel) is a very good shrub for shade. It flowers in early summer. It does fruit but it’s the pink, purple, white flowers that form a delicate cluster. It needs to be in well drained soil, not an area that gets waterlogged. It also prefers an ericaceous soil – full of humus rich matter and on the acidic side. Also prone to root rot, so make sure the crown of the plant protrudes from the surface, similar to roses.

Sambucus nigra (Elder) this shrub will tolerate a shaded spot but like most plants do better in full sun. It does benefit from lemon scented flowers in summer although the foliage on its own is impressive. It produces berries as a food source; popular with birds. It is hardy, though decidious so it loses it leaves. The soil also needs to be humus rich, high in nutritutional substance so a sandy consistency maybe not. However, the soil can be conditioned so it’s not particularly an issue.

Perennials (Red, Yellow and Orange)

Colours that do often go well together are these hot combinations

Kniphofia (Red Hot Pokers) a structural addition to any mixed perennial bed. These, adding height, don’t need staking although they do prefer a sunny spot. These perennials are quite tolerant of dry conditions. They will need water but don’t sit well in wet soil so a well drained consistency is needed. Periodically, this perennial needs dividing to keep the vigour and flowering ability. The size also needs control. They can become invasive and do take up room.

Helenium (sneezeweed) offer interest to beneficial insects. This perennial is fully hardy and tolerates quite severe conditions. Although they look rather like a sunflowers they are not. This perennial prefers an acidic soil and flowers during the summer. These daisy like flowers will offer an enrichment of oranges, reds and yellows. It is clump forming so it can be divided. These are usually tall and suit most borders but H. ‘Mardi Gras’ needs to be at the front, it is smaller.

Monarda (Bergamot) the foliage is scented and beneficial insects love this. The soil needs to have substance but not water retentive, good drainage is needed. Its performance is dependent on full sun. M. ‘Cambridge scarlett’ however, will do well in shade. It will flower throughout summer into early autumn.

Hemerocallis spp (DayLillies) the flower that only lasts a day. However, the flowers come in such profusion, this perennial offers different flowering varieties with some quite early H. lilioasphodelus to late H ‘Frans Hals’. The cultivars have improved and now day lilies are more robust to adverse conditions and available in many more colours (hot) and (cold). A summer flowering perennial, its period is quite lengthy and doesn’t really require any attention, cutting back spent stems and maybe division in spring. This will produce more plants but their energy will be restored too.

Rudbeckia (Black eyed Susan) is a perfect addition to the perennial bed although these do prefer sun. Some partial shade is O.K. but not full, they will not do well in a chilly corner. You can divide although the seeds will come true too. It will flower throughout summer to maybe September in the right conditions. These perennials are hardy but if dividing do so this before winter (so they can acclimitise themeselves) or in spring after the cold snap. It is beneficial to do before but not essential.

An interesting discovery only recently unearthed is the Isoplexis plant. It is in fact a foxglove, but a tropical one. The canary island foxglove will provide you with a flowering period when most have ended. Late summer to early autumn. It is also effective in attracting beneficial insects. Strangely, for a tropical plant it is quite hardy tolerating temperatures – 5. It will need some protection certainly from cold winds though. It will give both attractive flowers and foliage. Full sun or maybe partial sun at the least.

A very hardy specimen which without fail will perform is Crocosmia / Mobretia as it is otherwise known as. There is common variety which does the job but there many cultivars now which have particular charcateristics. C. X Crocosmiiflora ‘George Davidson’ which has yellow flowers. C. ‘Emberglow’ which has a combined orange and yellow. C. ‘Lucifer’ is the most popular. The colours of red and orange will provide effective drifts in most perennial borders. It is a very hardy plant. It will survive in all conditions, all soils. It’s a “corm” so the cluster of tightly packed bulbs can easily be divided. Over the dormant period you might cut the spent growth off but otherwise self sufficient, you will probably find yourself reducing the cluster and pulling it out.