Love Your Garden’s Katie Rushworth shares her three top plant picks for a shady garden

In a recent episode, co-host Katie picked some stunning planting options for gardens not blessed with masses of light.

Trying to find shade-tolerant plants can be a horticultural headache, especially if you’re used to tending green spaces swathed in sunlight. But Love Your Garden’s Katie Rushworth may have just come to your rescue.

In Tuesday, September 12th’s episode, Alan Titchmarsh, Rushworth and the Love Your Garden team headed to Hinckley to surprise Second World War hero, Gordon Bennett. Ninety-six-year old Bennett was struggling to manage his uneven, inaccessible garden, so Titchmarsh and company were there to give it a whirlwind transformation. Alongside walled and raised beds, featuring cottage garden planting and a mini fruit orchard, a shady seating area with a gazebo was planned, with clever planting required.

Katie Rushworth, Gordon Bennett, Alan Titchmarsh and Danny Clarke sitting in gardenCredit: ITV Productions

Rushworth was eager to work on the “cool, shady and still” focal point at the end of the plot, suggesting three plants that could thrive in its darker conditions. Here’s what she chose…


1. Oak-leaved hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia)

Great to brighten up a dark corner

Rushworth loves hydrangeas for a shady spot: “They’ll be really happy here,” she said of Bennett’s garden. “One of my favourites is this Hydrangea quercifolia – it’s got lovely cones of white flowers, which almost look like a Mr Whippy.”

The colour of the flowers is key for Rushworth. “White in a shady area like this will really illuminate the space,” she explained to viewers.

Our Gardening Editor Simon Akeroyd agrees: “This is one of my favourite hydrangeas. It has a bit of everything; gorgeous, autumn colour when the leaves turn a reddish purple, quirky-shaped leaves and beautiful, large white flowers.

“The bright white colour really stands out beautifully in a dark corner of a garden. Out of interest, the botanical species name ‘quercifolia’ literally means ‘oak-shaped leaves’, because they are very similar to the ones found on our native oak trees.”

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Hydrangea Quercifolia Snow Queen, Waitrose

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Hydrangea Quercifolia Snow Queen, Waitrose

2. Tree fern (Dicksonia antarctica)

Great for drama and instant volume

Rushworth proclaimed tree ferns to be “wonderful plants”, and we agree. Their stunning fronds look beautiful in all lights and weathers, and their suitability for shady areas makes perfect sense – you’ll often find tree ferns growing under the canopy of a rainforest.

However, as Rushworth warned: “They don’t much like the cold, so you have to protect them over winter.”

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Dicksonia antartica 5ltr plant, Desert To Jungle

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Rushworth’s tips for protecting tree ferns in winter

Rushworth suggested insulating tree ferns in winter, which you can do in a few ways. “You can fold the leaves that are turning brown and dying off over the top of the rest of the plant,” she said on the show. “You can also stuff them with sheep’s wool, which has lanolin in it and stops them from freezing, or straw, and they’ll survive perfectly well.”

But how should you insulate ferns with wool or straw or dead leaves that have fallen from other plants? The experts at Crocus recommend gently stuffing the area at the crown of the plant, where all the leaves and fronds emerge from. Use a couple of handfuls of leaves, straw or wool, and your plant should be protected from the worst of the frosts.

3. Hosta ‘Patriot’

Great for architectural interest

“You really can’t have a shady border without a couple of hostas,” said Rushworth. “I’ve gone with a variety that’s got this amazing white leaf margin to it. You can get them in different heights, different leaf colours, and they’ve got pretty, pretty flowers. The only thing is – slugs think they’re wonderful, too!” Thankfully, however, Rushworth had a solution for that.

Rushworth didn’t specify the variety she’d chosen, but our pro Akeroyd recognises it as the variety Hosta ‘Patriot’. He also points out that: “There are other hostas with white edges or markings that would work equally well. The white helps the dramatic, large leaves stand out when planted in the shade.”

Featured product

Hosta 'Patriot' 9cm pot, Waitrose

RRP: From £8.99

Hosta 'Patriot' 9cm pot, Waitrose

Rushworth’s tip for slug-free hostas

“Now apparently, if you make a garlic solution with garlic cloves and water in a spray bottle, and spray your hostas with that, it keeps slugs at bay,” Rushworth said. However, she was the first to admit she’d not tried the method herself.

Thankfully, we’ve got plenty more tried and tested tips on how to keep slugs out of the garden if that doesn’t work.

Want to see more of this Love Your Garden project? You can watch the episode in full on ITV X – sign up is free. Make sure you’re got your tissues at the ready though, as it’s an especially poignant one.

Amy Cutmore

Written by Amy Cutmore she/her


Amy Cutmore has been writing about interiors for more than 20 years, harking back to the days when glossy red kitchens, toile de Jouy and rag rugs were all the rage, and everyone wanted a Changing Rooms makeover. You’ll have seen Amy’s work at Britain’s biggest homes titles, including Ideal Home, where she served as Consumer, Technology and Group Digital Editor. She has also edited or written for Homes & Gardens, Livingetc, 25 Beautiful Homes, Real Homes, Gardeningetc, Inside Readers’ Homes, Inspirations for Your Home, Country House & Home, Top Ten Reviews, Trusted Reviews and Country Life.

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