Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Designing a shady garden

Good tips for designing a shady garden:

  1. If you have a tree which is casting shade, try removing the bottom layer of branches to raise the canopy up and allow more light in.
  2. Brighten up the area by using pale stones, gravel or paving slabs to reflect light. You could also incorporate mirrors for a contemporary look! A pond or water feature is also a good way to reflect light and could be used to add a gentle trickling sound to your garden.
  3. Use plants with light or colourful foliage to lift your planting scheme. A good example is Milium effusum ‘Aureum’ which has bright yellow-green leaves.
  4. Plant pale flowers which will stand out and gleam in the border. Dark flowers will disappear in the gloom.
  5. If you would like a lawn, make sure you choose a seed mix or turf which is suitable for shady areas.
  6. Use texture to make the border more eye-catching. Incorporate different leaf shapes such as ferns, Hostas and grasses with your flowering plants.
  7. Try painting your walls, sheds or fences with a pale colour to instantly brighten the area. Try following the colour scheme of your planting to create harmony.

Good Perennials for Shade

Bigroot Geranium

One of the toughest plants that grow in the shade garden, bigroot geranium (Geranium macrorrhizum) doesn't mind heat or drought. And, deer and rabbits typically pass it by in search of tastier morsels. This shade plant puts on a spring show with pink or white flowers; some varieties also offer outstanding fall coloration in their woodsy-scented foliage. Bigroot geranium is hardy in Zones 4-8 and grows 2 feet tall.

Toad Lily

Put on a fall show with shade plant toad lily (Tricyrtis). This easy-to-grow perennial offers unique flowers that are often compared to orchids. Many are spotted with shades of purple or blue.


This topnotch groundcover is grown mainly for its foliage, but also has pretty flowers. Ajuga produces glossy, dark green leaves and springtime spikes of blue flowers. Select varieties of this shade plant offer dark purple or variegated foliage, or pink or white flowers. Ajuga grows best in Zones 3-9 and grows only 6 inches tall.

Old-Fashioned Bleeding Heart

There's little wonder why old-fashioned bleeding heart (Dicentra spectabilis) is a favorite of plants that grow in shade. In late spring and early summer, it produces pink or white heart-shaped flowers that hang from elegant, arching stems. This top-notch shade plant is hardy in Zones 3-9 and grows up to 4 feet tall.


Hostas are among the showiest and easy-to-grow perennial plants that grow in shade. They also offer the most variety of any of the multiple shade plants. Choose from miniatures that stay only a couple of inches wide or giants that sprawl 6 feet across or more. Look for leaves in shades of green, blue, white, chartreuse, and gold, with many cultivars being variegated. Some hosta flowers are very fragrant. Hostas are hardy in Zones 3-8.


A great plant with an unfortunate name, lungwort (Pulmonaria) earned its moniker from the silvery, lung-shaped spots that dot the foliage of these plants that grow in shade. The variegated foliage looks great all season long, but is an especially nice accent to the clusters of pink, white, or blue flowers in spring. Lungwort grows best in Zones 4-8 and reaches 1 foot tall.

Yellow Corydalis

This hard-working perennial plant that grows in shade takes the prize for being the longest bloomer in the sheltered garden. Enjoy its clusters of yellow flowers from late spring all the way to frost. It's not just the flowers that are beautiful; the gray-green leaves of these shade plants are attractive as well. The plant grows about 12 inches tall and is hardy in Zones 5-8.


Starting in mid-spring, Lamium produces clusters of pink or white flowers. This delightful groundcover can rebloom off and on through the summer, creating months of color. And even when its not blooming, the silver-infused foliage of these shade plants brighten up shady corners. Lamium usually stays about 8 inches tall and grows best in Zones 4-8.


An under-used plant that grows in shade that deserves a lot more attention, Epimedium has it all when it comes to shade plants. The groundcover blooms in spring in shades of red, orange, yellow, pink, purple, or white; it tolerates dry shade; and it's deer- and rabbit resistant. Some varieties are evergreen in mild-winter areas; others offer good fall color. Most types grow best in Zones 5-9 and reach about 1 foot tall.


In spring, shade gardens sparkle with the sky-blue flowers of Brunnera. When not in bloom, its large, robustly textured leaves continue to look great -- especially if you grow a variegated type of these shade plants. While the plant is often short-lived, it does tend to self-seed, becoming a long-term presence in the garden.


Hellebore (Helleborus), also called Christmas rose, is one of the earliest bloomers of plants that grow in shade. Look for its burgundy, pink, cream, green, or white flowers in late winter or early spring. Although it looks delicate, the Christmas rose is quite sturdy once it gets established. And, it's deer- and rabbit-resistant. Hellebore grows best in Zones 4-8 and grows 12 inches tall.


Enjoy the feathery plumes of Astilbe in early summer. This tough perennial blooms in shades of burgundy, red, pink, lavender, and white. In addition to the attractive flowers, these shade plants have finely cut foliage, which in many varieties is flushed with bronze. Astilbe grows best in Zones 4-8 and can reach up to 4 feet tall, depending on variety.

Japanese Painted Fern

It's tough to imagine lovelier shade plants than Japanese painted ferns (Athyrium niponicum var. pictum). This beauty offers fronds liberally dappled with silver, burgundy, and green. Plus, it's a low-growing, slow-spreading plant that grows in shade. And, deer and rabbits usually leave it alone. It grows best in Zones 5-8 and gets about 12 inches tall.

Wild Ginger

Hailing from the woodlands of North America, wild ginger (Asarum canadense) is one tough shade plant. It produces fuzzy, heart-shaped leaves that look great from spring to fall. And, it's rarely bothered by deer and rabbits. This slow grower eventually forms an impressive clump. It grows best in Zones 2-8 and reaches 6 inches tall.

Japanese Forestgrass

Japanese forestgrass (Hakonechloa macra) is a wonderful grass for plants that grow in shade. It offers a lovely waterfall-like habit and variegated varieties have bight gold, yellow, or white in the foliage. In fall, the leaves of these shade plants usually pick up beautiful reddish tones. It grows best in Zones 5-9 and grows a foot tall.


Lilyturf (Liriope) is an easy-to-grow favorite shade plant. Loved for its grassy foliage and spikes of blue or white flowers in late summer, as well as its resistance to deer and rabbits, lilyturf is practically a plant-it-and-forget garden resident. It grows best in Zones 5-10 and grows a foot tall.


Monkshood (Aconitum) is a noteworthy plant that grows in shade because it blooms in late summer, when most other shade bloomers have finished. Plus, it's deer- and rabbit-resistant. Named for its drooping blue flowers that resemble the hood on a monk's robe, this lovely shade plant is an easy, under-used plant. It grows best in Zones 3-7 and grows up to 6 feet tall.

Fern-Leaf Bleeding Heart

Fern-leaf bleeding heart (Dicentra eximia and D. formosa) look beautiful all season. These shade plants bloom on and off from spring to fall (if they get enough moisture during hot, dry periods), producing delicate clusters of pink, red, or white flowers. Even when not in bloom, though, their tidy mounds of blue-green, ferny foliage looks great. They grow best in Zones 4-8 and grow up to 2 feet tall.

Garden Plans For Shady Spots

How to Garden in the Shade

Most gardeners have at least one difficult spot in their garden. One of the most challenging is the shade cast by buildings and trees. A shady spot can be difficult for plants as it creates a cool environment and is often coupled with dry soil or very damp soil. However there are many plants that will tolerate these conditions so those areas needn’t remain bare.

Shade in the garden is a double-edged sword. It can be cool and refreshing or it can be gloomy. Within the constraint of the green, there’s a wealth of shades and hues, as well as leaf textures. The big, bold leaves of hostas are workhorses of the shade garden. To brighten up a shady spot, choose a hosta variety with variegated leaves. For a contrast in leaf texture, give those hostas a backdrop of ferns.

No need to neglect flowers just because you have shade. Brighter colors are always welcome in the shade. Start the season with pastel colors of hellebore, the red, purple, or white blossoms peeking out from the bold, semi-evergreen foliage. 

Pink Spring Garden

Alliums, English bluebells, and primroses put on a spring show in this garden. Hosta and a Japanese maple keep it looking good through fall. Garden size: 17 by 18 feet.

Year-Round Garden

This mix of shrubs and perennials teams up to provide a large dose of color all season long. Garden size: 17 by 30 feet.

Formal Shady Garden

Dramatic tree-form hydrangeas create a striking contrast with foliage from hosta, lady's mantle, and ligularia. Garden size: 10 by 17 feet.

Shady Birdbath Garden

Surround a birdbath with colorful impatiens and polka-dot plants for color from late spring to fall. Garden size: 9 by 9 feet.

Woodland Garden

A handful of hostas, impatiens, and red-twig dogwood combine to create a natural-feeling planting with four-season interest. Garden size: 6 by 12 feet.

Container Collection for Shade

Use a host of coleus to create a stunning display without flowers. Your displays will be so dazzling you won't even notice there aren't blooms. Garden size: 10 by 12 feet.

Bright Container Garden Plan for Shady Spots

Do you have a shady deck, patio, porch, or front entrance? Never fear: This delightful trio of shade-loving container gardens will pump plenty of texture and color into any less-than-bright spot. The colorful coleus leaves look great all season long! Garden size: 8 by 14 feet.

Lush, Hosta-Filled Shade-Garden Plan

Hostas are the ultimate shade-garden plant. They come in a wide range of sizes, textures, and colors. Use our plan to mix a few of your favorites around a fountain and create a magical getaway perfect for those hot summer days. Garden size: 10 by 12 feet.

Colorful Garden Plan for Partial Shade

If your spot gets a bit of sun, you can have success with many sun-loving favorites. This garden plan combines just the right plants for those tough, in-between sunny and shady spots. Garden size: 8 by 13 feet.

Shady Haven Garden Plan

Enjoy your garden even on hot, sunny days. This shade garden, filled with lots of color and texture, will give you plenty to look at through the year. Garden size: 23 by 12 feet.

Colorful Spring Shade-Garden Plan

You don't need a ton of plants for a colorful garden. This simple, beautiful garden plan features only six different kinds of plants. These hardy, long-lived perennials will make a dramatic statement every spring. Garden size: 7 by 34 feet.

Pastel-Theme Shade-Garden Plan

Soft, light colors show up best in shade, so we've put together this plan of pastels to brighten dim spots in your landscape. Garden size: 4 by 8 feet.

Color and Texture with Foliage Shade-Garden Plan

Rely on plants with great foliage to create an eye-catching garden even without blooms. Garden size: 16 by 10 feet.

Shady Patio-Garden Plan

Dress up your yard by mixing plants with patio stones. This lush, easy-growing shade garden looks great through the seasons. Mixing the plantings gives the illusion of a big yard in a relatively small space. Garden size: 40 by 25 feet.