Bedding plants for shade - 11 shade-tolerant plants to brighten up dark corners and north-facing gardens

These bedding plants can brighten up your garden… even when the sun can’t

Raised bed against a wooden shed with a tree, hosta and foxgloves
(Image credit: Future PLC/David Giles)

Most people assume that shady gardens will only ever be bare, flowerless areas devoid of sunlight and colour. But you might want to hold your horses because many bedding plants for shade can brighten the place up instantly.

Yes, when you dream of your ideal garden idea, you probably imagine a sunny garden filled with flora and foliage (and let’s not forget the best garden furniture to help you catch those rays). But those with a north-facing garden often have to face the harsh reality that their outside space will never be as sunny as those that aren’t north-facing. That doesn’t mean that it can’t make a statement, though.

If you’re looking to up the flower bed ante and fill your garden borders with blooms, there are many bedding plants that thrive in shaded gardens. And these 11 shade-tolerant bedding plants offer colour, height, texture, and everything else you could possibly want.

Bedding plants for shade

It can be easy to give in to a dark and moody garden and allow the darkness to take over. But if you want to fight back against the shade and brighten up your space, these bedding plants for shade have got you covered. Want some more good news? Some of the options on this list are also bedding plants that slugs hate. So, you don’t have to worry about sacrificing them to these slimy garden invaders.

1. Begonias

Bright flowers of tuberous begonias (Begonia tuberhybrida) close up in an English in garden with rain drops on its petals

(Image credit: Getty Images)

If you’re looking for a beautiful bedding plant for shade, look no further. Begonias are colourful, delicate flowers that can be grown from tubers or bought as fully-fledged plants from the garden centre.

And while they certainly enjoy a smidgen of sunshine if it's on the menu, begonias are also extremely shade-tolerant and will still thrive in a dark corner of your garden.

Morris Hankinson, Director of Hopes Grove Nurseries, explains, 'Generally, they like to be planted in a position that is out of the hot afternoon sun. Begonia ‘Starshine’ is a lovely one for growing in part or dappled shade.'

Just make sure that you have rich, well-draining soil, as begonias can rot if left in the waterlogged ground. That’s also why you should know how to overwinter begonias.

Where to buy begonia plants:

  • Dobies: A selection of every colour of begonia plant you're looking for
  • Marshalls Gardens: They have a good range, but for easy colour the Non-Stop Mix has 12 multi-coloured plants
Morris Hankinson of Hopes Grove Nurseries
Morris Hankinson

Morris Hankinson is the founder and managing director of Hopes Grove Nurseries Ltd, the UK’s only specialist grower-retailer of hedging plants. He established the thriving business in 1992, shortly after graduating with a Commercial Horticulture Degree from Writtle College, Essex.

2. Cyclamen

Blooming pink cyclamen flowers in winter

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Boasting pink, white, red, and even purple blooms, cyclamen is one of the hardiest perennials out there. Thankfully, this makes it one of the best bedding plants for shady areas of the garden.

In fact, cyclamen are perfect for adding colour and vibrancy to bedding areas that are underneath or near large trees. They also bloom in winter or early spring, meaning you can brighten up your shady garden outside of the summer months.

Where to buy cyclamen:

3. Ferns

Living garden wall with climbing plants and ferns

(Image credit: Future PLC/Annaick Guitteny)

Woodland garden ideas are ideal for shady gardens, and ferns can help you bring that magical, fairytale-esque idea to life.

And while they don’t offer flowers or bright colours, the stunning leaves and evergreen nature of ferns can add texture and greenery to your flower beds.

Just make sure that you know when to cut back ferns so they don’t overpower your beds, and, if possible, plant them somewhere they can at least get a tiny slither of sunlight every once in a while.

Where to buy ferns:

  • Waitrose: the brand has just about every colour, shape and size of fern plant you could hope for
  • Gardening Express: there are some interesting varieties of ferns available here, so you could create a woodland-ready fern patch

4. Hostas

Hostas growing alongside flowers in a shady garden

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Hostas are having a real moment right now, and it’s hard to deny that the heart-shaped, multi-coloured leaves of this perennial aren’t extremely beautiful. They’re also perfect for those who have a north-facing garden or a shade-dappled bedding area.

Morris explains, ‘Choose a shady to partially-shady spot depending on your variety of hosta.’ Typically, the lighter varieties require more sunlight, while the darker varieties are more shade-tolerant.

Intrigued? Check out our guide on how to grow hostas to add them to your garden.

Where to buy hostas:

  • J Parkers: they're running low on their specialist hostas, but the gorgeous 'Touch of Class' has a welcome 'Buy One Get One Free' on offer
  • Crocus: a whole variety of hostas for every flower bed

5. Lobelia

blue cardinal lobelia flower - Boris SV - GettyImages-999916746

(Image credit: Boris SV/Getty Images)

They don’t get much brighter than lobelia. This plant boasts electric blue and purple flowers that will add a dramatic pop of colour to a shady garden - and an added bonus is that they’re the ideal companion plant.

Perfect for shaded garden borders and bedding areas, lobelia thrives in partial shade and absolutely loathe direct sunlight.

However, you need to make sure that your lobelia isn’t too dark and gloomy. Too much shade can impact a lobelia’s flowering success and may result in fewer blooms. So, you need to get the balance right.

Where to buy lobelia:

6. Foxgloves

Foxgloves in a garden

(Image credit: Getty Images)

When you think of bedding plants, you probably think of low-to-the-ground flowers and shrubs. But if you’re looking to step away from typical bedding ideas and add some height to your garden, foxgloves should definitely be on your list.

Offering height, colour, and the most stunning tubular flowers, foxgloves are a delight in any garden - and they’re also extremely shade-tolerant.

Although most foxgloves will grow happily and healthily in dappled shade, it’s important to note that this isn’t the case across the board. Some varieties do require sun, so it’s always a good idea to do your research before planting foxglove seeds.

Where to buy foxgloves:

  • Sarah Raven: several foxgloves available, including the unusual and elegant 'Café Creme'
  • Waitrose: the high-street brand has just about every colour of foxglove plant and seeds you could wish for

7. Fuchsia

Fuschia plant in pot

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Fuchsias are some of the most low-maintenance bedding plants you can find. They’re extremely hardy and will tolerate almost all soil types, and can cope with or without sunlight. The only thing you really need to do is know how to prune fuchsias.

Be warned that, while fuchsias can tolerate shaded areas of your garden, deep shade will result in fewer flowers. So, finding a spot with an hour or two of sunlight a day is the best bet.

8. Aquilegia

Pink aquilegias - Clive Nichols- GettyImages-523710438

(Image credit: Clive Nichols/Getty Images)

Aquilegia is commonly called ‘granny’s bonnet,’ and one look at this plant will tell you why. With its bell-shaped flowers and old-fashioned colours, aquilegia looks as though it’d be high-maintenance and delicate and is perfect for a cottage garden. But in reality, it’s pretty hardy.

Aquilegia is well suited to a shaded garden. While they prefer partial shade with a little bit of sun, they can still thrive in a fully shaded garden. They also need to grow in moist soil and hate drying out.

And as Kate Turner, Gardening Guru for Miracle-Gro, explains, ‘Keep watered even though in shade. They will still need watering and feeding.’

Where to buy Aquilega plants:

9. Primrose

Prunus Kursar Flowering Cherry Blossom Tree

(Image credit: Primrose)

Why would you choose bedding plants without considering primrose? Offering delicate flowers and a wide variety of colours, the primrose is a small woodland perennial that typically flowers during the winter months.

Morris says, 'Primroses are well known to love shade and flower from winter through to spring meaning they bring some colour and interest in the garden when there is less in flower. There are many colours available, including some with beautiful patterns such as ‘Antique Star Flame’ to the bi-coloured ‘Provence’.'

And while the risk of this happening during the winter months is slim, just make sure the soil doesn’t dry out.

Where to buy Primrose plants:

10. Snowdrops

Snowdrop flowers clustered together in a winter garden

(Image credit: Getty Images)

The ultimate winter flower, snowdrops are a welcome addition to any garden. Pushing up through the frozen ground in January and February, they’re a sign that spring is (eventually) on the horizon.

Thankfully, they’re also extremely shade-tolerant and perfect for bedding areas, as they thrive in fully shaded corners of the garden and can even tolerate heavy, sodden winter soil.

If you want to add snowdrops to your shaded garden, check out our guides on how to plant snowdrop bulbs and when to plant snowdrop bulbs.

Where to buy Snowdrops:

11. Impatiens

Orange New Guinea impatiens - Yippa - GettyImages-1221346265

(Image credit: Yippa/Getty Images)

You may know impatiens by their common nickname, busy lizzies. And while busy lizzies are typically used as hanging basket flowers, they can also thrive as bedding plants - especially if you have a shaded garden.

'Impatiens ‘New Guinea Group’ are suited for sun to partial shade and have larger flowers,' explains Moarris. 'There may be more flowers if planted with some light but shade works well for them also.'

In fact, impatiens actually dislike too much sunshine, which is bad news for those with a south-facing garden. Worst-case scenario, they can cope with some cool, dappled morning sun. But the busy lizzy game will be over if they’re exposed to afternoon sunlight.

Where to buy Impatiens plants:


What can I plant in a shady border?

This all depends on what kind of look you’re going for - and when you want them to bloom. Many winter-flowering plants can thrive in a shady border as they’re used to dealing with colder, darker days. However, there are also many spring and summer-flowering plants that can also tolerate the shade.

If you’re looking to add greenery to your shady border, opting for ferns or hostas would be your best bet. But if you want to add delicate, bright flowers that you’d typically associate with a sunny garden, begonias or primroses will suit you better.

What to do with a garden area that gets no sun?

These bedding plants for shade can definitely help you add some greenery and colour to your shady garden area. That’s not the only thing you can do with a garden area that gets no sun, though.

You could warm up this area with one of the best fire pits, you could build an outdoor kitchen, you could add in a pond, or you could even build a play area for your children that will keep them out of the sun.

Ultimately, you need to think outside of the box and understand that a north-facing or shaded garden still opens up a world of possibilities.

We bet you didn’t realise that there were so many bedding plants for shade.

Lauren Bradbury

Lauren Bradbury is a freelance writer and major homes enthusiast. She graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in English and Creative Writing from the University of Chichester in 2016, before dipping her toe into the world of content writing. After years of agency work, writing everything from real-life stories to holiday round-ups, she decided to take the plunge and become a full-time freelancer in the online magazine world. Since then, she has become a regular contributor for Real Homes and Ideal Home, and become even more obsessed with everything interior and garden related. As a result, she’s in the process of transforming her old Victorian terraced house into an eclectic and modern home that hits visitors with personality as soon as they walk through the door.