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.

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.

Plant combinations (Blue, purple and pink)

Ceanothus (Californian Lilac) is a highly scented shrub. An evergreen, it provides flowers and attracts beneficial insects. It prefers a full sun aspect but can cope with partial shade. It flowers early to mid summer. Pruning is very similar to Lavender. After flowering, just take the top off lightly.

Lavender is a popular choice mainly for the scent. It does prefer an alkaline soil so on the chalky side. It needs to be free draining so lighter is better. There are French (Lavendula dentata) and English (Lavendula angustifolia) varieties and their characteristics make them separable. French have little ears resembling those of Rabbits, slightly lighter lilac colour, more frost tender. English is a deeper purple and the plumes are upright. Prune the top growth after they have flowered or in spring when it has warmed up. Be mindful to leave some green growth at the base and is more an exercise of reshaping. It will stop them getting leggy / straggly.

Daphne odora is a scented shrub that provides flowers and foliage from late winter into spring. It doesn’t require any maintenance. It is worth mentioning the flowers form on last years wood so any pruning, do straight after it has flowered. Other than the odd rogue branch, it keeps its shape well. It prefers a sunny aspect and perhaps not tolerant of very dry conditions.

Perovskia (Russian sage) is not really a shrub but effective in a mixed border. It needs to be cut back each year, it dies back. It will flower in summer, tolerant of drought conditions too. It’s good in poor soil, has purple flowers and aromatic foliage. It will look like its dead in the dormant period and will come into its own, springtime, round about now.

Azalea japonica prefer a more shaded area but will provide an abundance of colour from mid spring to summer. ‘Aladdin Scott’ is an orange variety suited to an acidic soil as with Azaeleas. There are both decidious A. ‘Jolie Madame’ (Pink) and evergreen A. ‘Chippewa’ varieties. Some scented A. ‘Tower beauty’ and some not ‘Homebush’.

Syringa meyeri (Lilac) ‘Paliban’ a dwarf variety that is highly scented and provides pink, perfumed blooms in late spring. S. vulgaris the most common ‘Belle de Nancy’ and provides double blooms early in the summer. Cut out any epicormic growth if it appears (suckers) it drains the shrub. It prefers an alkaline soil, the soil needs to be quite rich in humus matter too. It should have substance but nevertheless be well drained.

Buddleja davidii is the most common and attracts butterflies amongst other insects. It is hardy, drought tolerant and will cope with harsh pruning in spring. This will promote new and healthy growth. The pruning, from an emerging bud maybe a third down. It is fast growing and the shrub will return to its desired state quickly. Buddleja’s are usually purple and blue but B. globosa is orange and flowers in summer. It needs more protection than its relatives and B. globosa needs to be sheltered not exposed.

Weigela prefer full sun but will tolerate some shade. Prune periodically to a) control the size and b) encourage young growth. The shrub / small tree will perform better. W. florida ‘variegata’ benefits from attractive gilded leaves. It will lose its leaves but through summer will provide you with highly scented blooms that attract beneficial insects.

Spirea have two flowering periods. A variety that performs in spring and one later mid summer to autumn. The downside is the blooming period doesn’t last long – so they are shortlived. However, very easy to look after. A resilient, robust choice that only requires a harsh prune at the beginning of the year. It prefers full sun but other than this self sufficient.

Ericaceous Plants

The soil needs to be on the acidic side. This is neutral 7.7 and below, to improve the soil add sulphur, a fertiliser, any humus rich matter, peat, although the latter not accepted as ethical anymore. Above the 7.7 mark would be alkaline (lime, chalk based medium). Most plants can tolerate a mixed medium and cope with the conditions but some are on the picky side. An indication of such a deficiency would be the yellowing of leaves.

Calluna vulgaris (the commonest of heathers found on hillsides, moorlands) prefers a sunny aspect but can cope with partial shade. It can flower in summer and autumn. The soil needs to be slightly on the moist side for it to do well. As long as the soil is acidic.

Erica carnea – these are winter flowering heathers. Again, an evergreen but provides you with colour where there is none. No maintenance other than taking away spent growth. These are usually dwarf varieties in an assortment of reds, pinks, whites and purples.

Azaleas are evergreen / decidious but will provide a huge of colour late spring to early summer and some are scented. Azalea ‘arborescens’ is scented but it loses its leaves.

Rhododendrons are evergreen and unlike Azaleas don’t usually cope well in full sun. They do prefer a little shade. This plant prefers a slighly cooler atmosphere. These can be used as a hedge although usually a specimen shrub. Rhododendrons have a tendency to become leggy inside if they are left unpruned for a long period. The size, shape and vigour can be retained if they are pruned each year. There are hybrids that are sun tolerant and flower later like ‘Nova Zembia’ which can continue into summer. As a rule, not scented but later flowering hybrids can be. R. burnacum, R. megacaly x. These varieties seem to flower for a shorter period and are more tender to the cold. They are a hardy and robust choice in the main.

Camellia japonica is a spring flowering evergreen. It does prefer a sheltered spot to perform well with some shade. Camellia’s do tend to be damaged by the wind and cold. Camellia’s can be moved although there is speculation they prefer not to be. However, if the plant is not performing well, to move it would be a lesser of two evils. Be mindful to do this at the right time of year. (a) dormancy period (b) try and retain as big as root ball as you can (c) avoid it drying out by soaking – can reduce the shock but not sitting in it (d) choose a well drained location with shelter and use ericaceous compost.

C. sasanqua prefers similar conditions, smaller in size, and suited to a container where it can be moved. This autumn flowering variety is more frost tender and does need additional protection. The flowers are scented too.

Pieris is an compact evergreen. It does flower in spring but is more well known for varying foliage. ‘Forest flame’ a popular specimen provides a wonderful colour from Febuary onwards and once in situ, little is needed. A larger shrub compared to this is Pieris japonica. The only maintenance, just to remove flowers or any unwanted growth. P. japonica ‘compacta’ provides white flowers but these are scented too.

Kalmia latifolia (Calico bush) This flowers in spring. It won’t compete with space since its slow growing. The amount of sun is important since the flowers will be dependent on this. Full sun ideally, not particularly drought tolerant so the soil needs to be moist or the plant partially shaded.