Foliage Plants for Shady Gardens
A shady garden is a cool place to while away hot summer days. Gardens that are filled with lush foliage look cool and feel cool too. Use trees, clumps of palms or a plant-covered pergola to create summer shade in sunny areas or plant shade-loving foliage plants in courtyards or gardens with a shaded southerly aspect.
There are many plants that enjoy these locations, from ground covers to shrubs or even taller plants such as tree ferns. Plants grown for their foliage often have no or insignificant flowers, so create interest with a mix of leaf shapes, sizes and colours.
Seek inspiration in the indoor plant section of your garden centre (where there are lots of shade-loving plants) or look for the following suggestions in the shady plant section. Use these plants to create that cool retreat you’re dreaming of. All tolerate shade, but do need shelter from frost and regular watering. To keep your plants looking good, remove old or spent leaves regularly.
This group includes native ginger (Alpinia acerulea), which creates clumps of lush green leaves, has panicles of white flowers and blue fruit. Other alpinias include galangal (galanga) and shell ginger (A. zerumbet). There are also variegated forms. All grow to around 1-2m high.
Bird’s-nest ferns (Asplenium australasicum and nidus)
This fern is a must for any shaded garden. Its common name comes from its circular, nest shape, which is surrounded by large, green, sword-shaped leaves. Plants can measure 1-3m across.
Blue ginger (Dichorisandra thyrsiflora)
For a dash of blue in a shady foliage garden, grow this upright, cane-like plant which has glossy green leaves and purple-blue flowers. Stems can reach 1-3m high.
With so many different bromeliads to choose from, there’s bound to be one to include among your shade plants. Many have colourful leaves and long-lasting flowers, so can be used as a feature plant. Bromeliads can also be grown in pots. Look for Aechmea, Guzmania and Tillandsia for a range of colours and sizes. Plants range in size from 30cm to several metres in height.
This plant, with its heads of salmon lily flowers in winter and spring and evergreen strappy leaves, can be used as a tall ground cover in a shaded spot. There are also yellow, pink and white flower colours available. Use these more unusual clivias as a feature plant or in a container. Plants grow 40-60cm in height.
Many cordylines have colourful leaves and are grown in full sun, but the palm lilies (Cordyline rubra and stricta) enjoy shade and add height as well as interest with strappy leaves and colourful berries. Plants can grow 3-4.5m high.
Elephant ears, taro (Alocasia and Colocasia)
For large, lush, heart-shaped leaves, plant a collection of elephant ears. For dramatic dark purple to almost black leaves to add contrast among the green, look for Colocasia ‘Black Magic’. Plants can grow 1-1.8m high.
Ligularia (Ligularia dentata and reniformis)
These shade-loving perennials have large, shiny, kidney-shaped leaves and spires of yellow to orange daisy flowers. Plants grow to around 1-1.5m high and wide. Individual leaves can be as large as 40cm across.
Tree ferns (Cyathea cooperi and Dicksonia antarctica)
With their rough, tree-like trunks and large fern-like leaves, tree ferns are majestic additions to shade gardens. Water from the top. Tree ferns can reach several metres in height.
Other plants that tolerate shade include:
- Agave attenuata;
- Monstera (but don’t allow it to become invasive);
- Podophyllum Spotty Dotty;
- Variegated cannas such as Tropicana.