Plants for dry shade

As I have mentioned I went to a talk by Bob Brown last week and it was about plants for challenging conditions.  I have had a number of requests for information on the plants he suggested particularly for dry shade.  I have to admit I didnt write them all down only the ones that appealed to me especially as I dont really have a problem with dry shade but nevertheless here goes:


Firstly Crocus tommasinianus – these originate from Turkey so they are ideal for growing in dry shade.  Bob main premise for plants for this environment was that dry shade is very similar to the condition in the Meditteranean in that it is damp in the winter and dry in summer.  Meditteranean plants tend to grow in winter and spring and go dormant in the summer. 

Alliums also do well under trees for exactly the same reason – I’m not that convinced about this but will give them a go.  We then discussed Muscari and how no one seems to like them despite there profincency at growing in dry shade.  Bob’s advice was to buy types of Muscari that dont set seed such as Big Smile

Another group of plants that do well in dry shade are our native woodland flowers that flower before the trees are in leaf such as the Lady Smock (Cardamine pratensis)

Also Cyclamen do very well in dry shade as again this replicates the environments they find in the wild – e.g. the Mediterranean again.

We then moved on to shrubs and Bob recommended Skimmia ‘Kew Green’ – I have to say I’m not a big fan of Skimmias as they remind me of supermarket car parks but maybe this is because they are planted en masse. Having seen the cutting Bob brought with him and looking at the photo below it might be worth planted in dry shade – the glossy leaves would be quite attractive.

Another shrub that would do well is Danea racemosa (see photo below) – not something I had ever heard of but the cutting looked lovely – very long and willowy and evidentally very popular with flower arrangers.  It is also called Poets Laurel which I thought was quite charming.

Another shrub suggested was Rhamnus alternus ‘Argenteovariegata’ but I cant find a picture of this anywhere.

Finally for abit of extra colour in the summer Papaver spicatum

I hope that is of help to everyone.

17 thoughts on “Plants for dry shade

  1. Interesting selections, wouldn’t have thought of using poppies. My favs for dry shade are Heuchera, Epimedium, Hepatica, Anemone virginica, Polygonatum ordoratum ‘Variegatum’, Digitalis lutea, Bergenia, Aquilegia canadensis and Lilium martagon.

  2. I don’t like Muscari because they send up leaves in the fall & by the time winter is over, they look so ratty, yet the new flower stalks start coming up. Very unsatisfactory. I’ve had to become a bit of an expert on dry shade, as that’s the only kind I have. In addition to the plants you’ve posted about & those Barbara mentions, I’ve found that Hellebores, Smilacina racemosa, Asarum canadense, Alchemilla, Stylophorum diphyllum and Lamium maculatum do well in dry shade. Cornus alternifolia also seems to do well in dry shade, although its fall color is better with more moisture.

  3. I bought a Lamium Orvala

    at the Chelsea Physic Garden one year. It does very well in dry shade. Watch the slugs on your erythronium – they love the leaves. I had to stop a hungry one this morning.
    Kew Blue has a lovely smell and is really worth growing, it’s glossy and handsome. But aren’t the shady bits of the garden the most interesting?!

  4. I like the Lady Smock, very pretty. I’ll have to see if we have them available here. I never realized poppies could grow in the shade, I’ll have to look into that variety as well. Thanks for sharing!

  5. I agree with Barbara in liking heuchera for the tough dry and shady spot I have. Sasanqua camellia has also been surprisingly adapted, along with all things a kahili ginger–Who’d have thunk something so tropical would do so well? (No wonder the ginger’s considered invasive in wetter parts of the world…)

  6. I shall be noting down all of the above on my ‘dry and shady’ list – I seem to come across this problem more than any other.

    I’m with you on the Alliums – interesting but I’ll believe it when I see it.

    I also use Liriope muscari and Ajugas as well as foxgloves – I find these are particularly useful when the dry shade is under a tree as the roots often make it difficult to insert plants but sowing seed is a doddle.

  7. Thank you for all your other suggestions for dry shade – we seem to have compiled quite a list between us.

    Lila – I will keep an eye out for slugs thanks for the warning. I am coming round to the Skimmia it looks much nicer than the ones we see in car parks. I think the shady areas are more interesting too or maybe we just value the plants more for helping us out.

    lostlandscape/barabara – yes he did mention Heuchera as well

  8. Dry shade is always challenging. I have lots of dry shade in my garden. Somethings that say they require moisture actually do well after they have established themselves.

  9. Helen, I will be passing on your useful list and the other suggestions on to my sister who gardens in dry shade. I am sure she will appreciate them🙂

  10. I have never met that Skimmia. It looks rather fine unlike most Skimmias which are a bit run of the mill – especially those poor fellows that end up in neglected winter window boxes outside banks.

    • Hi James – yes I have heard good things about this Skimmia since the talk last week. So much so I think I might overcome my prejudice and check it out.

  11. In Belgium, ‘dry shade’ isn’t often a problem, but under some kinds of trees (like the old beeches in my garden) summer can be very dry.
    So under those beeches I grow plants that bloom in fall or spring, and tolerate dry summers.
    In September I have Cyclamen hederifolium blooming, and in spring there is Glory-of-the-snow (Chionodoxa lucillae and Fumewort (Corydalis solida)
    However, I do not know how these plants behave in the states. Corydalis solida is native here, but Chionodixa lucillae and Cyclamen hederifolium aren’t. Chionodoxa naturalized quite well, without becoming invasive, and the Cyclamen has it’s first seedlings now, after more than five years.

  12. What I’ve found will grow under trees is Geranium Macrorrhizum.
    It’s not the sort of plant that will set your heart racing, but it is tough as old boots and gives you ground cover in places where most other things wouldn’t survive.

  13. (Excuse me… I made a dumb comment while talking about ‘the States’ while writing my previous comment. I realized too late I was commenting on an English, not an American blog)

  14. Luckily I don’t have dry shade to worry about. I too am surprised about the Alliums being suitable. I might give the Muscari Big Smile a go. I like Muscari but have spent years digging the ordinary ones out of the garden as they had spread so much. I try to stick to varieties that don’t spread so aggressively.

  15. Hmmm not sure about the theory on Mediterranean plants. Having lived in the climate most of those plants like hot hot sunny positions and don’t mind summer drought with winter rain, but the vast majority want sun. The exceptions are agapanthus, dietes and hydrangeas. Also acanthus does well, and what about bamboo?

Please feel free to leave comments as its always lovely to get feedback. I try to respond to comments as much as possible but sometimes life and work get in the way but I will do my best to respond especially if your comment is a question.

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