20 Shade Garden Design Ideas for Adding Color Anywhere

20 Shade Garden Design Ideas for Adding Color Anywhere

Lynn Karlin

Using these design tips, enjoy bold, beautiful colors in a shade garden where your yard gets the least sun. Mix and match shade-tolerant annuals, perennials, and shrubs to make every inch of your yard a stunning getaway.

Add a Shade Garden Path

shade garden with brick path

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.

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

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 shade garden. Or give up the grass and use shade-loving groundcovers, such as heuchera and ajuga.

Make Your Shade Garden a Retreat

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 personal garden retreat framework—without investing a significant chunk of change—consider using salvaged-landscaping materials.

The 16 Best Garden Benches4 to Upgrade Your Outdoor Space

Use Plants with Different Textures

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 plants.

Plant Bright Colors

Tovah Martin

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

Plant Shade-Loving Groundcovers

Andrew Drake

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

Add Art to Your Shade Garden

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 orbs floating in the water garden add even more interest.

3 Steps to a DIY Water Garden That Doesn’t Take Up Much Space

Pick Interesting Shade Garden Materials

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.

How to Make a Wood Chip Path

Plant Flowering Shrubs

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, various azaleas and rhododendrons provide a big spring punch, and their evergreen foliage keeps the garden looking good in winter.


Add a Water Feature

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.

19 Gorgeous Garden Fountain Ideas to Add to Your Yard


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 various paving materials. They add a whimsical feel and are a great accent to the plants.


Include Shade-Loving Annuals

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.

Annual vs. Perennial: What’s the Difference Between These Plants?


Use Edging Plants

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 like terra-cotta pots or other objects that reflect your personality.


Create Interesting Plant Combinations

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.

Hostas usually have a coarse texture, so you can’t go wrong by mixing them with fine-textured plants.


Plant in Large Numbers

Lynn Karlin

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

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


Use Perennial Vines to Add Color

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.

Three of the best vines for shady spots are Dutchman’s pipe, climbing hydrangea, and Virginia creeper.


Pay Attention to Shade Garden Shapes

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.

How to Make a Spiral Shrub to Glam up Your Garden


Use Shapes in Shade Garden Hardscape

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.

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

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 various heights.


Select a Shade Garden Color Theme

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.

The Best Types of Hydrangeas to Grow in Your Garden

Most Popular Flowers & Plants in the USA

RegionPopular FlowersPopular Plants
Northeast (e.g., New York, Massachusetts)Rose, Purple Lilac, Mountain LaurelSugar Maple, American Elm, White Pine
Southeast (e.g., Florida, Georgia)Orange Blossom, Cherokee Rose, Southern MagnoliaLive Oak, Spanish Moss, Saw Palmetto
Midwest (e.g., Ohio, Illinois)Carnation, Violet, Purple ConeflowerBur Oak, Prairie Grasses, Wild Bergamot
Southwest (e.g., Texas, Arizona)Bluebonnet, Saguaro Cactus Flower, Indian PaintbrushJoshua Tree, Agave, Mesquite
West (e.g., California, Washington)California Poppy, Coast Rhododendron, BitterrootGiant Sequoia, Redwood, Manzanita
Rocky Mountain (e.g., Colorado, Montana)Rocky Mountain Columbine, Bitterroot, Indian PaintbrushBlue Spruce, Aspen, Sagebrush
Great Plains (e.g., Kansas, Nebraska)Sunflower, Goldenrod, Purple ConeflowerCottonwood, Bluestem Grasses, Buffalo Grass
Pacific Northwest (e.g., Oregon, Alaska)Oregon Grape, Forget-me-not, Pacific RhododendronDouglas Fir, Western Hemlock, Ferns

This table includes the most popular flowers and plants in the USA by region, which considers a range of botanical species, including native and widely cultivated varieties.

Most Popular Flowers & Plants in Australia

RegionPopular FlowersPopular Plants
New South WalesWaratah, Bottlebrush, Flannel FlowerEucalyptus, Acacia, Banksia
VictoriaCommon Heath, Waxflower, Pink HeathMountain Ash, Silver Wattle, Victorian Blue Gum
QueenslandCooktown Orchid, Golden Penda, Umbrella Tree FlowerMoreton Bay Fig, Macadamia Nut, Queensland Bottle Tree
South AustraliaSturt's Desert Pea, Kangaroo Paw, Eucalyptus BlossomAdelaide Blue Gum, South Australian Blue Gum, Saltbush
Western AustraliaRed and Green Kangaroo Paw, Mangles Kangaroo Paw, Swan River DaisyJarrah, Marri, Karri
TasmaniaTasmanian Blue Gum, Leatherwood Flower, Tasmanian WaratahHuon Pine, Tasmanian Oak, Myrtle Beech
Northern TerritorySturt's Desert Rose, Frangipani, Desert RoseBoab, Gidgee, Spinifex
Australian Capital TerritoryRoyal Bluebell, Australian Daisy, CorreaSnow Gum, River Red Gum, Black Mountain

This table offers a basic overview of popular flowers and plants in each Australian region, focusing on a combination of state flowers, native species, and other characteristic plants. It's important to note that specific species' popularity and prevalence can vary. This table is a simplified representation. Consulting local botanical gardens or regional horticultural societies in Australia would be ideal for more detailed and accurate information.

Charlotte Gammon

By Charlotte Gammon

Meet Charlotte Gammon, our expert and author. She's our true treasure, as she has got 20+ years of experience in gardening, winery and house design. In early 2000s, she worked for today.com magazine and was in charge of the gaardening section. Later on, Charlotte opened her own designer agency and worked as a designer and decorator. We are happy to have Charlotte with us, as she is our good friend. We value her experience and we're sure you will love the articles she created for our blog.