How to Achieve Shade Garden Design Success

Throwing shade can be a good thing (with the right plants, that is).

Take a look around your garden. You likely have some shady areas; every garden does.

Yet, people tend to fear shade garden design. These areas, typically bordering up to woodlands, tucked under large trees or resting beside buildings or structures, are thought to be challenging ones for growing beautiful blooms and wonderfully textured plants.

But you don’t have to be afraid of having a gorgeous garden in the shade. You just need to understand what kind of space you’re working with and match the plants you choose to that space.


Be mindful of shade garden conditions

Shade presents a few challenges when it comes to gardens:

  • Lack of sunlight
  • Lack of moisture
  • Poor soil fertility

There’s a wide spectrum of light conditions that can mean “shady.” Understand how much light you actually have in your space to better comprehend the kind of shade you’re dealing with for your shade garden design. Deep shade, for instance, means no direct sunlight and very little ambient sunlight. Dappled shade means light is filtered through branches overhead.

When the sun hits your space is also worth noting. Maybe your shady spot receives two hours of sun. But whether those hours are early morning versus late in the afternoon could vary your plant choice because afternoon sun is hotter and could scorch your shade-loving plants more than morning sunlight.

Also, if you think about natural shade, it happens in forests where falling leaves and other organic matter make the soil super rich and moist. So if your shady location suffers from dry, poor soil, add organic compost to improve it.


Best shade garden design plants

There may be a limited selection when it comes to flowers for shade garden design, but when you incorporate blooms, textures and foliage, you can get an aesthetically pleasing combination.

  • Astilbe - This is a great flower for shady spots. There are tons of varieties to choose from, and that means lots of different colors as well. Because it’s small, it can also be planted in the front or along the borders of landscape beds.
  • Coral Bells, Ninebark, Japanese Maples - Flowers are not the only way to add color. These plants with red leaves make stunning contrasts in your shade garden design.
  • Dappled Willow - Variegated foliage also makes a great addition to a shady space. These shrubs like partial sun, so make sure to plant them in the right type of shade garden that gets a few hours of sunshine. And if you have a soggy spot, this plant does fine in wetter conditions.
  • Hosta - You can’t ignore hostas when it comes to shade gardens, but you can vary the varieties you choose to take advantage of different colors, shapes and textures. Blue leaf hostas add some cool tones.
  • Hydrangea, Viburnum - If you have a larger space to fill, these are two shade-loving shrubs that make great backdrops or impact plants, as well as bring great flowers and even early spring fragrance with some viburnum varieties.


Your dream shade garden design awaits

Sure, shade gardens come with some rules you must follow.

If it sounds too challenging to try yourself, a landscape design professional can bring the skills necessary to give you a unique and flourishing shade garden design.

Remember, the goal is to work with nature and not against it, and landscape professionals are trained to know which plants thrive in specific conditions and which ones are better for your sunny spots. They can also properly maintain your garden to ensure it continues to look its best.

They can even bring some different ideas you hadn’t thought of for your shady spot -- maybe a custom or theme garden that gives you something none of your neighbors have.

Looking for creative ways to elevate your shady landscape beds? We’d love to help you achieve a space you love. Learn more about gardens we’ve designed here or contact us for a consultation about how we can bring your dream landscape to life -- sun or shade.