Steps to a Perfect Shade Garden

shade-gardeningOften we see people come into the Family Tree looking defeated because they have a shady yard and can’t seem to get plants to grow.  We get excited as there are so many plant choices for the shade and you can make a stunning shade garden if you just ask us which plants to use.  Shade plants have so many different textures and colors, and although you may not have a garden with an abundance of flowering annuals, you can achieve a shade garden that is just as beautiful.  Here are some tips on how to do it.

As with any garden, start with your foundation plants, the ones that will stay there through thick and thin, summer and winter.  Some of our favorite combinations are:


Spreading Yew

Florida Sunshine

Sunshine Illicium


Autumn Fern



Yews:  They provide dark green textured foliage and come in a variety of shapes and sizes
Sunshine Illicium:  Great evergreen focal point with beautiful foliage
Hardy Ferns:  Autumn Fern and Holly Fern stay all year round and offer great texture
Hellebores:  This great plant provides flowers from January through to May in the shade and it is evergreen! The hybrids that have come along recently are just beautiful!
Other plants that can be used also are Aucuba, Pieris, Azaleas, Mahonia, Leucothoe, Sweet Shrub, Fatsia, Rhododendron, Hydrangeas and the list goes on.  Come and see our shade section at the nursery.

Japanese Maple Inaba Shidare 7-10' x 7-10'

Japanese Maple
Inaba Shidare

Once you have your foundation plants chosen, then it is time to start adding some focal points. Japanese Maples, especially the weeping varieties, make great focal points.  Add some boulders next to them, and voila, you have a beautiful focal point.  If you are looking for a larger tree, try a Dogwood either in pink or white flowers.  A bird bath, or bird feeder could also be a great focal point, or even a garden bench.  You need somewhere to sit and enjoy the beautiful garden you are going to create!
So you now have your foundation plants and focal points, it is time to add some seasonal interest. Add some herbaceous perennial plants. These are plants that disappear in winter and pop back up in spring. They provide color and texture interest during the spring, summer, and fall.
Some great ones to use are:



Bleeding Heart


Hosta:  So many to choose from.  Large leaves with lots of color variations.  These are a stunning addition to a shade garden.
Heuchera:  Also called Coral Bells.  These also come in lots of different shades including burgundy, orange, pink, and chartreuse.  A definite must have in a shade garden.
Bleeding Heart: The flowers on this perennial are breathtaking and the foliage is very fern-like.
Astilbe:  This perennial provides upright flower spikes for a splash of color.
There are a number of other perennials and groundcovers including Solomon’s Seal, Jacob’s Ladder, Ajuga, Pachysandra, and Vinca.

If a little more texture and color is needed then look to the grassy perennials such as Liriope, Mondo, Acorus Grass, and Japanese Forest Grass.

Acorus Grass


Dwarf Mondo

Jap Forest Grass

The icing on the cake is to add a pop of color with some pretty annuals.  There are a few annuals that do great in the shade and they are extremely showy, so don’t forget to add some of these as well.

Caladiums – Lots of color variety

Dragon Wing Begonia

Torenia – Wishbone

New Guinea Impatiens

Caladiums come in lots of different colors, and even though they are not a flower, they are still extremely showy and add beautiful texture to your shade garden.  Dragon Wing Begonias are also amazing.  They are covered in big droopy flowers that can be pink or red.  The flowers last all summer long.  Torenia is a sweet little annual and great for the front of the border for a pop of color.  Lots of color variations here also.  New Guinea Impatiens offer a rainbow of color choices, all of which are very bright and intense.  So you don’t have to go without color in your shade garden.

If you are still not sure about design or plant choices, come and see us, we would be happy to help you on your way to create the shade garden of your dreams.  We offer many design options to help you along the way such as our FREE Quick Sketch service and our full landscape design service.

Happy Gardening!

Tracy Davis