My Top 12 Fast Growing Evergreen Shrubs for Shade (UK)

Last Updated on 11/07/2023 by Barney

fast growing evergreen shrubs for shade banner
Feeling Impatient? Try these fast growing evergreen shrubs for the shade

You are fairly limited when it comes to fast growing evergreen shrubs for shade here in the UK. Below are my ‘go to’ garden shrubs when needing to fill a space as quickly as possible with plants that will thrive and not just survive.

I have been gardening professionally for over 20 years and the shrubs listed here are all ones I have planted for myself or for clients gardens in difficult, shaded areas in the garden.

Shrubs planted in deep shade are not as fast growing as their full sun cousins. Here are my recommendations for the ‘faster growing evergreen shrubs’ suitable for full & partial shade in the garden .

1. Viburnum tinus ‘Eve Price’

A tough shrub for tough conditions

An exceptionally popular, fast growing, hardy shrub for full and partial shade. Unpruned it will form a compact, rounded shrub with an eventual height of 2.5m x 2.5m. Pink edged, tiny white flowers appear on flat topped florets from December to April followed deep blue berries. Small birds find these irresistible so this makes an excellent hedge to attract wildlife.

Leaves are small, leathery and dark green. Perfect as a foil for colourful planting in front .

Foliage and flowering

Small, leathery, evergreen dark green leaves. December to April flowering.

Where to plant & care tips

These are tough, fast growing shrubs and can be planted almost anywhere. The only conditions it will not favour is constantly wet or waterlogged soil.

Just a little tidy up with hedge shears in late winter or early spring to keep in shape if desired and with secateurs to remove any crossing or dead branches.

Goes well with

Ferns, Hostas, Brunnera and small varieties of Hydrangea.

2. Oregon Grape – Mahonia × media ‘Winter Sun’

Fragrant yellow flowers in Autumn & Winter

Mahonia, a species comprising of several varieties of evergreen bushes & tall shrubs to small, dwarf evergreen shrubs (Mahonia repens) . These are some of the best evergreens for shade.

Reaching a mature height of 2.5 – 4m with a spread of around 1.5 – 2m this variety is a perfect evergreen shrub for the back of the garden border. Growing in an upright habit, the lower foliage and branches can be removed to expose the bare stems, allowing close underplanting which is useful in small garden borders)

They will tolerate a range of conditions and also make very good evergreen shrubs or damp shade in the UK.

Foliage & Flowering

Unusual spiky, green leaves borne in a pinnate fashion.

This shrub produces bottle brush style, fragrant yellow flowers in winter followed closely by blue-black berries.

Where to plant & Care

Mahonia x media ‘Winter Sun’ is a real tough cookie of a shrub. It can be planted in almost any garden location. East, West, South or North facing. It will thrive in both partial shade & full shaded areas as well as exposed or sheltered sites .

This fast growing evergreen shrub lends itself to an informal or woodland style border.

This Mahonia is an exceptionally low maintenance shrub. The only maintenance needed is to take out dead, diseased or crossing branches should they appear.

Goes well with

Other plants to consider planting with Mahonia are large evergreen ferns, for example Polystichum setiferum, Hellebores, Woodland spurge (Euphorbia amygladoides) & Christmas Box (sarcoccoca varieties)

3. Japanese aralia (Fatsia japonica)

Gorgeous big bold foliage on Fatsia japonica

Grown for its big, bold, evergreen, funky foliage, Fatsia japonica will grow to an eventual size of 2m x 2m. They seem to be a bit of a ‘marmite’ moment with gardeners either loving or hating them. But I love them especially when I need the best plants to provide architecture in a shaded garden planting scheme.

Foliage & flowers

Stunningly large mid green, 7 lobed glossy leaves up to 45cm in width

Produces unusual, globe like creamy- white scented flowers in October and November followed by small black berries (tip – remove the berried for bigger foliage)

Where to plant & Care

Fatsia japonica does well most growing conditions and soil types however harsh, cold winds can damage the prized foliage so a sheltered position is preferable. Plant at the back of the border or in a planter for some patio drama!

Regular pruning not necessary just a late Spring prune to keep in shape if it becomes too overgrown for its space. Can tolerate very hard pruning and rebound quickly. Feed and water well in the growing season.

Goes well with

Low growing shrubs with different leaf textures & colours. Large ferns, shade loving ornamental grasses, & Heuchera varieties.

4. Japanese Laurel ‘Golden King’ (Aucuba japonica ‘Golden) King’

Bright variegated foliage can brighten up the darkest of corners

For those that like a bit variegation Aucuba japonica ‘Golden King’ should be on your plant list.

This dense, rounded, bushy evergreen shrub at 2m x 2m is the perfect solution for brightening up a dull corner with its large, contrasting green and yellow leaves.

Flowers are small, purple, fairly un-noticeable although does produce exceptionally bright red berries.

These appear in Autumn and can last throughout winter , which the birds love.

Foliage & flowering

Variegated bright yellow / green leaves.

Small, purple flowers insignificant in Spring

Where to plant & care tips

Best suited to partial to deep shade position. Like all soil types apart from clay.

Goes well with

Shrubs and plants with purple foliage / flowers contrast extremely well with the variegated leaf.

If planted in a partial shade position a fabulous shrub to pair it with is Loropetalum ‘Fire Dance’ or the evergreen perennial Heuchera Palace Purple.

5. Mexican Orange Blossom (Choiysa ternata)

Multi seasonal interest with Choiysa ternata

Not to be confused with Mock Orange (Philadelphus) the Mexican Orange blossom is a stunning, fast growing evergreen shrub for part shade. prized for both the aromatic leaves together with its fragrant, pure white flowers borne in Spring, Autumn and occasionally Winter.

This plant grows in a bushy, rounded habit reaching an eventual size of 2m x 2m.

Foliage & Flowering

Dark, glossy, aromatic leaves. Flowering in Spring, Autumn, and occasionally Winter

Where to plant & care tips

Choisya should be pruned between late Spring and early Summer where you can safely reduce the plant to half its size.

Plant in a partially shaded position in any soil, including heavy clay.

Goes well with

All perennials suited to the same conditions.

6. Veronica ‘Sapphire’

Summer flowering Hebe for partial shade

A gorgeous,upright, fast growing shrub that is perfect for a partial shade area in the garden.

Through July and August Hebe is adorned with masses of purple bottle brush type flowers which are excellent for pollinating insects.

Leaves are lance shaped, mid green, with an unusual reddish hue, turning almost entirely purple in the winter.

Foliage and flowering :

Masses of purple bottle brush flowers in July & August

Lance shaped, evergreen, mid green leaves to 5cm

Where to plant & care tips

Prefers a semi shaded spot in a moist but well drained neutral to alkaline soil.

Dead head flowers after flowering and remove up to a maximum of a third of the foliage with hedge shears. This will prevent the shrub from becoming leggy and produce a mass of fresh growth.

Do not feed as you would other shrubs as this will lead to week, straggly new growth.

Goes well with

Geraniums, Heuchera (Heuchera Obsidian looks great with its contrasting foliage colour) & ornamental grasses.

7. Cherry Laurel

Mid green glossy foliage provides the perfect back drop for colourful planting

Commonly used as garden hedging where privacy is needed, Cherry Laurel can also be used as a fast growing shrub, on its own , at the back of the garden border or in a tricky corner of the yard.

Cherry Laurel are fast growing shrubs reaching an eventual height of 40ft. They can easily be kept in shape with a bit of regular pruning at the height and width required.

As they are commonly used as hedging it is not often you get to see this shrub flowering as the flowering buds are normally cut off. Such a shame as this shrub produces the most wonderful, delicate scented flowers in Spring followed by red berries later in the year.

Foliage and flowering

Large glossy leaves. Honey scented flowers in Spring

Where to plant & care tips

These shrubs are tough old blighters and can be grown in all aspects, North, East, West, South facing & on any soil type apart from constantly wet ones. On a well drained soil keep watered until established.

Pruning should be carried out between June to Sept. Use secateurs to reduce the length of branches and not hedge shears. There is nothing more ugly than laurel leaves cut in half.

Goes well with

With its large foliage I suggest using plants with different leaf sizes and colour to make an eye catching composition.

8. Sweet Box – Sarcoccoa confusa

Heavenly scented flowers fill the garden in Winter

Sarcoccca confusa is a wonderfully scented, fairly fast growing shrub that also works wonderfully as a low growing evergreen hedge for the shade.

In winter, inconspicuous, creamy white flowers clothe the stems. These flowers are incredibly powerful. One small cutting in a vase can fill an entire room with its giddy, honey-like perfume.

Flowering in Winter and into Spring this shrub provides valuable nectar to pollinating insects such as bees. With winters getting milder & seasons appearing to start earlier in the year this is an invaluable source of food to those insects that may of come out of hibernation early.

The flowers are followed by non toxic black berries, which the birds will thank you for!

Foliage and flowering

Waxy, deep green leaves. White flowers in Winter .

Where to plant & care tips

Plant in a sheltered position away from harsh winds. Thrives in full to partial shade (does not tolerate full sun) in any soil type.

To keep the plants rounded habit, prune in late winter or early spring. Apply 5cm of well rotted manure, or other organic matter to encourage new growth.

Goes well with

Ferns, shade tolerant grasses, and shade loving groundcover perennials

9. Camellia sasanqua Kanjiro

Kanjiro provides much need colour in Autumn & Winter

Unlike other varieties of Camellia, sasanqua Kanjiro is Autumn & Winter flowering and is one of the best shrubs to keep the garden alive when all other plants have done their thing for the year.

When not flowering, the dark green glossy foliage is the perfect foil for planting in the foreground

Given the right conditions, Camellia Kanjiro is a fast growing, vigorous shrub, with an eventual size of 3 metres. Can be annually pruned to size if necessary.

Looks stunning planted as a standalone specimen or en mass as an informal hedge.

Foliage & flowers

Delicately scented flowers of deep pink with yellow stamens in Autumn & Winter

Small dark glossy green leaves

Where to grow & care tips

Plant in a well drained soil with plenty of organic matter in a partially shaded position.

Pruning should be carried out soon after flowering

Goes well with

Ornamental grasses & shrubs with lighter coloured foliage.

10. Viburnum davidii

Stunning metallic blue berries.

Viburnum davidii is a low shrub, useful for when ground cover is needed near the front of the border. This shrub is grown more for its foliage and the metallic blue berries than the flowers (which are a white are a dull white colour).

Forming a neat, compact dome of large, leathery, elliptical shaped leaves it works very well in anchoring taller herbaceous perennials behind.

Foliage & flowers

Attractive large – leathery – lance shaped leaves with dull white flowers in Spring

Where to plant & care tips

Viburnum davidii is an all rounder. It can be planted in full shade, part shade to full sun positions in the garden and in all soil types including clay.

Goes well with

Plant in front of an ornamental Acer for contrasting leaf texture and colour.

11. Mahonia eurybracteata subsp. ganpinensis ‘Soft Caress’

Tactile fern-like foliage on this unusual Mahonia

Winner of the coveted ‘Plant of the Year at The Royal Horticultural Society Chelsea Flower Show in 2013’ Mahonia soft Caress is an exceptional shrub. Unlike other Mahonia varieties the leaflets are spineless with an almost fern like appearance that just makes you want to get tactile and have a good stroke! Hence the very apt name.

Soft Caress is a compact, upright shrub with an eventual height of 1.2m. In late summer and into winter spires of honey scented yellow flowers emerge.

Foliage & flowers

Spineless leaves unlike other Mahonia varieties

Bright yellow – honey scented flower spires in late Summer and early Autumn.

Where to grow & Care

Soft Caress prefers partial shade, in exposed or sheltered position.Being drought tolerant a well drained soil is fine as long as it is kept moist whilst it establishes itself.

12. Viburnum tinus ‘French White’

Flowering Vibernum tinus French White
A splash of white Winter colour

‘French White’ is a fast growing, large bushy shrub with an ultimate height and spread of 3 x 3m. It can be kept to size if desired. In late Winter and into Spring ‘French White’ is covered in fragrant, light pink buds which open to pure white, flat topped flowers , followed by blue – black berries.

Foliage & flowering :

Small dark glossy green leaves.

Dec to March – It produces pure white flowers which are fragrant.

Where to plant & care tips

The French White does best in a partially shaded part of the garden. It will cope with deep shade but will flower less. It can be grown in all soil types, chalk, clay, sand & loam. A moist well drained soil is preferred but will be drought tolerant once established.

Vibernum tinus also work well planted as an informal hedge for the shade.

No pruning necessary unless to keep in shape or to remove dead and damaged branches

Goes well with

Geranium, Heuchera (Heuchera Obsidian looks great with its contrasting foliage colour) & ornamental grasses.

Final word from me

We all want our plants to be fast growing but due to the lack of natural light, evergreen shade tolerant shrubs are not as vigorous when compared to some shrubs suited to full sun.

However, what they lack in comparative vigour they make up for, often with Winter flowers and colourful berries.

Once you have made your choice, if you are impatient like me go out and try to buy the largest size that you can find and afford.