How To Choose The Best Plants For Dry Shade

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, Id forgotten the right plant, right placeprinciple.

If you have a tall wall and/or a group of trees in your garden, youll have dry shade.

And if your wall or trees are north-facing, you have a very shady area. Dont even try to experiment with anything other than shade-loving, drought-tolerant plants. Youll know youve 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 youll get some sunshine at certain times of the day or year. So you can be a little more flexible or experimental. Theres 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 its worth a try

Aucuba japonica unfashionable but reliable

Bergenia indestructible and pollinators love it

Hardy cyclamen  not the florists 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 its a town garden. And I focus on wildlife-friendly planting. So I think that I should take woodland gardenas 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 youre 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 Ive decided that I dont 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.