20 Shade Garden Design Ideas That Prove You Can Grow Colorful Plants Anywhere

20 Shade Garden Design Ideas That Prove You Can Grow Colorful Plants Anywhere

curved path through full shade garden


Credit: Lynn Karlin

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

Add a Garden Path

shade garden with brick path

Credit: 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.



Plant Less Grass, Especially in Shady Spots

square planted shade garden in front yard

Credit: Emily Minton-Redfield Photography

Make Your Garden a Retreat

shade garden with trees and path

Credit: Ann M. Wilson


Use Plants with Different Textures

deep full growth shade garden with mulched path

Credit: Andrew Drake

Plant Bright Colors

hakonechloa aureola and hosta and golden spirae

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Credit: Tovah Martin

Plant Shade-Loving Groundcovers

hostas & companions garden

Credit: Andrew Drake



Add Art to Your Garden

sideyard featuring silver globes & hostas

Credit: 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.

Pick Interesting Materials

mulched pathway through shade garden

Credit: Cynthia Van Hazinga

Plant Flowering Shrubs

pink azalea in foreground of garden path

Credit: 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.


Add a Water Feature

waterfall over stones through trees and ferns to pond

Credit: Jay Wilde

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

Employ Architectural Elements

shade garden with containers of dwarf greenstripe bamboo

Credit: 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.

Include Shade-Loving Annuals

white and pink impatiens

Credit: Alise O’Brien


Use Edging Plants

garden with decorative objects

Credit: Trish Maharam

Create Interesting Plant Combinations

shade garden featuring red japanese maple

Credit: Andrew Drake

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Plant In Large Numbers

curved path through full shade garden

Credit: 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 ($21, The Home Depot)


Use Perennial Vines to Add Color

garden with bridge over stream

Credit: Carole Ottesen

Pay Attention to Shapes

garden beds outlined by boxwood hedges

Credit: 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.

Use Shapes in Hardscaping

pathway of rectangular pavers

Credit: Julie Sprott

Utilize other landscape features to give your yard fun shapes. Here, rectangular pavers set in a geometric pattern contrast fringetree’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.


Plant Shade-Tolerant Trees

garden with tree ferns

Credit: 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.

Select a Color Theme

potted plants on deck and steps

Credit: 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 hydrangea and impatiens and Japanese maple foliage. With the wide range of shade plants available, you can create a theme in almost any color.