Today’s blog is going to touch on the topic of shady gardens and will have a list of shade loving plants.

There is a question which I am asked extremely regularly. What do I plant in shady troublesome spots? Today’s blog is going to touch on this topic and is a list of shade loving plants. This list really does just touch on this topic and there are way more plants then what I am going to make mention of. My list is purely plants which I am preferential to. Without further ado, get to reading so that you can make your shady garden spots a great success story.

Before I go into writing my list I must just make mention of one thing. On more occasions than what I wish to make mention of I have been told… but there are no plants which flower in the shade and shady gardens are always plain and green. This is a very false statement and way of thinking. Most of the time people are either choosing plants which are just foliage plants and not flowerers or they are planting sun loving plants in the shade and therefore because plants are not receiving enough sunlight will not flower properly or at all. Creating an interesting and colourful shady garden is all about correct plant choices. Right here we go. Shade loving plants…

Large shrubs:

So my favorite has to be Mackaya bella. This large evergreen indigenous shrub has lovely glossy dark foliage and gets masses of bell shaped white flowers and is appropriately named River bells. This shrub is perfect grown underneath trees and suits forest conditions. It is drought resistant and can be grown in most soils. Might require some pruning to keep it in shape. Plectranthus ecklonii is a larger growing Plectranthus with large leaves and large spikes of blooms in either a white, pink or dark purple colour. This plant can actually also be grown in sunny spots. Definitely give this shrub enough space to grow otherwise permanent cutting back will prevent flowering which would be a real pity. Gardenia’s are also great for semi- shady spots but remember that they do prefer an acidic soil so keep this in mind when planting. Three other shrubs which are a little difficult to find sometimes but are stunning and love the shade are Psychotria capensis (yellow heads and bird attractor), Duvernoia adhatoides (white spikes, glossy leaves) and Burchellia bubalina (orange flowers, glossy foliage).

Burchelia bubalina, Mackaya bella, Duvernoia adhatoides

Small shrubs:

So my personal feeling on the best small shrub is Plectranthus ‘Mona Lavender’. This indigenous hybrid is a neat and tidy small shrub with masses of bright purple small spike flowers mainly in spring. It is extremely versatile and looks great planted in mass for a shock factor or planted as a stunning pot plant. It is quite drought tolerant but at the same time don’t neglect it completely. There are many different small shrubs Plectranthus and all are great but another one that I would like to make mention of is Plectranthus fruticosus. The forest spur flower is a great large gap filler and gets masses of pink or blueish-mauve spike flowers in mass  in hot summer. Hypoestes aristata or ribbon bush an indigenous small shrub gets masses of purple and pink blooms and is great for the butterfly garden. Might need to be cut back occasionally to be kept neat and tidy. The Barleria family is also extremely well suited for semi-shady spots and especially if you have very dry spots as they are drought tolerant. There are many varieties like Barleria obtusa (Light purple, neat), Barleria repens ‘Purple prince’, and Barleria repens ‘Rosea’ (pink). Another two indigenous small shrubs are Dychoriste thunbergifolia (dark purple flowers) and Phygelius capensis (Cape/Wild fuchsia). Dychoriste can be difficult to find but is well worth the search. Phygelius is more readily available and is truly beautiful with bright pink or cream coloured tube flowers which droop. If you are more into very showy exotics, then Hydrangea’s are always great, but remember they like an acidic soil and like being fertilized with acid plant fertilizer so don’t just expect them to be planted and flourish.

Hypoestes aristata, Plectranthus ‘Mona Lavender’, Phygelius capensis


Plectranthus groudcovers are fantastic for the shade and some good varieties are Plectranthus verticillatus (money plant, shiny leaves), ciliatus (lovely reddish purple under leaves), and madagasceriensis (variegated). Crassula groundcovers also flourish in darker areas and some varieties you should choose are mulicava, pellucida and spathulata (my favorite, heart shaped leaves). Asystacia gigantea or Wild foxglove is also great with white flowers which attract masses of butterflies. Sutera pauciflora is a plant which people assume only does well in sunshine but actually also does well in dappled shade under trees etc. Lobelia alata and anceps are also great indigenous groundcovers which are floriferous and create a great show. They are also great if in damp areas. They can sometimes not be the easiest to source.

Crassula spathulata, Sutera pauciflora, Lobelia alata

Focal points & perennials:

Draceana alectriformis is a tall growing indigenous form plant which will add shape and form to your garden. The exotic dracaenas are also great. Rumohra adianthiformis is my favourite indigenous fern and the common name leather leaf fern describes what it looks like. It is extremely drought tolerant which is quite unusual for ferns. This is a groundcover type fern and great gap filler. Blechnums are all fantastic shade plants and I would say the indigenous B.punctulatum is my favourite. These are classified as form plants and add shape to the garden. Love the lime green slightly glossy foliage. For large form plants, tree ferns (Cyathea’s) will also do the trick. Please note though that you must give them space to reach their true width as they grow quite wide and people often make the mistake of pushing them into small spaces. They cannot be pruned to be not as wide. Chlorophytum (Anthericum) saundersii is a grass like indigenous groundcover which is EXTREMELLEY tough and actually quite attractive with masses of drooping spikes of small white starry flowers. This plant can be split every couple of years to make many more plants. Great gap filler on a low budget.  The Asparagus family are amazing!!! Drought tolerant and disease and pest resistant, they flourish in shade and sun. My preferred species is Asparagus densiflorus ‘Meyersii’ (Cat’s tail) because of its cat tail like structure which adds shape to a garden. Think of using this as a lovely pot plant as well. Other interesting varieties are Asparagus sprengerii, mazeppa and ‘Chwebe’. Last but not least a shady garden would not be complete without adding the tried and trusted Arum lilies (Zantedeschia), adding masses of large white flowers and of course, old fashioned but spectacular Anthuriums coming in many different sizes and colours. Remember arums can be planted in wet areas and Anthuriums are also indoor plants.

Rumohra adianthiformis, Zantedeschia aethiopica, Anthurium adreanum


So this is how you can really get some great colour into your shady garden, especially underneath trees. ADD BULBS!!! They are completely underutilized plants and I wish people would make more use of them as there are so many available and the ones I am going to speak of are all local is lekker, indigenous. Velthemia bracteata (Bush Lily) has dark green glossy foliage and gets spikes topped with droopy tubular either bright pink or cream flowers. This is a deciduous bulb and will be dormant for a couple of months during midsummer. This bulb does really well in pots. Bulbs don’t like to be disturbed as this affects flowering. I absolutely love the Blood or snake lily, Scadoxus puniceus which produces fluffy brush-like heads of scarlet in spring. Mass plant under trees or pop in between other plants to produce flashes of colour. The pineapple lily or Eucomis autumnalis is an example of natural beauty with its large, fleshy, strap like leaves and normally yellow-green flower heads which resemble pineapples. Other colour varients are also available. This bulb does well in sun and semi-shade and is quite drought tolerant. Great cut flower so be sure to add this to your vase. Although dormant they don’t need to be lifted as long as drainage is good and you keep them fairly dry whilst dormant. Aristea ecklonii, major and capitata with purple blue flowers with strappy foliage. Great for the cottage garden look. Don’t forget to add what we all know loves shade, Clivia miniata and other varieties. Crocosmia aurea adds a cheerful bright orange to the garden in mass and this plant will spread on its own, filling up gaps where it can. Plants for free, awesome… Haemanthus albiflos will add heads of white flowers to the garden and looks great combined with Scadoxus underneath trees in between foliage plants. Just remember when adding bulbs to your garden that if you have a mole problem they may be attacked and that lily borer can be a problem with bulbs. Please don’t let this discourage you though and just treat bulbs with systemic insecticide once every 3 months which will kill lily borer if they attack.

Scadoxus puniceus, Crocosmia aurea, Eucomis autumnalis

Other great plants to think about are Aspleniums, Phildodendrons (LOVE Rojo congo and xanadu), Aspidistra’s, Nehrolepsis ferns and ferns in general, Crassula ovata (yes it can grow in the shade as well) etc, etc, etc and the list goes on.

In conclusion you are not as limited as you may think with a shade garden. Do some homework and you can really create a masterpiece of a garden worthy of appearing in gardening magazines. I hope if you have what you think is a troublesome shady landscape or spot that you have been inspired by this article. Right, get cracking at your masterpiece.

Article written by Jessica Ruger (Horticulturist and Buyer at Contours Landscapes).

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