10 Plants For North-Facing Gardens
Bring colour and density to any shaded north-facing garden or border
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North-facing gardens typically receive little overhead light during the day when the sun is at its strongest. The house usually casts a shadow over much of the garden at this critical time.
Although such gardens may get a decent amount of sunlight in the morning and evening, it’s not usually enough to support plants that require full sun.
The best plants for north-facing gardens are those that either tolerate or prefer full shade or partial shade.
Fortunately, the team here at DIY Gardening has selected ten of the best plants for shady gardens. So whether you have a north-facing garden, wall or fence, we’re confident you’ll be able to grow lush, dense plants that develop plenty of colour and interest throughout the year.
Pro tip: Don’t forget to add texture to your north-facing garden. Ferns, ornamental grasses and hostas are a great way to add colour, foliage and texture to shaded gardens.
1) Hydrangea For North-Facing Gardens
One of our favourite plants for north-facing gardens is the Hydrangea Petiolaris. While hydrangeas usually prefer part-shade, this beauty thrives in full shade.
This climbing hydrangea is perfect for the rear wall of a home; a part of the garden that often receives little or no direct sunlight.
Gardeners also use it to cover unsightly fences and border walls, we’ve even seen it grow up tree trunks and along trellis.
This vine-like climber grows over six metres high and up to three metres wide and produces small but beautiful clusters of white flowers from late summer into autumn.
As a deciduous plant, this climber’s leaves also turn a glowing yellow from mid-autumn into early winter before shedding for the remainder of winter and early spring.
2) Granny’s Bonnet (Aquilegia vulgaris)
Perfect for borders in a north-facing garden where sunlight only reaches the plant in the morning or evening, this perennial produces deep-coloured double flowers in spring and early summer.
We love the “Ruby Port” for its maroon purple colour and early flowers.
Requiring little care and attention throughout the year, you can still expect this plant to grow up to one metre in height and a spread to around half a metre.
Grow in borders, beds and sheltered rock gardens, this plant prefers moist yet well-drained soil that is fertile.
Mound-forming with upright stems, Granny’s Bonnet Aquilegia Vulgaris is a perfect companion for less colourful plants in a north-facing garden such as ferns and grasses.
Granny’s Bonnet is a genus containing over 60 species of perennial plants that are often found naturally in long meadow grasses and woodland.
3) Masterwort Major (Astrantia Major)
Producing large, showy flowers that bloom from late spring through to early autumn, the masterwort is perfect for growing in shade and part-shade.
Florists highly regard masterworts for their large and unique starry petals that feature domed flowers in the centre. They make for excellent floral arrangements and grown in your shaded, north-facing garden; there’ll be plenty of unique interest.
Gardeners often grow this as a filler plant as they’re more than suited for mixed borders. We think this masterwort would look beautiful mixed with long ornamental grasses and sedums, which also flourish in north-facing gardens.
You can expect this slow-growing perennial to reach up to half a metre high and half a metre wide if grown in moist, well-draining yet fertile soil.
Masterworts are easy to divide (in spring), and with regular deadheading throughout the year, you can prolong the flowering into autumn. (Image by Nathan MacInnes)
4) Fairy Bellflower
Producing large, outward-facing violet-blue flowers from late spring into summer, this bushy evergreen perennial copes very well in shade and part-shade.
Despite needing regular watering, this is a low-maintenance plant. Just plant in a cool part of the garden away from full sun and deadhead to encourage more blooms and to prevent self-seeding.
Fairy Bellflowers may require staking if planted in exposed locations.
Consider planting in mixed borders, under taller plants such as roses
Growing up to one metre in height and just under a metre in width, we think this delicate perennial would suit a sheltered north-facing garden.
5) Great Forget-Me-Not
Brunnera Macrophylla, otherwise known as Great Forget-Me-Not, is ideal for covering moist, shaded areas of any north-facing garden.
Expect this ground covering herbaceous perennial to produce small but intense blue flowers in clusters from April to May.
You’ll need to grow this plant in moist and well-drained soil but never in a dry medium. It hates direct sunlight and won’t tolerate a full sun position, it prefers a sheltered location so consider borders along walls and fences.
Little maintenance is required other than optional yearly pruning and occasional division to keep the clump compact and neat. Few pests attack this plant and its generally disease-free.
This plant dies back each year for the winter, and then in spring, new growth appears.
6) Skimmia Japonica Combination
For our fifth suggestion we’ve chosen two plants; Skimmia Japonica “Rubella” and Skimmia Japonica “Obsession”.
Rubella is a male clone and Obsession is female. Plant these two close together, and they will cross-pollinate and reward you with an abundance of red berries on the female plant. Many of these beautiful berry clusters will stay attached well into winter and sometimes into spring too.
Both of these evergreen plants grow to around one metre in height, require little maintenance other than an occasional trim, and both tolerate shade well.
The male plant “Rubella” produces small red buds through the winter and then an explosion of white flowers in spring.
The female plant “Obsession” offer whitish-pink flowers from spring and red berries from early autumn into winter.
We think these two would make an excellent combination of plants in north-facing gardens and areas of dense shade.
Don’t forget; the female plant will not produce berries unless cross-pollinated with a nearby male companion plant.
Most foxgloves are biennial, meaning that they live for two years and they usually only flower during the second year. These biennials will usually set seed so can be self-sustaining if the conditions are right.
Almost all varieties are poisonous if consumed so they aren’t suitable for gardens where young children may be present.
Digitalis Grandiflora (aka Yellow Foxglove) is our choice for north-facing gardens as it copes very well with full shade and produces unique yellow bell-shaped flowers on tall (up to one metre) spire-like stems in the summer.
Dorset Perennials has published an excellent guide to the different foxgloves, do remember that some prefer a little more sunlight than Digitalis Grandiflora, so do more research before buying.
8) Hostas For North-Facing Gardens
No list of plants for north-facing gardens would be complete without Hostas!
While there is a wide range of Hostas to choose from, all are long-lived and very easy to care for – watch out for slugs though, as they see Hostas as an all-you-can-eat buffet! Otherwise, Hostas as pest and disease-free, for the most part.
As a general rule of thumb, green-leaved Hostas thrive in the full shade while those with blueish leaves can cope with some dappled sunlight or light shade. Yellow-leaved Hostas do prefer some more sunlight, however.
No Hosta should be placed in dry soil as they all thrive in a moisture-retentive growing medium. Very few Hostas are full sun tolerant, but a list of those that are can be found here.
Hostas are one of the best foliage plants; they can add texture and unique interest to any north-facing garden. While many produce small clusters of white, purple or light blue flowers on tall stems, the bold foliage is the main attraction.
Expect plenty of groundcover as Hostas are perfect for filling in voids in shaded spots in the garden.
There are even miniature types (try Blue Mouse Ears) should you wish to grow them in containers or if you have a small garden.
Not sure where to start with Hostas? This database contains details of thousands of cultivars.
9) Coral Bells
The ruffled leaves of Heuchera (Coral Bells) are undoubtedly unique and are complimented by long vertical shoots containing dozens of small bell-shaped flowers.
This mound-forming perennial covers the ground well and is suited to areas of the garden that match their natural habitat, which is in woodland.
So choose a spot in full shade or with some dappled sunlight, keep the ground moist and with lots of organic matter for feed and you’ll be rewarded with plenty of textured foliage and in summer, dozens if not hundreds of small colourful bells on tall stems.
Coral Bells can be grown in pots and containers too, just keep the growing medium moist, well-drained and rich in nutrients.
We think this is one of the best plants for north-facing gardens; suitable companion plants would be Granny’s Bonnet and Hostas.
Read more about Coral Bells on the RHS website.
10) Lily of the Valley
As the name suggests, this flowering plant thrives in woodland valleys where sunlight is limited, and the ground is fertile and moist.
Lily of the Valley is a mat-forming deciduous perennial that produces highly scented bell-shaped flowers in the spring followed by clusters of red berries in the summer and into early autumn.
A word of warning though; this beautiful plant may be perfect for north-facing gardens, but it’s highly toxic, and the red berries could attract young children.
Also worthy of note is how quickly this plant forms a colony that covers the ground, so be careful when choosing where to plant Lily of the Valley.
Consider locating under taller plants such as roses or anywhere with full or partial shade.
Lily of the Valley is popular with florists as the stems can be used in floral arrangements.
More details can be found on the RHS website.
More Ideas and Inspiration
Meet The Author: Hannah Miller
Hannah is a former NHS administrator, mother of two and keen qualified gardener who loves growing new plants and experimenting in the garden.
She enjoys gardening as much as she cares about the environment and likes to share her knowledge with others.
This year is all about pollinators, and Hannah has set herself the goal of only buying new plants that attract pollinators; she aims to make the garden as bee and butterfly friendly as possible.
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Hannah Miller has been a gardening enthusiast for over 12 years and has a level 3 qualification in horticulture. She's constantly growing new plants and frequently writes for us.
As accuracy is important, we asked fully qualified horticulturist Elizabeth Smith to review and fact-check this guide.
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