Horticulture Magazine

16 Wondrous Flowering Shrubs For Shade In Your Garden

pink flowering azaleas

Flowering shrubs can bring a splash of much-needed colour to a dark and shaded area of your garden.

Shady gardens are an increasingly common phenomenon around the UK, especially in towns and cities. With space at a premium, properties are becoming smaller and smaller, meaning green-fingered homeowners don’t always have the luxury of space and south-facing dimensions to coax their flora into full bloom.

If that sounds familiar, don’t fret. There are many varieties of flowering shrubs that positively thrive in full or partial shade, adding a dollop of lush foliage and a dazzle of bright blooms to a part of your garden which might otherwise suffer from a lacklustre aesthetic. Indeed, the options available to you are so plentiful that you’re simply spoiled for choice, but the following list (in alphabetical order) of our favourite flowering shrubs for shade can give you some inspiration when it comes to planning out a shady display.

Here’s 16 Flowering Shrubs We Think You’ll Like…

1) Azalea

bright pink autumn belle azalea bush
Encore, encore!

Azaleas belong to the rhododendron family (more on those later), but generally speaking the former are a smaller beast than their more expansive counterparts, with finer foliage and slower growing habits. Azaleas are demanding when it comes to the acidity of the soil, but otherwise they’ll bloom impressively in partial shade.

There are two types of azaleas – evergreen and deciduous – both of which are extremely hardy and easy to maintain once established. Simply mulch them each spring in order to give their roots an extra helping hand and marvel at the floral extravaganza they put on for you every year – some double-blooming varieties (the aptly named ‘Azalea Encore’ is a notable case in point) – will even repeat the trick once again in autumn.

2) Buddleja

This hardy shrub grows just about anywhere in the UK, from abandoned wastelands to immaculate country gardens. Although it prefers full sunlight, it’ll do just fine in partial shade and its abundant blooms (which last all season long) add cones of colour to the darker parts of your back yard.

It’s often colloquially known as a butterfly bush and you can expect to see plenty of these captivating creatures fluttering around it during the warmer months. It’s great for other pollinators, too, making it ideal for boosting biodiversity in your garden.

3) Camellia

vibrant pink Japanese Camellia flowers
Camellia japonica comes from the land of the rising sun

With glossy evergreen foliage and big, beautiful flowers that bloom in the late winter and early spring, camellias can be the forerunner you need to inject some vibrancy into your home after the colder months. They do best in partially shaded locations that are protected from strong gusts of wind.

Although camellia japonica is by far the most common variety of camellia in the UK, other strains such as camellia williamsii can be hardier and produce longer-lasting floral displays. Having said that, most camellia varieties are durable enough to look after themselves once established.

4) Chaenomeles

Otherwise known as Japanese quince, Chaenomeles japonica is an incredibly undemanding shrub to grow. Stick it in the shade, plonk it in substandard soil, train it to climb a fence or wall – the intrepid Chaenomeles is always up to the task.

When early spring rolls around, Chaenomeles is a real sight to behold. Its wiry branches become studded with brilliant pockets of bright orange flowers, making it look like the whole bush is aflame. As the year rolls on, the flowers will eventually mature into greenish-yellow quinces, which can then be harvested and converted into an exquisite jelly. What’s not to like?

5) Cornus

white Cornus florida
Cornus florida, or flowering dogwood to its friends

There are a wide variety of different Cornus shrubs; some are grown for the bright red brilliance of their winter stems alone, but there are plenty of flowering species to choose from, too. All of the above will do well in partial or even full shade, but prefer fertile, well-drained soil that is rich in nutrients – regular mulching can help with this.

C. mas is a particularly popular variety of Cornus, delivering fragile yellow petals on its dense undergrowth. The floral blooms generally appear in late winter, while red fruits (Cornellian cherries) spring forth in late summer. Ripe ones are edible, but unripe ones are astringent.

6) Daphne

In total, there are around 70 different types of Daphne, several of which are grown in the UK. With a variety of sizes, flowering calendars and floral blooms to choose from, you have plenty of options when it comes to tailoring the shrub to your garden’s requirements.

Whichever strain you opt for, Daphnes inevitably perform best in partial shade and neutral, well-drained soil that maintains moisture without becoming waterlogged. They also don’t take kindly to the relocation process, so choose your spot wisely. Once you do, however, you’ll be blessed with gorgeous blooms that are pleasing on both the eyes and the nostrils.

7) Hosta

hosta with green foliage and purple flowers
Purple flowers atop lush green foliage

Hostas are easy-to-grow, shade-loving shrubs which come in a variety of shapes and sizes. They’re primarily popular among the gardening community for their fantastic foliage (also a big hit with slugs, snails and other creepy crawlies), which comes in a variety of colours, including every shade of green imaginable and even more exotic hues like blue and yellow.

Having said that, certain species also produce delicate, trumpet-shaped flowers in white or purple come the summer. This means that they’re an ideal addition to your back yard, adding highlights of colour to the darker regions while not placing too many demands on your time or attention.

8) Hydrangea

There is an abundance of hydrangea species available in the UK, many of which have only been introduced in recent years. Some of those modern strains can offer longer floral blooms, a second flowering spell later in the year or even flowers which change colour as they mature.

Whichever species you plump for, you’ll find them incredibly easy to grow, thriving in either full sun, full shade or anything in between, and climbing varieties can easily be trained to scale a wall or fence. Just be sure to plant them in moist soil, leave the seedheads on the plant over winter to protect the buds below, then prune them come spring and you can’t go wrong.

9) Magnolia

spring magnolia flowers
The soft pastel pinks and purples of magnolias can brighten up any background

Although magnolias will perform best in full sun, they’ll still thrive in partial shade as long as they’re protected from the ravages of the wind. It’s for this reason that they’re often grown alongside walls and fences, in order to provide a shield against the elements and support for their drooping stalks.

While they might take a little more coaxing into blossom than some of the other options on this list, they’re well worth the effort. In fact, their delicate and waxy flowers might be among the most eye-catching of all flowering shrubs, so taking the time to ensure magnolias have the conditions they need to come to maturity pays off dividends in the spring and summer.

10) Pachysandra

If you’re in the market for a mat-forming shrub, look no further than pachysandra. This evergreen perennial is characterised by creeping stems and short, stubby branches, upon which hang luscious leaves and spikes of small, delicate flowers. Plenty of varieties are available, but pachysandra terminalis (alternatively known as ‘Japanese spurge’ or ‘green carpet’) is an excellent choice embodying all of the best points of this noble species.

One of the strongest suits of the pachysandra is its hardiness; it’ll grow in all but the driest of soils and prefers shade – the darker the better. Expect the flowers in early summer, but verdant foliage the whole year round.

11) Pieris

cascading Pieris flowers
A downward cascade of bell-shaped blooms is the Pieris trademark

Pieris is one of the more ostentatious shade-tolerant shrubs out there. Its foliage will shoot forth new growth of a vivid red in spring, mellowing to subtler tones of pink in the summer, before settling into its customary green later in the year. It can handle semi-shade well and tolerates most soil types, but it flourishes best in acidic terrain.

As for its blooms, the foliage of Pieris is complemented beautifully by masses of slender bell-shaped flowers in spring, normally white in colour. It is because of this stunning floral display that the common name of the species is ‘Lily of the Valley’.

12) Rhododendron

Rhododendrons are most commonly found in the wild among woodland areas, which means they enjoy the dappled shade that tree canopies provide. Replicating those conditions as closely as you can in your own back yard will lead to the best results, although any partially shady spot will serve them well. Avoid full sun or full shade.

Rhododendrons is a genus encompassing many plants, including the aforementioned azaleas, meaning you should be able to find a variety which suits your desired colour palette. Whichever one you opt for, you’re guaranteed a head-turning display of blossoms in the late spring and large, leafy foliage all year round.

13) Sarcococca

an Evergreen Sweet Box Shrub
Emerald-green leaves, coal-black berries and snow-white flowers

This compact, bushy shrub produces leathery green leaves, tiny white flowerheads and chunky blackberries. They thrive in full or partial shade and cope well in all well-drained but still moist types of soil, delivering their fragrant blossoms each winter and their fruit in summer.

Sarcococca confusa (otherwise known as ‘Christmas box’ or ‘sweet box’) is an ideal pick for a sheltered corner of the garden, but plenty of other cultivars will do equally as well. Sarcococca ruscifolia is an even more space-efficient option if your garden dimensions are on the smaller side, while Sarcococca hookeriana has a lovely scent to its flowers.

14) Skimmia

Boxy shrubs native to China, Japan and the lower reaches of the Himalayan mountain range, skimmia generally grow to around one metre in height and the same in spread, making them an ideal choice for cosier garden environments. Plant them at regular intervals and you can even create a bespoke hedge, fit for purpose.

They’re most commonly grown for their impressive foliage, though pollinated females will produce red berries and both genders feature attractive clusters of white flowers, budding in late autumn and blossoming in spring. They thrive best in acidic soil, but will fare well in almost all soil types and require little in the way of maintenance throughout the year.

15) Viburnum

Viburnum opulus with dark green foliage and white flowers
Opulus by name, opulent by nature

The viburnum family are a very diverse bunch. Choose between deciduous and evergreen varieties, those which flower in spring or summer and those which blossom in the colder months, and berry-bearing strains and sun- or shade-loving species. For providing variety and year-round floral extravagance, a mixture of viburnum never disappoints.

For a British native, check out viburnum opulus, which thrives in all types of sun exposure and isn’t fussy about the soil it inhabits. Meanwhile, those searching for a cultivar that delivers evergreen colour and picturesque florets of miniature flowers should try viburnum davidii. This latter variety has a whole host of different subspecies, several of which handle partial shade without a problem.

16) Weigela

Hardy, compact and easy to grow, it’s easy to see why weigelas are a popular option for borders, flower beds or standalone containers. The exquisite pinks, reds and whites of their blossoms make them a sight to behold wherever they’re planted and with a number of strains to choose from, you can mix and match to create a multi-coloured floral collage in your back yard.

Their diminutive dimensions mean they’ll fit snugly into any spot you select for them, while their capacity to do well in partial shade is ideal for anyone who doesn’t enjoy the luxury of an expansive south-facing garden. Some varieties are more tolerant of shade than others, however, so be sure to check the label carefully – weigela florida ‘Variegata’ and ‘Foliis Purpureis’ are two cultivars that generally do well in less sunny spots.

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