Gardening in the shade

Gardening in the shade, whether under trees or next to a hedge, is the hardest area to plant. However, as long as you prepare the ground well and choose only plants that are happy in this environment, you can create a beautiful and calm garden.

Shade can be cast by the orientation of the house, fences and walls and by other large plants such as hedges and trees. Some shade is dappled, such as under Birch trees and some is heavy, from Holly, Oak or Chestnut trees.

The most important consideration when planting is working out the type of shade and the type of plants most suitable. Dappled shade is easier to work with, as this is not constant shade. A lot of plants, including Geranium sanguineum, Bergenias, Pulmonarias and and Phlox divaricata are happy with lower levels of light.

However, when planting under heavy shade, such as provided by oak trees, the plants that will survive are predominantly spring flowering plants. They will put on their show before the leaves have come out on the trees. When the Oak is then in leaf the flowers and shrubs will move into dormancy because this is nature’s way of surviving. Most of the photos here show a woodland garden under large Oak trees with spring flowering plants. These plants include Pulmonaria, Brunnera, Bergenia, Euphorbia and Hellebores.

In some areas you might have to accept that planting is going to be too difficult. This is especially the case when you are trying to plant under a neighbour’s Leylandii fence. There are only a few plants that will cope with this because not only does the Leylandii cast shade, it also takes the nutrients and moisture from the soil, making it difficult for other planting to compete. Here I look to use non living structures, such as wooden sleepers and pots, to create interest.

If you have a difficult area to plant and need some professional help then please get in touch for a free consultation and site visit by either calling 01508 558743 or email

The woodland garden in autumn