It can be difficult to choose plants for dry shade.
I have a small triangular area between two paths, where I had hoped to grow rhubarb. It took me years to realise that it was under a clump of small trees and that rhubarb likes sunshine. And rain. This rhubarb was never going to clump out into a lush border. It would always look straggly.
In my eagerness to enjoy a spread of beautiful big leaves, I’d forgotten the ‘right plant, right place’ principle.
If you have a tall wall and/or a group of trees in your garden, you’ll have dry shade.
And if your wall or trees are north-facing, you have a very shady area. Don’t even try to experiment with anything other than shade-loving, drought-tolerant plants. You’ll know you’ve got the wrong plants if they get leggy, straggly or fail to clump out into nice groups.
If the wall or trees face south, west or east, then you’ll get some sunshine at certain times of the day or year. So you can be a little more flexible or experimental. There’s more about different kinds of shade here.
And the base of your wall will either be drier or wetter than the rest of your garden, depending on the prevailing wind. The wind may drive rain into your wall or fence, so it runs down to the base. Or the wind will drive rain over the top, creating a mini desert at the base.
My top 10 plants for dry shade
Astrantia – it’s worth a try
Aucuba japonica – unfashionable but reliable
Bergenia – indestructible and pollinators love it
Hardy cyclamen – not the florist’s indoor plant variety
Euphorbia robbiae – but it can spread!
Fatsia japonica – a hardy, easy going plant for a jungle look
Ferns – Just get varieties right(dryopteris or polystichum)
Foxgloves – spires of colour in shady places
Hardy geraniums (varieties: macrorrhizum and phaeum)
Ivy – make sure you cut it back at least once a year
Firstly, decide what style or effect you want
What do you want your plants for dry shade to achieve? If you have a distinct garden style, such as English country, cottage garden or wildlife-friendly, then that will help narrow down your choices.
I would define my style as roughly English country, although it’s a town garden. And I focus on wildlife-friendly planting. So I think that I should take ‘woodland garden’ as my inspiration for this small triangle.
Another good look for a small area of dry shade could be jungle-style, with layers of big leafed plants.
Look at your dry, shady spot from all angles
Do you see the dry, shady area from the house? Or if you’re sitting in the garden, what do you see or want to see in that area? This will help you decide if you want deciduous plants for dry shade, so that your plants lose their leaves in winter. It will also help you decide whether you want taller plants or ground cover.
I can see this little triangle of garden from several windows in the house. It looks very pretty in spring, when the bulbs are out. So I’ve decided that I don’t want to cover the whole area with evergreens. I also want quite low plants to contrast with the trees and to see the shape of the path.