20 Shade Garden Design Ideas for Adding Color Anywhere

curved path through full shade garden
Photo: Lynn Karlin

Enjoy bold, beautiful colors even in the shadiest corners of your garden with these design tips. Mix and match shade-tolerant annuals, perennials, and shrubs to make every inch of your yard a stunning getaway.

01 of 20

Add a Shade Garden Path

shade garden with brick path
Kim Cornelison

A surefire way to improve any shady backyard is to divide and conquer. Here, a paver walkway creates a sense of purpose and destination among a mass of hostas and other foliage plants.

Test Garden Tip: Repeating the terra-cotta color of the pavers with coleus helps integrate the path into the landscape and provides a secondary splash of color.

02 of 20

Plant Less Grass, Especially in Shady Spots

square planted shade garden in front yard
Emily Minton-Redfield Photography

Every lawn struggles if it doesn't get enough light. So instead of fighting a big patch of fading grass in your yard, keep only a small section of turf and make it a landscape element by surrounding it with a wide swath of shade-loving plants. Or give up the grass and use shade-loving groundcovers, such as heuchera and ajuga.

03 of 20

Make Your Shade Garden a Retreat

shade garden with trees and path
Ann M. Wilson

Transform an unused, shady spot in your yard into a cool and stylish summer oasis by adding a bench and some flowers. Creating a shady retreat will give you the perfect place to enjoy a glass of lemonade on hot, sunny summer days. To create a framework for a garden retreat that's personal—without investing a significant chunk of change—consider using salvaged-landscaping materials.

04 of 20

Use Plants with Different Textures

deep full growth shade garden with mulched path
Andrew Drake

Make a bold, dramatic statement in your shade garden, even without flowers, by combining plants with different foliage textures and colors. An easy way to create texture combinations is by pairing leaves with opposite characteristics. Here, golden meadow rue is a stunning contrast to anemone, purple-leaf coral bells, and big-leaf umbrella plant.

05 of 20

Plant Bright Colors

hakonechloa aureola and hosta and golden spirae
Tovah Martin

Shades of yellow and gold shine in the shade, so take advantage of them to illuminate dim spots. Here, golden Japanese forest grass complements a hosta and gold-leaf 'Chardonnay Pearls' deutzia.

Buy It: Deutzia Chardonnay Pearls (Amazon)

06 of 20

Plant Shade-Loving Groundcovers

hostas & companions garden
Andrew Drake

Take advantage of low-growing groundcovers that crowd out weeds to make your shade garden easier to maintain. As an added bonus, many varieties provide an attractive carpet of color that can add a living path to your landscape. This golden creeping Jenny practically glows underneath a planting of blue hostas, purple coleus, and black mondo grass.

Buy It: 'Goldilocks' Creeping Jenny (The Home Depot)

07 of 20

Add Art to Your Shade Garden

sideyard featuring silver globes & hostas
Andrew Drake

Mix in fun, quirky garden accents to lend personality to your shade garden. A collection of silver spheres creates a focal point and adds light and charm to this garden. The colorful spheres floating in the water garden add even more interest.

08 of 20

Pick Interesting Shade Garden Materials

mulched pathway through shade garden
Cynthia Van Hazinga

Look past the plants and consider making hardscape elements the focal point of your shade garden. For example, a path mulched with dark wood chips becomes a stunning landscape design element when surrounded by white-variegated bishop's weed, ornamental grasses, or golden groundcovers. To help you get started, try creating a base map of your yard.

09 of 20

Plant Flowering Shrubs

pink azalea in foreground of garden path
Kritsada Panichgul

Perennials, such as hostas, are always popular for shade gardens, but don't forget about the wide selection of flowering shrubs to pack your shady spots with color, texture, and height. Here, a variety of azaleas and rhododendrons provide a big spring punch, and their evergreen foliage keeps the garden looking good in winter.

10 of 20

Add a Water Feature

waterfall over stones through trees and ferns to pond
Jay Wilde

Install a stream or other water feature to give your shade garden extra-sensory appeal through the sound of trickling water. A simple fountain and recirculating pump are all it takes to make garden magic.

11 of 20

Employ Architectural Elements

shade garden with containers of dwarf greenstripe bamboo
Andrew Drake

Look for fun, unique objects to fill your garden with interest. This garden features a series of round millstones, old barrels as containers, and a variety of paving materials. They add a whimsical feel and are a great accent to a wide variety of plants.

12 of 20

Include Shade-Loving Annuals

white and pink impatiens
Alise O'Brien

Select annuals to create color in shady spots. Annuals are a perfect addition for a shade garden, as they bloom all summer long. Top varieties include impatiens, balsam, torenia, browallia, coleus, and iresine.

13 of 20

Use Edging Plants

garden with decorative objects
Trish Maharam

Edge your beds and borders with interesting plants and materials. Here, Japanese forest grass gives the border a stunning color and texture. Look for fun rustic architectural elements such as terra-cotta pots or other objects that reflect your personality.

Buy It: Japanese Forest Grass (Home Depot)

14 of 20

Create Interesting Plant Combinations

shade garden featuring red japanese maple
Andrew Drake

Sprinkle your shade garden with a few stunning plant combinations to act as focal points. Here, a Japanese maple is a perfect companion for a couple of types of hostas and 'Gold Heart' bleeding hearts.

Test Garden Tip: Hostas usually have a coarse texture, so you can't go wrong by mixing them with fine-textured plants.

15 of 20

Plant in Large Numbers

curved path through full shade garden
Lynn Karlin

Just about every type of plant looks better in large groupings than it does planted individually. Here, drifts of astilbe seem to tower out of a groundcover of golden sedum.

Test Garden Tip: Planting en masse doesn't necessarily mean growing only a single variety. Here, several selections of astilbe combine for an eye-catching garden.

Buy It: Red, Pink, and White Astilbe (The Home Depot)

16 of 20

Use Perennial Vines to Add Color

garden with bridge over stream
Carole Ottesen

Grow perennial vines to add an extra layer of color to your shade garden. Smaller vines, such as clematis, are often happy to scramble up the trunk of small- to medium-sized trees. Bigger vines are ideal for covering a wall or creating a privacy screen.

Test Garden Tip: Three of the best vines for shady spots are Dutchman's pipe, climbing hydrangea, and Virginia creeper.

Buy It: Climbing Hydrangea Seeds (Etsy)

17 of 20

Pay Attention to Shade Garden Shapes

garden beds outlined by boxwood hedges
Linda Vater

Go beyond color and texture to make your garden a showpiece. Use plant shapes to draw the eye. For example, a tightly clipped boxwood hedge contrasts with the looser plants they surround, while echoing the smooth lines of a terra-cotta urn.

18 of 20

Use Shapes in Shade Garden Hardscape

pathway of rectangular pavers
Julie Sprott

Utilize other landscape features to give your yard fun shapes. Here, rectangular pavers set in a geometric pattern contrast with a fringe tree's oval leaves.

Test Garden Tip: Go a step beyond this in your yard by mixing materials for a path. For example, replace a few of the pavers and use bricks, wood rounds, or other objects as stepping-stones.

19 of 20

Plant Shade-Tolerant Trees

garden with tree ferns
Lynn Karlin

Create layers to keep your garden interesting. Many shade gardens feature relatively low perennials, such as hosta, bleeding heart, and astilbe, underneath a canopy of tall trees. Bridge the gap by using tall planters or architectural features, such as pillars, or grow shade-tolerant trees and shrubs to provide your garden with a variety of heights.

20 of 20

Select a Shade Garden Color Theme

potted plants on deck and steps
Kritsada Panichgul

Maximize the power of color in your shade garden by choosing only one or two hues. This garden, for example, relies on tones of pink and burgundy from hydrangeas, impatiens, and Japanese maple foliage. With the wide range of shade plants available, you can create a theme in almost any color.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles