Top 10 All-Time Shade Garden Ideas
Is your yard starved for sun? Turn your backyard into a thriving oasis with these tried-and-true shade garden ideas.
It seems like every gardener has that one eyesore. You know the spot I’m talking about: the pitiful patch that seems to be cursed with full to partial shade. Every year you plant something there, hoping that it will at least survive the summer, but it never does. We’ve heard these stories from readers for years, and we know shady spots can be a big challenge. That’s why we came up with a list of our all-time favorite perennials that will not just survive but thrive in shade. It’s complete with everything you’ll need—gorgeous blooms, foliage, even a ground cover!
Aquilegia, Zones 3 to 9
Carefree and consistent, columbine is a longtime favorite that stands up beautifully to shade. If you’ve ever thought about growing it, make this the year!
Why we love it: One of the easiest wildflowers to cultivate, it shines in both manicured gardens and wilder surroundings.
Astilbe spp., Zones 3 to 9
Similar in appearance to ferns, astilbe fits right into a shade garden. Its elegant foliage is a delight even when the white, pink, red or purple flowers are done blooming. Moist soil is a must to keep astilbe alive.
Why we love it: The 1- to 4-foot flower spikes are showstoppers. Because of its height, astilbe is best planted near the back of a flower bed, with a shorter plant, such as hosta, in front.
Brunnera macrophylla, Zones 3 to 8
Variety is the spice of any garden, and brunnera will bring that to your shady location. It’s got distinctive heart-shaped leaves and charming small blue blossoms.
Why we love it: Brunnera reaches about 12 to 18 inches in height and 18 to 24 inches in width, making it a natural to enhance borders or beds.
Dicentra SPECTABILIS, Zones 2 to 9
Try a fringed bleeding heart, like Burning Hearts. The delicate foliage and heart-shaped blooms make this one a captivating spring shade favorite. Just know that it’s an early bloomer, but fringed bleeding hearts hold their leaves and flower sporadically through summer.
Why we love it: Bleeding heart is self-seeding. Wait to cut it back, and you’ll see a spectacular show of blooms the next year.
Hosta, Zones 3 to 8
No “best of” shade list would be complete without hostas. This hardy plant is known for adding texture and color. While some hostas tolerate sun, those grown in partial shade usually produce the best-looking and longest-lasting leaves.
Why we love it: Dense, leafy clumps make way for stems of blossoms that rise up to 3 feet above the prized foliage. There are so many varieties on the market chances are one or several will fit your garden.
Heuchera, Zones 3 to 9
Colorful foliage and spires of small blooms make coral bells a must for every shady yard. The pretty blossoms emerge in late spring and last through early summer on 8- to 10-inch stems. Then the foliage steals the show, often changing colors in fall.
Why we love it: You’ll never get bored with coral bells—the leaves come in a rainbow of colors from yellow-orange to deep purple. And hummingbirds love the flowers. Shown here is Christa in a cool peach color.
Rodgersia spp.,Zones 5 to 8
You’ll love choosing among the white, rose-pink and red blooms. This pretty plant needs some space and moist soil, though. Rodgersia will rise above the rest in your shady space, growing 3 to 6 feet tall and 2 to 3 feet wide.
Why we love it: The large, boldly shaped leaves, which turn from green or bronze to reddish in fall, are almost as colorful as the blossoms.
Galium odoratum, Zones 4 to 8
We’ve got you covered with this ground cover! It likes to be cool, so give it plenty of mulch. Sweet woodruff often spreads up to 2 feet, which means a couple of plants can go a long way.
Why we love it: The blooms may be tiny, but they’re irresistibly fragrant. Delicious-smelling white flowers appear in late spring.
Digitalis, Zones 3 to 10
This one’s a real beauty. Depending on your location, foxglove is a biennial or short-lived perennial. Be prepared to wait a year for the blooms to show; the reward will be flowers that are both fantastic and plentiful. Just one note of warning: Don’t ever ingest this plant, because some parts of it are poisonous.
Why we love it: Foxglove can reach a lofty 6 feet tall, with stalks full of bright, bell-shaped blossoms.
Tricyrtis, Zones 4 to 9
With such stunning blooms, it’s surprising the toad lily is a shade fan. The orchidlike blossoms in white, mauve and yellow will definitely grab attention. Perfect for a shady woodland, it grows 1 to 2 feet wide and 1 to 3 feet tall.
Why we love it: The toad lily is easy to grow, drought tolerant and resistant to deer. The lovely blooms emerge just as the rest of the garden is starting to fade away for fall.