Shade Garden Designs

Celebrate shade and all the magic it brings to a yard by filling it with a beautiful garden design. We’ll show you how.

Private Wooded Area with Stone Lined Steam and Pond

Huge Private Wooded Area with a Stream

This spacious and private, wooded backyard features a stream that flows into a pond filled with aquatic plants. A garden of foliage plants sits between tall, shady trees.

Brighten a shady corner of your yard with a beautiful garden. It’s not hard to create a striking shade garden design that beguiles with consistent flower color and luxurious leaf textures. A shady yard offers its own garden challenges, but it’s also a pool of refreshing coolness on hot summer days. Capitalize on your yard’s low light conditions with an eye-catching shade garden design.

Shade comes in varying degrees. There’s full shade, where sunlight rarely peeps (less than three hours of sun per day), and part shade, such as the area alongside a building or fence, where sunlight bathes the garden for a portion of the day (three to six hours). Light shade occurs in areas beneath a high-canopy tree, where sunlight slants into a growing area for a few hours (three at the most) each day.

Watch the area where you plan to site your shade garden design to determine the level of shade you’re facing. These light levels will dictate what plants you can tuck into your shady nook. Beneath trees, you’ll have pockets where sunlight regularly touches down. Mark these spots and use them as a trialing ground for traditional sun-loving plants. Many sun plants will grow in these conditions, but won’t flower as strongly or might need staking. 

Focus on lightening up the darkness—with plantings and hardscape elements. Variegated plants are shade garden stars. Choose plants with light-toned leaves in gold, white, or silver. Fill your garden with gold foliaged beauties, such as Japanese forest grass (Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’), gold-hued hosta or coral bells (Heuchera) or golden creeping jenny ground cover (Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’). Or select white- or silver-splashed plants, including Jack Frost brunnera (Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’), silver dead nettle (Lamium maculatum ‘Beacon Silver’) or Silver Shimmers lungwort (Pulmonaria ‘Silver Shimmers’).

When adding hardscape to your shade garden design, defer to light-colored items. Dark-toned objects just disappear in the low light conditions. Install paths using light-colored gravel or steppers, and edge beds with buff-tone or white pavers. If you want to include a fountain, trellis or garden statuary, opt for lighter hued materials. The same goes for garden furniture. Focus on light-tone wood or traditional white wrought iron. Add light by positioning a gazing ball or mirror to bounce light into a shade-embraced corner.

Consider installing low-voltage lighting to give your shade garden design a welcoming after-dark ambience. Place spotlights to up-light trees or shrubs to infuse the space with nighttime drama. Incorporate twinkle lights on a trellis or in small trees. Silver- or white-variegated leaves or white blossoms will reflect any additional light after the sun sets and give your garden a beautiful glow.

Most shade gardens have low-maintenance personalities, since lower light means plants demand less frequent watering. The exception is the dry shade that occurs beneath mature trees. This type of shady area requires a little research to choose the right plants that can survive that harsh environment.

If your shade-bathed escape features large tree roots, dig planting pockets and stock them with Lenten rose (Helleborus x hybridus), big-root geranium (Geranium macrorhizum), solomon’s seal (Polygonatum odoratum ‘Variegatum’), foxglove (Digitalis purpurea), lily turf (Liriope) or foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia). Water these plants as they establish to be sure they sink strong roots. You can also use container plantings to accent the plant palette in your shade garden design.

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