Shade Garden Secrets: Design Tips and Plants for Your Shady Spaces

Shade Garden Secrets: Design Tips and Plants for Your Shady Spaces

Shade Garden Secrets: Design Tips and Plants for Your Shady Spaces
Shade Garden Secrets: Design Tips and Plants for Your Shady Spaces

Photos by Monrovia: Doreen Wynja

Updating that neglected shady bed, border, or corner is a fantastic weekend project that can make a big impact on your outdoor space. We'll help you get started by offering everything from design ideas, tips, plant lists, and even a free landscape plan for a shady corner.

Your task is simple: study our design tips, decide on your favorite plants, head to your local garden center, and get planting! Your shady garden is about to become your favorite place to unwind. 

Shade Garden Design Ideas and Tips

Grassy Plantings for Shady Pathways

(Above) A combination of golden locust trees and massed Golden Japanese forest grass creates a glowing golden effect in this garden designed by Tish Treherne. Tish says, "The Japanese forest grass is my favorite. Since it turns copper in the winter, it offers a cascading visual effect year-round."

(Above) The bright, slender leaves of Ice Dance Japanese Sedge are combined with the wide, dark-purple leaves of Royal Purple Smoke Bush for a striking pathway planting, perfect for partial shade conditions. This is a great example of how to combine both texture and color in a shade garden.

Tapestry of Texture for Shady Nooks

(Above) The combination of coral bells, fern, and ajuga seen here is perfect for low-maintenance and low-water shade gardens. Get the look in your own shady space with ghost fern, Sirens' Song™ Orange Delight Heuchera, and Little Cuties™ Shimmer Heuchera.

(Above) Tectonic™ Begonias are spectacular shade specimens thanks to their unique texture and color variations. Here, Tectonic™ Magma, Astroid, Pangea, and Eruption Begonias are combined in a small space for a dramatic shady show.

Container Combos for Shady Patios and Entryways

(Above) The ultra-dark foliage of Obsidian Heuchera and small, soft blue-gray leaves of Blue Mouse Ears Hosta make a stunning combination thanks to the dramatic color and texture contrast. Try this easy two-plant recipe in a small-to-medium container in your shady space.

(Above) This lush container looks stunning year-round, thanks to the highlights of oranges and ambers in these shade-loving plants. Combine Red-Leafed MukdeniaBrilliance Autumn Fern, and Northern Exposure™ Amber Heuchera to get this look.

Top 5 Shade Garden Design Tips

  1. Observe the type of shade that you have and choose plants accordingly. Learn about the different types of shade here.
  2. Determine the soil moisture conditions and choose your plants accordingly. You may also need to set up a drip irrigation system. Find more tips and plant choices for dry shade here. 
  3. Keep it simple. Choose 1-4 plants and plant them en masse for a big visual impact, soothing feel, and cohesive style. Find the simple plant recipe, plus the best plant choices below.
  4. Play with texture. Take your shade garden design a step further by combining different textures for a visually dynamic space. For instance, combine the fine foliage of sedge or ferns with the wide leaves of hosta or heuchera. 
  5. Play with color. Look for foliage in brighter shades of green or unique tones of purple. No flowers are needed here, although they are always a bonus!

Project Landscape Plan: Update Your Shady Garden

(Above) This landscape plan by Lisa Nunamaker of  Paper Garden Workshop illustrates how to combine masses of four different plants to create a vibrant shady corner garden. Get the full plant list and landscape plan for this easy weekend project, plus 9 more free project plans, in our Ultimate Project Planning Guide

A shade garden makeover is the perfect weekend project; it's the perfect time to put your new design knowledge to work! Use the landscape plan, ideas, and design tips above to create your own beautiful shade garden. Make a plant list from the guidelines we've given you here and bring it to your local garden center, where they can point you in the right direction.

4 Plants for this Shade Garden Landscape Plan

Ice N' Roses® 
Red Hellebore

This impressive new hybrid has deep red blooms that face outwards, and even upwards, to greet the spring. Partial shade to partial sun. Up to 2' tall and wide. Zones 5-9.

Painted Fern

Mounds of dramatic foliage standout in the shade garden. Luminescent blue-green fronds with dark central ribs fade to silver edges. Full to partial shade. Up to 2' tall and wide. Zones 4-8.

All Gold Japanese 
Forest Grass

A colorful groundcover for shady areas, with bright golden yellow foliage that creates a tiny bamboo-like effect. Partial shade to partial sun. Up to 18" tall and wide. Zones 4-9.

Sunny Daze® 
Japanese Laurel

This unique shrub's lustrous, colorfully variegated foliage will brighten dim spaces. Up to 4' tall and wide. Full to partial shade. Zones 6-10.

Favorite Plants for Your Simple Shade Garden Recipe

This landscape plan offers the perfect shade garden recipe to start your shade garden project, whether or not it perfectly reflects the space or conditions you are dealing with. You can use this recipe for nearly any shady space you have, choosing the appropriate plants that thrive in your setting. 

Make it simple by following this recipe: Choose one plant from one to all of each shade plant category below (fern, grass, shrub, colorful perennial), then plant them en masse

You can add or subtract to this recipe, but if you're looking for a simple starting point as you head to the garden center, you can't go wrong with this combo. You can find shade-loving options for each part of this recipe below. 

Favorite Ferns for Shade

Regal Red Japanese 
Painted Fern

Striking violet-red fronds are contrasted by bright silver edges, giving this magnificent fern an overall tapestry effect. Partial to full shade. Up to 2' tall and wide. Zones 4-9. 

Jurassic™ T-Rex 
Wood Fern

Upright fronds ranging from dark to light green form a strikingly vertical clump for a bold and highly textural statement in a shaded garden. Partial to full shade. Up to 3' tall and wide. Zones 5-8.


A vigorous and easy-to-grow fern with an upright mound of rigid, silver-green fronds with deep purple midribs. Thrives in moist, shady settings, though more tolerant of brief dry spells than most ferns of its type. Zones 4-9.

Favorite Colorful Grasses for Shade

Orange New 
Zealand Sedge

Finely textured, bronze-green leaves age to electric orange in the cool season. The elegant, arching, mounding form is a beautiful evergreen garden accent. Deer and rabbit resistant. Partial shade to full sun. Up to 2' tall and wide. Zones 6-10.

EverColor® Everest 
Variegated Sedge

A mounding fountain of ribbon-like white-striped green foliage that will add wonderful texture and color to any dappled sun or shade garden. Fill shade to partial sun. Up to 15" tall, 24" wide. Zones 5-9.

Ice Dance 
Japanese Sedge

A lush mound of slender, bright green leaves with strong creamy white margins that will brighten woodland gardens and shady borders. Non-invasive; spreads gently by underground stems (rhizomes). Partial shade. Up to 1' tall, spreading slowly. Zones 5-9.

Favorite Visually Dynamic Shrubs for Shade

Sunny Daze® 
Japanese Laurel

A true collector's gem suited for the shadiest of gardens, this handsome shrub's lustrous, colorfully variegated foliage will brighten dim spaces. Brought to Monrovia by Dan Hinkley. Full to partial shade. Up to 4' tall and wide. Zones 6-10.

Seaside Serenade® 
Newport Hydrangea

A showy rebloomer with a profusion of full mophead flower clusters that mature to a deep pink on very sturdy stems. Bloom color changes with soil pH, more blue-violet in acidic soils, deeper pink in alkaline soils. Partial shade to partial sun. Up to 4' tall and wide. Zones 4-9.

Camouflage® Variegated 
Japanese Aralia

Each leaf of this showy shrub possesses an exquisite melding of yellow, lime, and green, providing an illuminating effect in a dappled shade setting. Prized for its unique, highly textural foliage, it often blooms from fall to winter. Full shade to partial sun. Up to 8' tall and wide. Zones 7-10.

Favorite Perennials for Adding Color and Texture in Shade


Northern Exposure™ 
Red Heuchera

This plant boasts bold burgundy-red rounded leaves with fluted edges, forming a tidy, dense mound. It has long-lasting foliage, increased sun tolerance, and is rust-resistant. Sprays of small greenish-yellow flowers provide a lovely accent. Full shade to partial sun. Up to 14" tall, 20" wide. Zones 4-9.

Northern Exposure™ 
Amber Heuchera

Brilliant, amber-colored, rounded leaves with fluted edges form a tidy, dense mound accented with sprays of small greenish-yellow flowers. Superb, long-lasting foliage, rust resistance, and longevity. Fill shade to partial sun. Up to 14" tall, 20" wide. Zones 4-9.

Ruby Tuesday 

Exceptionally ruffled leaves emerge ruby red, aging to a deep merlot frosted with silver. Prolific amounts of petite white flowers are held above the foliage in early spring. Partial shade to full sun. Up to 9"tall, 14" wide. Zones 4-9.

Flowering perennials

Visions Volcano 

Bright pink flower plumes adorn this outstanding bloomer. The smaller stature makes it perfect for containers or the front of shaded beds. Wonderful in coolers climates, or where protected from hot afternoon sun. Partial to full shade. Up to 14" tall, 12" wide. Zones 4-8.

Lami™ Dark Purple 
Dead Nettle

Shimmering silver leaves with emerald green edges form a lush groundcover that blooms earlier than other dead nettles with large, abundant, deep purple flowers from spring to summer. Perfect for brightening shady areas. Up to 6" tall, 10" wide. Up to 6" tall, 10" wide. 

Ice N' Roses® 
Rose Hellebore

This impressive new hybrid has perked up the traditional drooping flowers of hellebores with blooms facing outwards, and even upwards, to greet the spring. A delightful cool-season bloomer, a wonderful addition to lightly to deeply shaded beds. Partial shade. Up to 2' tall and wide. Zones 5-9.



A classic hosta with bold foliage that features a wide gold band of color along the leaf edges. The golden margins turn to a creamy white by midsummer. The thick foliage resists slug damage. Partial to full sun. Up to 18" tall, 26" wide. Zones 4-8.

Olive Bailey 
Langdon Hosta

This large, festive hosta has dark green foliage with wide, light green margins. The leaves are lightly cupped with wavy margins and deeply corrugated texture. Partial to full shade. Up to 3' tall, 6' wide. Zones 4-8.

Hadspen Blue 

Steel blue-gray leaves have a soft powdery look and create an elegant mound of foliage, plus they resist slug damage. A remarkable plant for bold foliage contrasts in shaded beds and borders. Partial to full shade. Up to 12" tall, 20" wide. Zones 4-9.

Learn More About Gardening in Shade 

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2023-03-04 21:37:00