In a previous article, plants in containers in city gardens in full sun was discussed in great detail. It is now time to turn our attention to plants in containers in city gardens in the shade in order to broaden the growing conditions.
Urban gardens, in general, are warmer in temperature than town or rural gardens. This will provide better growing conditions for a broader range of plants, especially in winter where the walls will provide some frost protection.
By nature, due to space being a premium, make city gardens small. This is not a hindrance as small gardens can be made to look bigger by carefully selecting plants to distinguish boundaries. You could use leafy trees and shrubs such as physocarpus and viburnums to add interesting focal points.
Remember container plants positioned near to walls and fences will get less rain, as they are sheltered in location. You may need to locate the plants at least 30cm away from vertical surfaces to allow them to be watered naturally by rain.
You can use a mixture of evergreen and deciduous plants to have interest all year round, so blends of greens and colorful blooms can intermingle with each other,
What follows are plants that can be grown in containers in city gardens in the shade.
ANEMONE x HYBRIDA (Japanese Anemone)
This is an upright perennial that has dark green, divided basal leaves, where from late summer to early autumn large, single or double, pink or white flowers appear. Grow this 1.2m tall perennial in a large container full of multipurpose compost.
AQUILEGIA VULGARIS (Granny’s Bonnet) ‘Vervaeneana Group’
This familiar upright perennial has divided, olive-green leaves that have orange and yellow splashes. In spring flowers in white, red, pink or blue appear. Grow this 90cm tall perennial in a multipurpose compost, where it will need deadheading regularly to prevent self-seeding.
This evergreen perennial has upright, dark green, glossy leaves. This will flower sporadically, where cream to purple blooms is produced. Near the compost level. ‘Variegata’ is a favourite that has cream striped green leaves. The plant will do well in a large container in multipurpose compost in deep shade/ It will grow up to 60cm in height.
ASTRANTIA MAJOR (Masterwort)
A clump-forming perennial that grows up to 70cm in height. It has divided, mid-green leaves, where in mid-summer to early autumn, small sprays of small, green, white, pink or red flowers appear. Grow this perennial in a moisture retentive multipurpose compost in a large container.
AUCUBA JAPONICA (Spotted Laurel)
This evergreen, bushy shrub that has dark green leaves that are spotted yellow. In Mid-spring small, purplish flowers appear that are followed, on female plants by red berries. Grow this shrub in a large container full of multipurpose compost, where it will grow up to 2m in height.
This perennial has large heart-shaped leaves, where in spring delicate sprays of small bright blue flowers appear. ‘Dawson’s White’ has variegated foliage making it an interesting plant. Grow this 65cm tall perennial in a sheltered spot in a container full of multipurpose compost.
BUXUS SEMPERVIRENS (Common Box)
This familiar evergreen shrub has glossy, dark green, oval leaves. Grow this plant in a very large container full of multipurpose compost, where this 5m tall shrub can be used as a screen in your city garden. Can be trained to any shape you can imagine, if you have the skill to do it. Watch out for box blight which can be fatal to these shrubs.
CAMELLIA JAPONICA (Common Camellia)
This familiar evergreen shrub has oval, glossy, dark green leaves, where red flowers appear in early spring. The plant is tolerant of heavy shade and will make a beautiful specimen plant in a large container full of ericaceous compost.
CAREX COMANS (New Zealand Sedge)
This clump-forming perennial which has arching grass-like, blue-green leaves that on close inspection resembles hair. The bronze leaves would not do so well in full shade, so it would require some sun. Grow this 60cm tall perennial in a moisture retentive multipurpose compost.
CHIASTOPHYLLUM OPPOSITIFOLIUM (Lamb’s Zeal)
This 20cm tall evergreen perennial has large, oval, scallop-shaped, mid-green leaves. From arching stems, small, bell-shaped bright yellow flowers appear in spring to summer. This plant will tolerate partial shade when grown in multipurpose compost in a container.
DAPHNE BHOLUA (Nepalese Paper Plant)
An evergreen shrub that can grow up to 3m in height that has leathery, dark, oval green leaves. In late winter fragrant, pink and white flowers appear, which are followed by black berries. Grow this shrub in a very large container full of multipurpose compost.
DESCHAMPSIA CESPITOSA (Tufted Hair Grass)
A deciduous, tuft forming perennial grass that bears clouds of tiny golden-yellow flowers on long stems in the summer. The seed heads and strap-like green leaves turn golden in autumn. ‘Goldtau’ is a popular variety. Grow this 2m tall perennial in a large container full of multipurpose compost.
DESCHAMPSIA FLEXUOSA (Waxy Hair Grass)
This 50cm tall grass produces tufts of blue-green leaves, where in summer silvery-bronze or purple flower heads are produced on top of long slender stems. Grow this perennial in a large container full of multipurpose compost.
This 1m tall compact, deciduous shrub has lance-shaped, green leaves, where in early summer, white or pink star-shaped blooms are produced. Occasionally the flowers are scented but this cannot be guaranteed. This plant prefers to be grown in a large container full of multipurpose compost.
DICENTRA (Bleeding Heart) ‘Stuart Boothman’
This 30cm perennial has finely fern-like, grey-green leaves, where from late spring to summer, arching stems full of pendent, heart-shaped carmine-pink flowers appear. Grow it in a pot full of multipurpose compost.
DIGITALIS PARVIFLORA (Foxglove)
This deciduous perennial can grow up to 60cm in height. It has dark glossy, green basal leaves, where in early summer tall spikes of orangey-brown flowers are produced. Grow it in a container full of multipurpose compost in the dappled shade.
DRYOPTERIS AFFINIS (Golden Male Fern)
This is an evergreen or semi-evergreen fern that produces a shuttlecock-like tall, lanced-shaped, divided, pale green fronds. The leaves as they grow mature to dark green with a golden brown mid-rib. Grow this shade-loving plant in a multipurpose compost in a container, where it will grow up to 90cm tall.
ENSETE VENTRICOSUM (Abyssinian Banana)
This perennial has a palm-like appearance where large paddle-shaped leaves, with texture cream midribs and red underneaths appear. Plant in a large container full of soil-based compost where grit has been added. This 2m tall plant will need protection from frosts, so it is better to place in a greenhouse or conservatory to overwinter in a protected environment.
EPIMEDIUM x YOUNGIANUM (Snowy Barrenwort) ‘Niveum’
A 30cm tall perennial has heart-shaped serrated, bronze-green leaves that turn increasingly dark green in colour in late spring. At that time small, cup-shaped white blooms appear when this plant is grown in a large container full of multipurpose compost.
X FATSHEDERA LIZEI (Tree Lily)
This upright, evergreen shrub is often used as a climber, with it deeply loped, glossy, dark green leaves. In autumn where little is in flower sprays of small, white flowers appear. Grow it in a very large container full of multipurpose compost, where it can be used to train up against pillars, walls or fences. It can grow up to 2m tall.
FATSIA JAPONICA (Castor Oil Plant)
A popular evergreen, rounded shrub that has very large round, deeply-lobed, glossy, dark green leaves. In mid-autumn, spherical clusters of tiny white flowers appear that are followed by black berries. Grow this 4m tall shrub in a very large container full of multipurpose compost.
GERANIUM PHAEUM (Dusky Cranesbill)
A clump-forming perennial that is home in either shade or full sun. It has lobed green leaves, where in late spring to early summer, rounded maroon or white flowers with curved-back petals appear on wiry stems. This is one plant that can be grown near walls, as it will not suffer in drought or shady positions. Grow it in a multipurpose compost where it will grow up to 70cm in height.
HAKONECHLOA MACRA (Golden Hakonechloa)
A slow-growing deciduous grass that has purple stems and green striped yellow leaves. The leaves turn a reddish-brown in autumn. Reddish-brown flowering spikes appear in early autumn to winter. It can be grown in a pot full of multipurpose compost, where it will grow up to 40cm. Use it as a focal plant in a shaded area of your city garden.
HELLEBORUS FOETIDUS (Stinking Hellebore)
This 60cm tall evergreen upright perennial has palm-like, dark green leaves, where from late winter to early spring, clusters of cup-shaped, red-margined pale green flowers appear. The flowers do really smell bad, so place them away from seating areas. Grow in a moisture retentive multipurpose compost in a pot.
HELLEBORUS x HYBRIDUS (Lenten Rose)
A semi-evergreen perennial that has dark green, divided, lance-shaped leaves, Nod-ding saucer-shaped flowers appear in shades of white, pink, yellow, green or purple appear from midwinter to spring, Grow this 60cm tall perennial in a moisture relative multipurpose compost in a pot.
HEBE TOPIARA (Hebe)
This 60cm tall compact, rounded, evergreen shrub has dense stems of small grey-green leaves. You can practice your topiary on them, as they are ideal to be clipped into shape. In summer, clusters of white flowers appear. Grow this small topiary plant in a large container full of multipurpose compost.
HEUCHERA ‘Plum Pudding’
This colourful 50cm tall compact, evergreen or semi-evergreen perennial is grown for its rounded, lobed, red-purple leaves. On wiry stems, tiny white flowers appear, which look untidy after the flowers are spent, so it is best to cut them off at that time. Grow it in a container full of multipurpose compost.
This clump-forming perennial has large, pale green leaves that are blunt at the tips. In late summer, short-lived fragrant, blue flower appear, which should be removed after they have faded. Grow it in a moisture retentive multipurpose compost, where it will grow up to 60cm tall.
HYACINTHUS ORIENTALIS (Hyacinth)
This firm favourite late spring flowering bulb has sword-like, bright green leaves, where spikes of highly fragrant, bell-shaped flowers appear in a wide range of colours. Plant these bulbs in autumn in groups in pots full of multipurpose compost where they will grow up to 30cm in height.
HYDRANGEA MACROPHYLLA (Mophead Hydrangea)
A 2.5 tall deciduous shrub that has dark oval-shaped, green leaves that turn yellow in autumn. In summer masses of clusters of pink, white, or blue flowers appear. Grow this shrub in a very large container full of multipurpose compost. Blue varieties need an acidic ericaceous compost in order to produce their colour, otherwise, they will be pink in alkaline soil or white in neutral soil.
HYPERICUM CALYCINUM (Rose of Sharon)
This dwarf, semi-evergreen or evergreen shrub has pointed dark green leaves, It is happy in full sun or partial shade, where in midsummer to mid-autumn, large open, bright yellow flowers with fluffy central stamens appear. Grow this 60cm invasive plants (where it can be controlled) in a pot full of multipurpose compost.
This spreading evergreen shrub has arching stems full of oval, dark, spiky green leaves, where from midsummer to early autumn decorative green-white catkins are produced. Grow this 3m tall shrub in a sheltered spot in a large pot of ericaceous compost. Does best growing beside a fence or wall.
JUNIPERUS SQUAMATA (Flaky Juniper)
This 40cm low growing evergreen conifer has dense, rounded, bright, blue-grey leaves. It makes a good foil for pastel and hot coloured flowers in containers. Grow it in a large container full of soil-based compost.
LEUCOTHOE FONTANESIANA (Dog Hobble)
A 1.5m tall arching evergreen shrub that has toothed-edged, leathery, dark green leaves. In spring small white, bell-shaped flowers appear. This plant does well in deep shade, where it can be grown in large pots of ericaceous compost.
LIRIOPE MUSCARI (Lilyturf)
This 30cm tall evergreen, spreading perennial has grass-like, glossy, dark green leaves, where in autumn, masses of tiny, lavender flowers appear. Grow this perennial on ericaceous compost where it will grow happily under the shade of shrubs.
NARCISSUS (Daffodil) ‘Jack Snipe’
This flowering bulb has narrow dark green leaves, where from early to mid-spring, cream-white flowers, with short, bright yellow cups appear. Plant this 25cm tall bulb in a container in groups in a multipurpose compost in autumn.
NARCISSUS JONQUILLA (Jonquil)
A flowering bulb which has narrow dark green leaves. In mid-spring clusters of highly fragrant, yellow flowers with narrow golden-yellow cups appear. Plant this 20cm tall bulb in groups in containers in multipurpose compost in autumn.
ONOCLEA SENSIBILIS (Sensitive Fern)
Another deciduous fern that has arching divided, pale green fronds, which are tinted pinkish-brown in spring. In autumn the fronds turn yellowish in colour. Grow this 60cm tall fern in deep shade in a large pot of ericaceous compost.
OPHIOPOGON PLANISCAPUS (Black Mondo Grass) ‘Nigrescens’
A clump-forming evergreen perennial that has narrow, grass-like, dark purple leaves. In summer, small white or mauve bell-shaped flowers appear. This is followed by black berries. Plant this 23cm tall grass in a large container full of multipurpose compost.
An evergreen perennial that is clump-forming with rounded, lobed, dark green leaves, where spikes of small, white flowers appear in spring. These flowers are mint-scented. You can grow this 25cm tall perennial in full shade in a moisture-retentive ericaceous compost.
PAEONIA LACTIFLORA ‘Sarah Bernhardt’
This clump-forming perennial has divided leaves, where in spring, large, pink fragrant, double flowers with ruffled petals appear. Grow this 1m tall perennial in an enriched multipurpose compost where it would be required yo be fed regularly.
PAEONIA SUFFRUTIOSA (Tree Peony)
This 2.2m tall upright, deciduous shrub has deeply lobed, dark green leaves. Pink, white, red or purple bowl-shaped semi-double flowers appear in late spring. Grow this plant in an enriched multipurpose compost near a wall or fence.
PHYSOCARPUS OPULIFOLIUS (Nine Bark)
Another plant that is home in full sun or the shade. It is a deciduous shrub that has peeling bark and mid-green lobed leaves. In late spring, domed cluster of white flowers appears, which are followed by red-brown fruits. This 2m tall shrub prefers to be grown in ericaceous compost.
PHYSOSTEGIA VIRGINIANA (Obedient Plant)
A 60cm tall perennial that has toothed, mid-green leaves, where from late summer to early autumn, spikes of tubular, white, pink, or purple flower appear. Grow this perennial in a multipurpose compost in a large container.
PULMONORIA SACCHARATA (Bethlehem Sage)
A short clump-forming evergreen perennial that has bristly, blue-green leaves that are spotted white. Blue-purple funnel-shaped flowers appear in spring. Grow this 20cm tall plant under shrubs in a container full of multipurpose compost.
SALVIA NEMOROSA (Balkan Clary)
In summer to early autumn, white, pink, or purple flowers appear on spikes, over lance-shaped, wrinkled, mid-green leaves. It will grow up to 75cm tall when planted in light shade in multipurpose compost.
SALVIA OFFICINALIS (Sage)
This is an evergreen or semi-evergreen shrub that has aromatic grey-green hairy leaves. Occasionally in summer, purple- blow flowers appear. It will grow up to 80cm in height when planted in a container full of multipurpose compost.
SARCOCOCCA CONFUSA (Sweet Box)
A short 1m tall bushy evergreen shrub with glossy, dark, lance-shaped, green leaves. Tiny, white, sweetly fragrant blooms appear in winter, which is followed with black fruits. Grow it in a moisture retentive multipurpose compost in a deep shaded areas.
SARCOCOCCA HOOKERIANA Var. DIGYNA (Sweet Box)
A 1.5m tall evergreen shrub that has glossy, lance-shaped, dark green leaves, where clusters of tiny, white flowers that are fragrant are produced. This is followed by black fruits. Plant in a moisture retentive multipurpose compost in a location where the scent will be enjoyed.
SPIGELIA MARILANDICA (Indian Pink)
This is an upright perennial that has oval, green leaves, where in early summer, tubular, red flowers with star-shaped yellow tips are produced. Grow this 50cm tall perennial in the partial shade in a multipurpose compost.
TRACHYCARPUS FORTUNEI (Chusan Palm)
This is an evergreen small palm tree that has an unbranched stem, and a head of large divided, fern-like mid-green leaves. In early summer sprays of fragrant, creamy yellow flowers appear. Grow it in a container full of multipurpose compost where it will grow up to 2m in height.
This is a 1.5m tall dome-shaped, evergreen shrub that has deeply veined green, pointed leaves. Clusters of small, white flowers appear in late spring, which is followed by metallic blue-black fruits. This will only appear if both sexes are within the vicinity of each other. Grow in a large container full of multipurpose compost.
This is an upright shrub has dark green leaves that are bronze whilst young. In late autumn and during mild winters spells up to early spring, clusters of fragrant, white or pale pink flowers appear. These are followed by red, blue or black berries if both male and female species are close by.
Grow this 3m tall shrub in a very large container full of multipurpose compost.
In this article, plants for containers in city gardens in the shade has been highlighted. As you can see there are numerous highly decorative plants that can be used in a small city garden. No matter your preference there are colourful plants, scent plants and visually beautiful plant that can be incorporated into your design.
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Happy City Gardening.