Shady gardens are cool and lush and can be extremely beautiful, and in Cape Town there is surprisingly a lot of shade in most gardens. Many older gardens in the southern suburbs have large established trees like Oaks, Plain trees and Pines that shade a large area of the garden below their leafy branches. For some, these shady areas are difficult to landscape, and some plants seem to not thrive in them. In this blog we look at ways to identify your shady garden problems as well as highlight our favourite shade plants for your garden.


Use shade to enhance your gardens design!

Trees that cause shade

Some very large trees have extensive root networks below the soil that make it very difficult for other smaller shrubs to compete for water, nutrients and space. This is often the case under large Brazillian Pepper trees where we find very little seems to thrive. Here you could build up the soil above and amongst the roots and you may have more luck. Some trees also seem to cause the PH of the soil to change such as Pine trees, whose large drop of pine needles makes the soil too acidic for many plants to grow in. In this case use plants that are happy in these conditions such as various Plectranthus, Arums, Clivias, Crassulas.

Sandy shady soil

Sandy soil under trees is another common problem. The trees take many nutrients out of the soil which becomes depleted and hydrophobic meaning that water runs off it without penetrating to the roots of the plants. The answer to this is lots and lots of compost and organic mulch over the soil. You need to build up the proportion of decaying organic matter in the soil for it to become loamier and allowing water to penetrate easily.

Favourite shade plants

Stunning Plectranthus making an autumn splash in the garden!

Plectranthus species

There is a beautiful indigenous Plectranthus species for every gardener and shady garden. Some of our favourites include Plectranthus fruticosus ‘Richard’, Pleactranthus ‘Liana’ with its stunning dark purple spires, Plectranthus ciliatis with its mauve underside to the leaves and Plectranthus ecklonii to grow up tall and bushy where it can have some room under the trees and make a huge display of colour in Autumn.

Arum lilies

Zantedeschia aethiopica is the traditional indigenous white flowering lily that likes a shady and damp spot to thrive. The bulb will become dormant in the summer especially if the garden becomes dry, but they will pop up again to make a winter splash after some good heavy rain. Their lush leaves work well with ferns and Clivias.

Delicate white blooms of Anemone japonica are magical in dark shade areas

Japanese anemones

These beautiful plants come in a range of white and pink flowering blooms. They make a fantastic groundcover under trees as long as the soil is not too dry. They are favorites of snails too so do beware. Their delicate blooms are held on tall bobbing stems that look beautiful planted with other foliage plants. They work well in Traditional, Cottage or Formal garden styles.

Hebe species

Hebe species are a great, dependable shady area plant that can be used well in the formal or traditional garden as most of them have a neat rounded shape that doesn’t mind being lightly clipped either. Their dark purple to pink and white powdery flowers are an added bonus on these great little evergreen plants.

Liriope, Anthericum and Carex make beautiful shady area grasses for a soft feel.

Liriope, Anthericum and Carex make beautiful shady area grasses for a soft feel.


There are a surprisingly vast array of grasses and grass-like plants that work well in the shady garden. These include Festucas and Miscanthus species with their feathery foliage. Juncus species are fantastic en masse in a more contemporary garden adding texture and fizz amongst more sculptural plants. Carex, Liriope, Chlorophytum, Anthericum all work beautifully in the shade garden too. Another indigenous favorite is Dietes grandiflora with their white bobbing flowers and green sword-like leaves for the indigenous garden.

Large leafed plants

Large-leafed plants that give a lush feel include Delicious monster, Bromeliads, Tree ferns, Hydrangeas, Camelias, Begonias, Azaleas. All these are happy under trees as long as they have plenty of good composted material in the soil.

Liriope, Anthericum and Carex make beautiful shady area grasses for a soft feel.

Liriope, Anthericum and Carex make beautiful shady area grasses for a soft feel.


This great shrub is a beautiful addition to the shade garden due to its coppery coloured foliage and delicate light blue blooms. It looks lovely contrasted with other bigger leafed, green plants like Hydrageas and Plectranthus. Plant it in groups of at least 5 to really make the most of its texture and colour.

Liriope, Anthericum and Carex make beautiful shady area grasses for a soft feel.

Hypoestes aristata

The indigenous ‘Ribbon bush’ is another good addition to those difficult areas under trees. They have nice green leaves and flower abundantly in Autumn adding a fabulous splash of colour when little else is flowering. They come in light pink and white varieties. They need to be cut back hard after flowering to encourage a dense shape again.

Liriope, Anthericum and Carex make beautiful shady area grasses for a soft feel.

Diospyros whyteana

Another great hedging or structural plant for shady areas, the indigenous ‘Bladdernut’ tree is a slow-grower but has very beautiful glossy leaves and delicate foliage that eventually becomes dense and can be beautifully clipped. They work especially well near streams or water features giving an almost Japanese feel with their delicate branches.

Barleria repens

Another great groundcover plant for really difficult spots where nothing thrives. Barleria is tough and well adapated to neglect too!  Masses of bright purple blooms cover these plants in autumn making it a worthwhile addition if you have the space as they tend to sprawl.

Liriope, Anthericum and Carex make beautiful shady area grasses for a soft feel.


Another indigenous gem of a plant is this delicate small perennial that is suited to a shady courtyard garden growing near the foreground of the bed or in a collection of pots or with other small shady beauties like ferns and impatiens. The bright pink, purple and white blooms are a beautiful trumpet like shape and they bloom profusely if looked after and not allowed to become too damp or too dry in their pots.

Carissa macrocarpa

A shrub we use again and again for its dark green, tough leaves and beautiful white Jasmine-like flowers. Great planted near boundary walls due to its impressive thorns, these are also somewhat slow-growing but make a beautiful dense hedge or large shrub in a few years.

Liriope, Anthericum and Carex make beautiful shady area grasses for a soft feel.

Star jasmine

Last but not least, for shady walls there is really only one favourite climber and that is Trachelospermum jasminoides with its dark green leaves and beautifully scented white flowers. Now available in a variegated, but more low-growing variety, we love them for the gentle scent they create especially near patios or entertainment areas.

Happy gardening!

Photo credits