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How to Create a Shade Garden in Your Yard

By Sarah Finazzo April 24, 2023

shade garden ideas

If you're looking to create a lush and thriving garden in a shady spot, you've come to the right place. While many gardeners may feel limited by a lack of sun, shade gardens can actually offer a unique opportunity to experiment with a variety of plants and create a stunning landscape. It can be transformative if planted in a corner where there was previously spotty grown grass.

In this post, we'll explore the benefits of shade gardens, some of the best plants to use, and some tips for designing your own shade garden. Whether you're a seasoned gardener or a beginner looking to expand your skills, we hope this post will inspire you to create a beautiful and thriving shade garden of your own.

Let's dig' in!

What is a Shade Garden?

A shade garden is a type of garden that is planted and designed to thrive in areas with limited sunlight. This can include areas of a garden that are naturally shaded by trees or buildings, or areas that receive less sunlight due to their orientation to the sun.

In a shade garden, plants are chosen for their ability to grow and thrive in low light conditions, and the garden is typically designed with a variety of textures, shapes, and colors to create visual interest.

Shade gardens can range from small, simple plantings to larger, more complex landscapes, and can be designed to suit a variety of styles and preferences. Some gardeners even choose to create shade gardens indoors, using low-light houseplants to create a lush and thriving indoor oasis.
Overall, shade gardens offer a unique opportunity to experiment with a variety of plants, full or dappled shade! .

What are the Benefits of a Shade Garden?

A shade garden is generally less maintenance to maintain. The plants are designed to thrive with minimum assistance. They don't need as much water to thrive and you won't need to worry as much about water evaporation, the hot afternoon sun, and sun loving weeds.

A shade garden can really transform the look of your backyard. If you currently have a neglected corner with spotty grass because it's too shady - adding a shade garden can take that space from an eye sore to a focal point of your yard!

How do you select the right plants?

Selecting the right plants for a shade garden can be a bit different than selecting plants for a sunny garden. Here are some tips to keep in mind when choosing plants for your shade garden:

Consider the amount of shade

Not all shade is the same. Some plants will thrive in partial shade (areas that receive a few hours of direct sun per day), while others will need full shade (areas that receive no direct sunlight at all). Before selecting plants, it's important to evaluate the amount of shade in the area and choose plants that are suited for that level of shade. Often a shade garden can easily have a garden design that includes a mix of full shade, partial shade and even some plants that thrive in sun based on their location within your allotted space.

Choose plants for the soil type

Different plants have different soil preferences. Some shade-loving plants prefer well-draining soils, while others prefer soils that are more moisture-retentive. Before selecting plants, it's important to evaluate the soil in the area and choose plants that are suited for that type of soil.

Select plants for the climate

Shade tolerant plants vary in their cold and heat tolerance, and it's important to select plants that are suited for the climate in your area. Make sure to confirm what zone you live in and purchase plants for your garden beds accordingly.

Consider plant height and spread

Shade gardens can have a layered look, with taller plants in the back and shorter plants in the front. When selecting plants, it's important to consider their height and mature size to ensure that they will fit well into the garden design once they have reached full growth.

Look for plants with interesting foliage

In a shade garden, foliage can play an important role in providing interest and texture. Foliage refers to the leaves of a plant, collectively. It is the term used to describe the greenery that grows on the branches or stems of plants, including trees, shrubs, and other vegetation. Look for plants with interesting leaf shapes and textures, as well as plants with variegated or colorful foliage.

Some examples of plants that thrive in shade gardens include ferns, hostas, astilbes, heucheras, bleeding hearts, and coral bells. With careful selection, it's possible to create a beautiful and thriving shade garden design filled with a variety of plants that will provide year-round interest.

What else can you add to a Shade Garden?

In addition to selecting the right plants for a shade garden, there are several other elements that can be added to enhance its beauty and functionality:


Adding elements such as garden paths, walls, and seating areas can help to create structure and definition within the garden. Hardscaping can also be used to add visual interest and complement the surrounding landscape. It can offer a cool place to sit and relax while enjoying the space.

Water features

Adding a water feature such as a fountain or small pond can provide a relaxing and soothing element to the shade garden. Water features can also attract local birds and other wildlife.


Lighting can be used to highlight specific areas of the garden and extend its functionality into the evening hours. Options for lighting include path lighting, uplighting for trees and plants, moonlighting, and accent lighting for garden features.

Garden art

Adding sculptures, garden ornaments, and other art pieces can add a unique and personal touch to the garden. Garden art can be used to complement the surrounding landscape or create a focal point within the garden.

Selecting Shade Plants for Your Yard

Here are some popular plants that work well in different regions of the United States and are known to do well in partial shade or shade. Note that some of these plants will do well and thrive in shade as well!


  • Hostas
  • Ferns
  • Bleeding hearts
  • Astilbes
  • Helleborus
  • Heucheras
  • Lungworts
  • Foamflowers
  • Jacob's ladder

shade garden design tipsAmelanchier x grandiflora 'Autumn Brilliance'. partial shade
shade tolerant design ideas with a pop of color Hydrangea quercifolia 'Ruby Slippers'. full sun to part shade
deep shade with variegated leavesAthyrium niponicum var. pictums. partial shade/full shade
pink flowers, shade tolerant plants Anemone x hybrida ‘Robustissima'. part sun to sun


  • Columbines
  • Yarrows
  • Penstemons
  • Coral Bells
  • Ajuga
  • Lenten Rose
  • Ferns - Holly, Autumn
  • Purple Heart
  • Clemantis
  • Cast Iron Plant
  • Creeping Fig

flower plants for shade garden design Frosted Violet Coral Bells, part shade
early spring blooming vine Cast iron, Aspidistra elatior. deep shade
flower plants for shade garden design Chocolate Chip Bugleweed, full sun/part shade
flowering plants for shady gardenSweet Autumn Clematis, full sun/part shade


  • Ferns
  • Hostas
  • Asilbe
  • Bleedings Hearts
  • Columbine
  • Heuchera
  • Azaleas
  • Camellias
  • Hydrangeas
  • Japanese maples
  • Dogwoods
  • Lenten roses
  • Southern magnolias
  • Sweet shrubs
  • Virginia bluebells

light shade flowering plants Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Snow Queen’. full sun to part shade
full shade fern perfect for a shady garden Athyrium filix-femina 'Lady In Red'. part shade to full shade.
shade tolerant Heart shaped flowersTreasure Azaleas, slight sunlight
hardy perennials for shade garden design ideas  Calycanthus. full shade


  • Prairie smoke
  • Solomon Seal
  • Brunnera
  • Japanese Forest Grass
  • Whirlwind Anemone
  • Wild columbines
  • Wild geraniums
  • Wild indigos
  • Lady ferns
  • Maidenhair ferns

shade garden ideas, Solomon's seal foliage plants Herbaceous perennial 'Solomon's Seal. part shade to full shade
part shade plants Brunnera macrophylla 'Alexander's Great'. part shade
moderate shade plant Hakonechloa macra 'All Gold'. part shade
light shade Anemone x hybrida 'Whirlwind'. sun to part shade

Pacific Northwest:

  • Epimedium, Barrenwort
  • Rhododendrons
  • Azaleas
  • Sword ferns
  • Japanese painted ferns
  • Hellebores
  • Bleeding hearts
  • Hostas
  • Oregon grape

beautiful flowers for shady borders Boursault Flower. part shade
flowers for many shadesBloomathon Double Pink Azalea. part shade
perennials for shaded areas Pink Frost Hellebore. part shade/dappled shade
flowers for a dark spaceHosta, Plantain Lily. partial shade

Of course, there are many other shade loving plants that can work well in these regions depending on specific site conditions and individual preferences. Have fun exploring options for your shady spots and experiment with what can transform it from an eye sore to your favorite place in the yard.

About Tilly

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To start our process you’ll fill out a questionnaire about your property that helps our design team understand your goals, needs and existing landscape. You can add 3d renders, lighting plans or side yards to your design package. You’ll then “meet” with your designer on a video call, show them your space and discuss your priorities.

Tilly also offers individual DIY projects, including a DIY Garden Bed. With DIY Spaces, you are matched with a landscape designer who will design a custom project for your yard. This will include a scaled drawing, lists of materials (which you can order directly through Tilly to install your project) and detailed installation instructions to help even a first time DIY’er tackle a yard project!

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Read more about: Landscape Design Tips, Sustainable Design