Traditional Shade Garden Ideas

See more pictures of famous gardens.
See more pictures of famous gardens.

Here's a garden idea: Make the best of the shady spots in your garden with a traditional shade garden. Traditional shade gardens thrive in the spots in your yard that you might have thought couldn't support a garden. While sunshine and good drainage are usually two of the most obvious prerequisites for laying out a garden plot, you can still achieve remarkable and breathtaking displays in spaces that lack either or both.

It is possible to get a lovely display of flowers even from a small plot on the north side of a building, an exposure that often gets little if any direct sunlight. Even consistently damp ground need not foil the garden-maker.


The secret lies in choosing plants carefully: Roses and delphiniums may languish in too much shade, but many equally beautiful plants love to hide from the sun. Hostas, ferns, and mosses will thrive in the shade, while flowering plants such as hellebores and rhododendrons are all much happier when out of the direct sunlight. Additionally, lilies and many other plants like to grow with their roots shaded but their tops in sunlight, which allows for a variety of placements.

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Ferns and hostas are some of the best and most reliable choices for traditional shade gardens because they are hardy, lush, and vigorous. The elegant leaves of Hosta Francee and Dryopteris marginalis are here complemented by the all-white flowers of bleeding heart, tiarella, and sanguinaria. The light-colored flowers stand out especially well in the deep shade of this garden.

Light is brought to a dark corner in this English garden through the inspired use of foliage plants. The white-edged leaves of the variegated shrub shine so much against a dark brick wall they almost appears to bear branches laden with blossoms. Several species of ferns unfurl gracefully, and the ground cover is composed of baby's-tears in shades of lemon and lime.

Perennial geraniums are beginning to receive due recognition as amazingly versatile garden performers, and they are a great idea for traditional shade gardens. With a long season of bloom and no strong preference for sun or shade, they can be planted nearly anywhere. The pale blooms of Geranium sylvaticum Album dominate the foreground in this shady nook; background plants include penstemon, iris, and Rodgersia tabularis.

You can include your house in your traditional shade garden ideas. For many homeowners, having the screening and cooling benefit of shade trees on the property as well as the beauty of a blossom-filled flower garden represents the best of both worlds. By selecting plants that thrive in lightly shaded conditions, this gardener has created a harmonious picture in pink and white underneath a mature deciduous tree. Foxgloves, violas, impatiens, and some varieties of roses are among the species represented here.

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Impatiens, roses, and hanging plants create a beautiful display of color when grown against a house. Integrating plants with your home's exterior is a useful and creative idea for making the best of traditional shade garden plants.

Ground cover arrangements work beautifully as borders or to fill shady spots against a house or wall. Explore our next section, where you'll find ideas and photos of ground cover ideas for shade gardens.

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Ground Covers for Shade Garden Ideas

Vivid shades of green don't only belong on a grassy lawn. With these ground cover ideas for shade gardens, even the dark spots in your garden can be lush and beautiful. Use ground covers in conjunction with other shade garden ideas to create a full, healthy garden. The following photos will show you several ideas for shade garden ground covers.

A shady border is a great location idea for ground cover plants. These naturalized plants, whose white and lilac-colored blooms seem to dance above the abundant foliage, form a ground cover that completely carpets a shady border. Columbine, tiarella, and Anemone nemorosa bear flowers of snowy hue, while Phlox x stolonifera Pink Ridge adds a touch of color. Attractive, dark-veined, purple leaves behind the phlox belong to Heuchera x montrose Ruby.


In this unique shade garden idea, ground cover plants and decorative boulders line a garden path. Ferns, wildflowers, boulders, and zebra grass are used. The variations in size, color, height, and shape add interest to a spot that could have easily been dull.

A shaded rock garden is a great idea for the adventurous gardener. In this peaceful setting, the lesser-known relative of a more familiar garden plant contributes to a gently eye-pleasing picture. Gaultheria shallon, a cousin of the well-loved creeping wintergreen Gaultheria procumbens, is set among Polystichum munitum, sword ferns, and bergenias. A scattering of pine needles emphasizes the woodland setting.

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A simple path becomes a spectacular sight when it is lined by the colorful blossoms of ground cover plants. The plants outline the curvy shape of the path, and delight with their vivid color. Using ground cover plants in this way is a good idea for paths through your garden or walkways leading to your doors. Gardeners can even use ground cover plants to line a driveway with color.

The pleasingly pleated leaves and flowers of pure white Trillium grandiflorum rise out from the ground cover of pachysandra to bloom in early May. Trillium also goes by the common name of wake-robin. Many trilliums are still collected from the wild and then sold, so only purchase them if you can verify that they have been propagated by a nursery.

Lisa Gesner

Phlox explodes with color in this ground cover idea. Phlox is an easy-to-grow multicolor perennial flower that grows in clumps with strong stems that bear simple lance-shaped leaves. In this ground cover idea, a solid color makes a strong statement when surrounded by earth tones.

Bog gardens combine water, shade, and water-loving plants to create stunning results. Learn more about bog cover for shade garden ideas, and enjoy wonderful photographs, in the next section.

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Bog Covers for Shade Garden Ideas

The term bog refers to a wetland area. As a garden idea, bog covers for shade gardens create special, unique environments in your backyard. Bog covers include plants that love and thrive in water and shade, creating a tranquil, beautiful garden space. The following photos will inspire bog cover ideas for your shade garden.

Candelabra primroses are excellent bog cover plant ideas for colorful springtime streamside shadow gardens, as shown in the foreground. They mingle most agreeably with other plants that love both dampness and shade, such as hostas, irises, and rodgersia. Azaleas (backed by a wall of rhododendron flowers) burn with their own bright flame in the background, in tones matching those sported by the primroses.


Unusually colored cultivars of familiar shade plants create a notably fresh and interesting look. Lobelia fulgens boasts leaves in deep plum tones to set off its scarlet flowers (which hummingbirds love), while the green-and-white striped leaves of Iris laevigata Variegata are as neat and natty as a new straw boater. The lettuce-like leaves in the foreground belong to primulas that have just gone out of bloom.

Soft and green, moss gardens bring to mind a peaceful forest floor. Explore our final section to learn about moss gardens, and view some spectacular photos.

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Moss Garden Ideas

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As garden plants, mosses are a good idea. These small, soft plants that stay close to the ground and usually grow in clumps or mats. They add touches of softness to the garden. Look to the following photos for ideas for your own moss garden.

Bring the garden closer to home with this moss garden idea. Here, moss, hosta, and vine plants crawl up the walls and porch of a home, cover it with lush greenery. Hostas are flexible perennials that can thrive in full shade, partial shade or full sun. The result is an unexpected and lovely way to incorporate plants into a garden design.


This innovative Japanese garden is a marvel of abstract gardening artistry, and a unique moss garden idea. A great expanse of carefully cultivated moss is broken at irregular intervals by paving squares to create a not-quite-checkerboard pattern. Azaleas clipped in the shape of domes edge the expanse and are just beginning to show flushes of bloom. The scene as a whole has an unexpectedly entrapping yet soothing effect on the eye.

If any areas of your home or garden are denied full exposure to sunlight, don't lose hope. There are many traditional shade garden ideas that can make these areas as lovely as the sunniest of gardens. Continue to the next page to learn about the various plants commonly used in creating a traditional shade garden.

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Plants for a Traditional Shade Garden

The bleeding heart blossoms make perfect accompaniment to tulips and forget-me-nots.
The bleeding heart blossoms make perfect accompaniment to tulips and forget-me-nots.

Not every garden requires a full day of direct sunlight to grow. To the contrary, many beautiful flowers prefer shade to sunlight, allowing for a lovely garden even in unlikely places.

Certainly, plant selection is much more limited for a shady growing space, but the following plant profiles will help you determine which flowers are ideal for those less sunny locales.


Bleeding Heart

The distinctive pink-and-white heart-shaped flowers of the bleeding heart bloom late in spring, and disappear by midsummer.

Brunnera, Siberian Bugloss

Dark blue flowers appear in small sprays on this shady, ground-cover plant.

Epimedium, Bishop's Hat, Barrenwort

Growing low to the ground, bishop's hat produces lovely white or rose spurred flowers.

Impatiens, Busy Lizzie, Patience

Preferring shade and moisture, impatiens will grow nearly anywhere, making it perfect for window boxes, pots, edging, or as a border.


Star-shaped flowers grow in greenish white clumps, both in the sun and in the shade.

Pulmonaria, Lungwort

A colorful plant, the trumpet-shaped flowers bloom pink in spring, and gradually change to blue through the summer, accompanied by silver-splashed leaves.

Variegated Broad-Leaved Sedge

With its small size and striking appearance, the variegated broad-leaved sedge makes a perfect accent. Its cream-striped leaves stand out in the sun or the shade.

Western Sword Fern

Though the western sword fern can take some sunlight, the leathery, lance-shaped fronds prefer a moist, shady place to grow.

Wood Anemone

Appearing in carpets of blue or white star-shaped blooms, the wood anemone looks beautiful in shady environments.

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