From foliage to flowering, groundcover to climbing, discover the best plants for creating a shade garden in your small space.
Foliage plants for small shade gardens
By their very nature, foliage plants with big leaves are happiest in the shade because they’ve developed bigger leaves to help them catch more light for photosynthesis - and shade-loving foliage doesn’t get much bigger than hostas.
Hostas comes in a range of shades, from deep blue-green to bright yellow. Other similarly bright plants will shine in the shade and illuminate your shady garden - so take advantage of them. Try coleus and heuchera for an incredible array of shades, from scarlet to fuchsia to lime.
Like hosta, fatsia also has huge leaves, which are deeply lobed. If you want to keep this large plant in check, you can also grow it in a large container.
For ornate foliage that looks like it’s been hand-painted, decorate your shade garden with calathea, ctenanthe Burle-Marxii, prayer plant and rex begonia.
Bromeliads are your best bet if you want to add a tropical touch. Also known as the cast iron plant, aspidistra’s deep-green blade-like leaves will grow completely carefree in even the densest shade. If your soil is ordinary and you haven’t had much luck with other plants, try plectranthus. This fast-growing plant will tolerate most soil, plus drought and root-competition.
Groundcover plants for small shade gardens
Most turf struggles without enough light, so try shade-loving groundcovers instead. Taking advantage of low-growing groundcovers will also crowd out weeds, making your shade garden easier to maintain. As a bonus, most are slow-growing which equals even less maintenance.
Mondo grass (Ophiopogon japonicus) is an obvious choice as it’s very much a set-and-forget plant and looks much like grass.
Many varieties provide an attractive carpet of colour, like fan flower (Scaevola), a tough and impressive groundcover covered in blue-mauve blooms almost year-round.
Creeping boobialla (Myoporum) has narrow, dark-green leaves and white, star-shaped flowers with a sweet perfume through spring and summer. Once established this plant needs very little maintenance and will tolerate salt spray, drought and light frost.
Dicondra repens, also known as kidney creeper is a vigorous, low-growing perennial with pretty foliage that spreads quickly with little care.
Australian native violet (Viola hederacea) thrives in moist areas and will give you a rich carpet of green, accented with pretty little flowers.
Flowering plants for small shade gardens
Don't forget about the wide selection of flowers to pack your shady spots with colour. Azaleas and rhododendrons will give you a big late winter to spring punch, and their evergreen foliage keeps your small garden looking great for the rest of the year.
Also known as the winter rose, hellebores (Helleborus) is great for winter flowering colour.
Tree begonia is a large shrub that can reach between one and three metres and flowers in summer and autumn.
Originally from South Africa, clivia (Clivia miniata) thrives in Sydney and will brighten your shady garden from late winter to early spring. Impatiens are annuals with small but vibrant blooms.
For a fragrant shade garden, daphne is a great choice from mid-winter to spring, when blush-pink flowers (later fading to white) fill the air with a heady, slightly citrus scent.
Perennial anemones are a beautiful choice and their flowers come in pink and white.
Hydrangeas (Hydrangea macrophylla) make a wonderful addition and continue to bring joy inside as a long-lasting cut flower. Ranging from ivory white to deep pink-red shades and almost purple, pieris features a beautiful cascade of late winter to early spring blooms.
Aim high and make the most of vertical space by growing vines and climbing plants. Evergreen shade-loving vines, such as ivy (hedera), are happy to scramble up pretty much any surface.
There are many flowering shade-loving vines to choose from too, like native hardenbergia (Australian sarsaparilla). Its pea-shaped clusters of flowers in winter and spring are loved by birds and butterflies.
Star jasmine (Trachelospermum Jasminoides) will climb over supports and cling to walls, fences, pergolas and hard surfaces with great ease and abandon. It also makes great ground cover for larger areas.
Stephanotis floribunda, also known as Madagascan jasmine, looks and smells much like jasmine, but is in a genus of its own. From November to April, this evergreen climber produces clusters of white, powerfully-scented, bell-shaped flowers.