Plants for Exposed Sites in Containers in the Shade

Ferns are a mainstay in the Exposed container garden.
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In this article, we will be discussing what plants can be grown in containers for exposed sites in the shade. In a previous article, I have talked about what plants can be used in an exposed site in containers in full sun.

As we all do not have this luxury, we also need to consider what plant can be grown in the shade where frosts and winds can be a real hazard. The major drawback is that you cannot rely on the sun to brighten up the plants, so what can be using plants that can grow under these harsh growing conditions.

Ferns are a mainstay in the Exposed container garden.
Ferns are a mainstay in the Exposed container garden.

The good news is that a lot of spring bulbs, summer-flowering perennials, shrubs for autumn colour and hardy evergreens to provide interest over the cold, frosty winter, can be used.

Not surprisingly ferns are a mainstay of this scheme, as they are unfazed by below zero temperatures. They also add texture to colourful bulbs and perennial backdrops. This can include scillas, irises and aquilegias. You are not limited to unscented flowers but you can incorporate them to bring wonderful aromas to your container garden.

If you are using shrubs to provide shelter for an exposed garden, then it is best to place them on the north to ensure that they do not add to the shade in the garden. You can use hedging plants at shoulder height to protect a patio area and to stop it getting battered by the winds.

The following plants can be used that will grow well in exposed sites in the shade:

ADIANTUM ALEUTICUM (Maidenhair Fern)

Adiantum aleuticum
Adiantum aleuticum

This 45cm tall, deciduous or semi-evergreen fern had black-stalked, mid-green fronds that are divided into rectangular segments. Whilst young the fronds can be tinged pink. It is tolerant of low temperatures but it cannot take deep shade. Grow it in a container full of well-drained, multipurpose compost.

ALCHEMILLA MOLLIS (Lady’s Mantle)

Alchemilla mollis
Alchemilla mollis

This 50cm tall, clump-forming perennial has rounded, pale green foliage that is crinkled at the edges. Small sprays of tiny, bright, green-yellow flowers appear in summer. Grow this plant on a container full of well-drained, multipurpose compost.

AQUILEGIA VULGARIS (Granny’s Bonnet)

Aquilegia vulgaris
Aquilegia vulgaris

A tall, 1m high upright perennial that has divided green leaves that form lobed leaflets. From late spring to early summer, single or double flowers of shades of purple, blue, pink and white appear. Grow it in a container full of well-drained, multipurpose compost.

ASTILBE ‘Fanal’

Astilbe 'Fanal'
Astilbe ‘Fanal’

This is a clump-forming perennial that has deeply divided, dark green fern-like leaves. In summer it produces dark pink flowers on slim, dark stems that look feathery in appearance. Plant this beauty om a moisture-retentive, ericaceous compost in a large container.

ATHYRIUM FILIX-FEMINA (Lady Fern)

Athyrium filix-femina
Athyrium filix-femina

This is the second fern on the list. It is a 1.2m tall, deciduous fern that produces arching, lance-shaped, pale green fronds that are divided into narrow segments and toothed margins. It will survive deep shade and cold, frosty conditions but do not like windy sites. Grow it in a large container full of moisture-retentive, ericaceous compost,

BLECHNUM SPICANT (Hard Fern)

Blechnum spicant
Blechnum spicant

The third fern on the list has narrow, lance-shaped, dark green fronds that are divided into linear segments. This 75cm tall fern can flourish in deep shade in the cold and will do well on exposed sites. Remove any old foliage. Grow it in a large container full of moisture-retentive, multipurpose compost.

CALLUNA VULGARIS (Scots Heather)

Calluna vulgaris
Calluna vulgaris

As expected from a shrub that grows in the Scottish Highlands. This plant is tough as nails. It is an evergreen, bushy, low growing shrub that has tiny, yellow or green leaves. From midsummer to late autumn on stems, clusters of single or double, pink. white or purple flowers appear. Grow this shrub in a container full of well-drained, ericaceous compost.

CROCOSMIA X CROCOSMIIFLORA (Montbretia)

Crocosmia x crocosmiiflora
Crocosmia x crocosmiiflora

This 70cm tall, upright perennial is familiar to most gardeners with its arching green, sword-shaped leaves. In summer to early autumn, clusters of small, trumpet-like blooms appear that are yellow, red or orange. Grow this hardy plant in a container full of well-drained, multipurpose compost.

DIGITALIS FERRUGINEA (Rusty Foxglove)

Digitalis ferruginea
Digitalis ferruginea

This 1.2m tall, upright perennial has a basal rosette of oval, dark green rough feeling leaves, From this, long, slender spikes of orange-brown and white flowers appear in midsummer. An excellent plant for a container full of moisture-retentive, multipurpose compost.

DRYOPTERIS WALLICHIANA (Wallach’s Weed Fern)

Dryopteris wallichiana
Dryopteris wallichiana

This 90cm tall, deciduous clump-forming fern that makes an attractive ‘Shuttlecock’ of bright yellow-green, lance-shaped, divided fronds that ages to dark green. The brown-black stems tend to be scaly. A plant that tolerates deep shade and dry conditions when planted in a container full of well-drained, multipurpose compost.

FRITILLARIA PALLIDIFLORA (Siberian Fritillary)

Fritillaria pallidiflora
Fritillaria pallidiflora

This is the first bulb on the list, This 70cm tall perennial has lance-shaped, blue-green leaves that soon die back once the plant has finished flowering. In early summer, nodding, green-yellow bell-shaped flower appear. Best planted in groups in a container full of well-drained, multipurpose compost.

HELLEBORUS NIGER (Christmas Rose)

Helleborus niger
Helleborus niger

A plant for late winter to early spring. This 30cm tall evergreen, clump-forming perennial has deeply divided, leathery, dark green leaves, where from winter to early spring, white or pink flushed flowers with green centre appear. Grow this perennial in a container full of moisture-retentive, multipurpose compost.

HOSTA ‘Krossa Regal’

Hosta 'Krossa Regal'
Hosta ‘Krossa Regal’

If you are talking about plants that thrive in the shade, you cannot fail not to mention hostas. This 70cm tall, clump-forming, vase-shaped perennial that has deeply ribbed greyish-blue leaves. In summer, short-lived spikes of lilac flowers appear. Protect this plant from drying winds, where this perennial will do well in a moisture retentive, multipurpose compost in a large container.

IRIS SIBIRICA (Siberian Iris)

Iris sibirica
Iris sibirica

This 1m tall, rhizome forming perennial has upright, green, sword-like leaves, where from late spring to early summer, large, pink, blue, white or yellow flowers appear that are beardless. Grow this beautiful flower in a container full of moisture-retentive, multipurpose compost.

JUNIPERUS X PFITZERIANA (Juniper)

Juniperus x pfitzeriana
Juniperus x pfitzeriana

This shrubby, evergreen conifers only grows up to 90cm in height. It has grey-green, scale-like leaves and produces dark cones that fade to purple. Grow this conifer in a large container full of well-drained, multipurpose compost.

JUNIPERUS SCOPULORUM (Rocky Mountain Juniper)

Juniperus scopulorum
Juniperus scopulorum

This 6m tall, rounded conifer has scale-like, sharply pointed leaves and small cones. Look for ‘Skyrocket’ that has a columnar habit. Grow it in a well-drained, multipurpose compost in light shade.

KALMIA LATIFOLIA (Mountain Laurel)

Kalmia latifolia
Kalmia latifolia

A 3m tall, bushy evergreen shrub with glossy green, oval leaves. From late spring to early summer, large clusters of pink, cup-shaped flowers appear, Prune lightly after flowering to keep it compact and tidy. Grow it in a moisture-retentive, ericaceous compost.

LAMPROCAPNUS SPECTABILIS VAR. ALBA

Lamprocapnus spectabilis
Lamprocapnus spectabilis

This 75cm tall, clump-forming perennial has fern-like foliage where on the top white, pendant, heart-shaped blooms appear from late spring to early summer. It dies back after flowering. Grow it in a large container full of moisture-retentive, multipurpose compost.

MAHONIA AQUIFOLIUM (Oregon Grape)

Mahonia aquifolium
Mahonia aquifolium

This is a 1m tall, spreading, evergreen shrub that has glossy, dark green, spiny leaves that turn bronze in cold winters. In winter to spring, clusters of scented yellow flowers appear that are followed by black berries. Grow it in a large container full of well-drained, multipurpose compost.

MAIANTHEMUM RACEMOSUM (False Spikenard)

Maianthemum racemosum
Maianthemum racemosum

This 90cm tall, upright perennial has prominently veined, oval, green leaves. Fluffy, cream, scented flowers that are sometimes followed by red berries appear from mid to late spring. Will support cold sites but not strong, drying winds. Grow it in well-drained, ericaceous compost.

MERTENSIA VIRGINICA (Virginia Bluebells)

Mertensia virginica
Mertensia virginica

This 60cm tall perennial has soft blue-green leaves and in spring, clusters of nodding, funnel-shaped, blue flowers appear. Grow it in a moisture-retentive, multipurpose compost in light shade in a suitable container. It will tolerate low-temperature well.

NARCISSUS BULBOCODIUM (Hoop Petticoat Daffodil)

Narcissus bulbocodium
Narcissus bulbocodium

This 15cm tall, dwarf perennial bulb has dark green leaves. In spring, unusual, funnel-shaped, golden yellow flowers appear. Best planted in groups in a moisture-retentive, multipurpose compost.

PERSICARIA AMPLEXICAULIS (Red Bistort)

Persicaria amplexicaulis
Persicaria amplexicaulis

This 1.2m tall, clump-forming perennial has green, oval-shaped leaves, where in summer to early autumn. Slender stems of white or pink, bell-shaped flowers appear. ‘Firestart’ has red blooms instead. Grow it in a large container full of moisture-retentive, multipurpose compost.

POLYGONATUM ODORATUM (Angled Solomon’s Seal)

Polygonatum odoratum
Polygonatum odoratum

This 60cm tall perennial has arching stems of oval to lance-shaped, mid-green leaves. In late spring, fragrant, green-tipped white flowers appear. Grow it in full shade in cold conditions but away from drying winds in a container full of moisture-retentive, multipurpose compost.

POLYSTICHUM ACROSTICHOIDES (Christmas Fern)

Polystichum acrostichoides
Polystichum acrostichoides

The 5th fern on the list is an evergreen perennial that has slender, lance-shaped, dark green fronds that are divided into segments. Over time it produces clumps and it is tolerant of cold, shady sites. Grow it in a large container full of moisture-retentive, multipurpose compost.

POLYSTICHUM MUNITUM (Sword Fern)

Polystichum munitum
Polystichum munitum

This 90cm tall evergreen ‘shuttlecock’ perennial fern has large, erect, leathery, triangular-shaped, dark green fronds, consisting of small, spiny margin segments. This is one hardy fern, tolerant of deep shade and cold, frosty sites. Grow it in a moisture-retentive, ericaceous compost.

POTENTILLA FRUTICOSA (Cinquefoil)

Potentilla fruticosa
Potentilla fruticosa

A small, deciduous shrub that has small, deeply divided, dark green leaves. From late spring to early autumn, it is covered with yellow, red, pink, orange, or white, saucer-shaped flowers appear. Grow it in a container full of well-drained, multipurpose compost.

PRIMULA VULGARIS (Primrose)

Primula vulgaris
Primula vulgaris

This familiar perennial forms basal rosette of pale green, oval leaves. In early spring, it produces clusters of scented, yellow flowers. Grow it on groups in a container full of moisture-retentive multipurpose compost in dappled shade.

SAGINA SUBULATA VAR. GLABRATA (Heather Pearlwort)

Sagina subulata
Sagina subulata

This 10cm tall mat-forming perennial has small, pointed, green leaves and in summer, tiny white flowers appear. Grow it in an area that gets midday shade in a container full of moisture-retentive, ericaceous compost.

SAXIFRAGA FORTUNEI (Saxifrage)

Saxifraga fortunei
Saxifraga fortunei

This is a 30cm tall, deciduous or semi-evergreen perennial that has lobed, mid-green leaves and red-purple underneath, In late summer to autumn, upright red stem stems appear that support pendent clusters of white flower. Ideal in a shaded and cold garden. Grow it in a container full of well-drained, multipurpose compost.

SCILLA SIBERICA (Siberian Squill)

Scilla siberica
Scilla siberica

This 20cm dwarf perennial that has mid-green, grass-like leaves and in spring, nodding, blue bell-shaped flowers appear. Plant in large number in groups in a container full of well-drained, multipurpose compost.

TIARELLA WHERRYI (Foam Flowers)

Tiarella wherryi
Tiarella wherryi

A small, compact perennial that only reaches a height of 20cm, This clump-forming perennial has deeply lobed green leaves and from late spring to early summer, clusters of tiny, white and pink flower heads appear that look frothy in appearance. Grow this perennial in a container full of moisture-retentive, multipurpose compost in the shade.

VACCINIUM VITIS-IDAEA (Cowberry) ‘Moralle Group’

Vaccinium vitis-idaea
Vaccinium vitis-idaea

A 25cm tall, spreading, evergreen shrub with glossy, dark green leaves. In late spring to early summer, white or pink, nodding, bell-shaped flowers are produced. These are followed by deeply red berries that are edible. Grow it in a container full of well-drained, ericaceous compost.

VIBURNUM PLICATUM F. TOMENTOSUM (Japanese Snowball)

Viburnum plicatum
Viburnum plicatum

A large shrub that can grow up to 3m in height. It is a deciduous shrub that has tiered branches that carry prominently veined, dark green leaves that turn purple in autumn. White flowers appear in late spring. Grow this attractive plant in a large container full of well-drained, multipurpose compost.

VIBURNUM TINUS (LAURUSTINUS)

Viburnum tinus
Viburnum tinus

A 3m tall, evergreen, bushy shrub that has oval, darl green leaves, From late winter to spring, masses of small, white blooms appear on clusters. These are followed by metallic blue berries. Some varieties have pink-budded white flowers, Grow this large shrub in a large container full of well-drained, multipurpose compost.

VIOLA CORNUTA (Horned Violas)

Viola cornuta
Viola cornuta

A 20cm tall, spreading evergreen perennial that has oval, toothed, green leaves. From spring to late summer, flat-faced, purplish-blue or occasionally white flowers appear. Will look great planted in groups in a container full of well-drained, multipurpose compost.

WEIGELA FLORIDA

Wiegela florida
Wiegela florida

A 2.5m tall, deciduous, arching shrub that has oval, toothed, mid-green leaves. Dark, pink flowers, that are pale pink to white inside appear in late spring to early summer appear. This is an excellent plant for cold sites where it can be grown in a large container full of well-drained, multipurpose compost.

CONCLUSIONS

In this article, we have discussed what plants can be grown in exposed sites in containers in the shade. You do not have as much choice as you would if you were growing them in the same site but in full sun. This does not mean you cannot have beautiful shrubs, perennials or bulbs in your container garden in the shade.

These plants can take a range of conditions from hard frosts and cold, biting winds and any other thing that the British weather has to throw at them.

You can have many plants of different forms, many colours and even plants with scent, so you do have a choice to what plant you can grow.

If you have any comments or questions that you wish to make, please do so in the comment box below.

Happy container gardening.


6 thoughts on “Plants for Exposed Sites in Containers in the Shade”

  1. You shared very good info and the images are amazing! My favorite one is the ‘Aquilegia Vulgaris’ – or Granny’s Bonnet (I didn’t know these plants, I was looking for good plants for this period of the year, so thank you for the explicative images you shared!).  Your article is extremely informative and lists a very good variety of choices!

    1. Hi Rosalina

      Thank you very much for commenting on my post and I really appreciate your feedback. I also think that Granny’s  bonnet are a delightful flower to look at. I believe in giving people choice, as this helps you to have better range of choice.

      Thanks

      Antonio

  2. Being a seasoned container gardener, this is a very great post and I actually value what I have seen here and I must say that I value it all. It takes a lot of time to get to be on this site and having koeved around here, I see that there is a lot of quality in here so I will be taking your advise and take the ATHYRIUM FILIX-FEMINA (Lady Fern) to plant too

    1. Hi Kimberley

      I am glad you enjoy this article, as I try to bring as much information that is revelant to container gardening. I try to increase people’s  breath  of what they can grow when you are experiencing  a wide range of different conditions.  You will not feel left out.

      Thanks

      Antonio

  3. Thank you so much for sharing with us an informative and interesting article. The main content of this article is what plants can grow for an exposed site in the shade. Many types of trees can grow in containers in the shade but in this case, we have to choose the right tree and suitable place. I try to plant a variety of trees and grow them in containers because I love natural beauty. My favorite color is blue so this summer season I tried to grow IRIS SIBIRICA in a container on a shady site. I was fascinated by its beauty.

    Finally, I would like to share your article on my social media group if you allow me so that those who love trees but try to grow trees through containers will understand a lot.

    1. Hi Asraful

      Thank you for commenting, as I believe it is important to bring a wide range of plants to the gardener. You never know you may find a plant that you like.

      Thanks

      Antonio 

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