Shade garden ideas: 14 gorgeous designs to transform the shadowy spots in your plot

Our shade garden ideas for planting, colour schemes, and landscaping will brighten up even the gloomiest of spaces

shade garden ideas: tulips
(Image credit: Rosemary Coldstream Garden Design)

True, a sunless plot can feel sombre. But our shade garden ideas can help to transform even the dingiest of plots into a spectacular space you'll love. 

So don't let those shady spots deter you from your garden design ideas just yet. With just a few tips and tricks you can breathe new life into that tricky border that barely sees the sun or a patch of patio that feels cold and unwelcoming. 

Think gorgeous planting schemes that will thrive in lesser-lit conditions or pale-hued features that will brighten up any space. And that's just for starters – how about turning a dappled spot of shade into a chic seating spot for a refreshing respite from the summer heat? Or, recreating an enchanting woodland scene beneath the trees?

With the help of expert garden designers, we've brought together all of these garden shade ideas and more, for you to peruse. So, are you ready to embrace the darker side of your plot? If the answer's 'yes', then read on – you'll find all the inspiration you need to give those gloomy corners a wonderful new look.

1. Warm up the edges of your plot with corten steel

shade garden ideas: agapanthus

Garden designed by Bowles & Wyer

(Image credit: Bowles & Wyer)

Urban gardens often get large areas of shade that move throughout the day, due to the built-up surroundings. However, this garden designed by Bowles & Wyer feels modern and welcoming with its borders of architectural Agapanthus. 

Corten steel is totally-on trend right now too, and it's warm tone is a perfect way to counteract dark shade. Head over to our modern edging ideas for more stylish ways to keep your garden borders in order.

2. Create interesting shadows with grasses and blooms

shade garden ideas: tulips on bench

(Image credit: Rosemary Coldstream)

The delicate Luzula nivalis (otherwise known as arctic wood-rush) and Epimediums provide a softness to this scene, creating gently dappled patterns on the bench. Meanwhile, deep, dark tulips add a touch of opulence, drawing the eye with their sumptuous hue. 

Head over to our guide on how to plant tulips if you love them just as much as we do. Most varieties will do just fine in partial shade.

3. Brighten a shaded, narrow space with a Japanese theme

shade garden ideas: Japanese style garden

(Image credit: Rhoda Maw)

Garden designer Rhoda Maw of Rhoda Maw Garden Design transformed what was once a narrow, long, and dark plot into a show-stopping, Japanese-inspired space that feels welcoming.

Rhoda added light pebbles for a meandering, stepping-stone pathway, and a light, wooden trellis on the garage (to the left of the image above), to help break up the brickwork. Once the climbing plants are established, they will soften the look further, she explains.

Other features include a moon gate archway which draws you down the garden. In terms of planting, she used varieties that are shade-tolerant, including many Acers and a Japanese-garden classic: Rhododendrons. Eventually, the bamboos planted at the very bottom of the garden will screen the houses behind, she adds.

Love the look? Head over to our small Japanese garden ideas for more inspiration.

4. Create a tranquil spot for escaping the midday sun

shade garden ideas: seating in courtyard

Garden designed by Bowles & Wyer

(Image credit: Bowles & Wyer)

In the hot height of summer, shade can be a blessing. So if you've got a tiny, shady courtyard, balcony, or patio, then use it as a refreshing spot to cool down. 

Pared-back furniture in neutral tones brightens the look and makes this spot feel contemporary. Dappled in dancing shade from the surrounding trees, it's the perfect chill-out spot for a midsummer's day. 

Looking for a new seating set-up? Our garden furniture ideas will have you inspired in no time.

5. Draw the eye with modern sculptures

shade garden ideas: white chairs

Mirror shapes and colours across natural and fabricated structures

(Image credit: Sebastian Conrad)

Sebastian Conrad, garden designer, photographer, and blogger of The Horticulturalist, comments on the dialogue between art and nature in this shaded scene. This is achieved through the abundant flowers of Hydrangea arborescence amongst clouds of Lady's mantle (Alchemilla mollis), which continue the fluid shapes of the sculpture, Sebastian adds.

The white hues also help to brighten the vista and add a refreshing contrast against the surrounding lush foliage. If you'd like to recreate a similar look for a shady part of your lawn, head over to our lawn decoration ideas feature. It's full of gorgeous garden ornaments fit for all kinds of plots.

6. Surround a stone statue with foliage for a sumptuous focal point

shade garden ideas: statue in border

Create a timeless feature

(Image credit: Elenathewise/Getty Images)

If the modern look isn't quite your style, then how about this idea instead? Pair a traditional stone statue with masses of shade-loving foliage for a verdant, old-world vibe. 

Hostas and ferns are classic choices, and make this scene feel rich with colour and texture. It will draw the eye and add tons of interest to even the shadiest of borders. We love the natural stone lawn edging too, which adds to the rustic look. Take a look at our lawn edging ideas for more designs.

7. Use a white colour palette for a pretty bistro set-up

shade garden ideas: bistro set

(Image credit: Rosemary Coldstream)

This beautiful scene was part of a Hampton Court show garden, created by garden designer Rosemary Coldstream (of Rosemary Coldstream Garden Design).

By opting for a pale-hued bistro set, the set-up feels bright and inviting. White-edged Hostas and other white-flowering plants nestle prettily beneath the nearby trees. It's a gorgeous look, especially if you're a lover of our cottage garden ideas

And if you're on the lookout for a new seating set-up that's as quaint as this one, head over to our best bistro sets buying guide.

8. Opt for pale paving

shade garden ideas: pathway and lawn

(Image credit: Rosemary Coldstream)

You just need to look at the image above to see how the right paving ideas can make all the difference to a shady plot. Garden designer Rosemary Coldstream explains the use of a light-coloured paving to add light to this space.

She also incorporated lots of texture and leaf colour, using glossy foliage, plenty of ferns, and white flowers. The silver-leaved Astelia chathamica ‘Silver Spear' is a great choice for shaded situations, she adds.

9. Underplant trees for a woodland feel

shade garden ideas: plants beneath tree

(Image credit: Rosemary Coldstream)

Trees are fabulous additions to a garden. But, the space beneath them tends to be immersed in shade for the majority of the day, where not every plant will thrive. 

However, there's a straightforward solution that leads to a really rather beautiful result. As demonstrated above, you can create a woodland feel. This one is planted on chalky soil, and uses plenty of geraniums, ferns and white-flowering Galium odoratum for an enchanting look. Take a look at our best shade loving plants for more ideas.

10. Plant early spring bulbs

shade garden ideas: snowdrops

Early-flowering spring snowflakes bring a touch of magic to the season

(Image credit: Sebastian Conrad)

In keeping with the woodland theme, consider adding pretty bulbs into your shade garden ideas. 'Early-flowering spring snowflakes (Leucojum vernum) capture the character of the shaded woodland areas perfectly,' says garden designer Sebastian Conrad. They naturalise easily too, and attract a variety of pollinators.

Snowdrops, lily of the valley, and some crocuses can also thrive in shadier conditions. And if you're working with a shaded patio rather than a border, you can arrange them in some of our stunning garden planter ideas.

11. Complement white-barked birches with textural planting

shade garden ideas: shaded border

Garden designed by The Plantsmith

(Image credit: Wendy Smith)

Sure, there's plenty of white flowers to choose from, but have you thought about white trees? Garden designer Wendy Smith of the The Plantsmith explains how the pale bark of Betula jacquemontii (Himalayan birch) can be used to lighten a shady border. 

The birches in this garden above (there are more out of shot) are underplanted with the drought and shade tolerant Brunnera 'Jack Frost'. Its white-splashed foliage and light blue flowers offer contrasting texture to the fresh green leaves of Melica uniflora 'Alba' and its delicately-pretty, grain-like flowers, Wendy adds.

12. Transform a shady space for alfresco dining

shade garden ideas: seating area

Garden designed by Raine Garden Design

(Image credit: Ross Philips/Forest Eyes Photography)

Garden designer Raine Clarke-Wills of Raine Garden Design transformed a lacklustre area at the back of a garage into this stunning scene.

The space gets very little sun, apart from in the height of summer, she explains. It needed purpose and interest, as this was the view from inside the client's living area. 

Raine brightened up the spot using light-coloured porcelain stone and  DesignClad walling from London Stone, along with contemporary wall lighting to illuminate the scene after dark. She opted for Hydrangea arborescens 'Annabelle' and Hakonechloa macra (Japanese forest grass) – a fabulous planting combination which will do well in shade. 

It's a lovely spot for alfresco dining, and the chic pergola offers extra shelter when needed. Check out our pergola ideas for more lovely designs.

13. Mix up ferns for a jungle vibe

shade garden ideas: ferns

Ferns bring textural interest

(Image credit: Sebastian Conrad)

For a sumptuous, jungle-like vibe in your plot, add plenty of ferns. Our guide on how to grow ferns will give you a helping hand getting started.

Garden designer and blogger Sebastian Conrad comments on how glossy textures of the Hart's-tounge fern (Asplenium scolopendrium) contrast the calming shapes of natural stone in this scene above. 

'In combination with the renowned holly fern (Cyrtomium fortunei) it creates interest in shaded areas.'

14. Need to add shade instead? Try some table-top trees

shade garden ideas: trees in courtyard

(Image credit: Rosemary Coldstream)

By now, you've hopefully seen that there are plenty of ways to make the most of a garden that struggles with shade. But sometimes, having no shade at all can be an issue in itself.

As shown in this stunning space, one way to provide a cool spot for respite on a baking hot patio is by using tabletop or roof-trained trees. Garden designer Rosemary Coldstream tells us that these are ornamental pears – Pyrus calleryana 'Chanticleer' – and explains how their leaves turn amazing reds and oranges in late autumn.

Alternatively, you could opt for one of the best garden parasols.

How do you design a shade garden?

shade garden ideas: courtyard

Garden designed by Bowles & Wyer

(Image credit: Bowles & Wyer)

John Wyer, CEO of Bowles & Wyer, shares his expert tips when it comes to designing a shade garden:

  1. 'The important thing with shady gardens is to concentrate on form and texture, rather than colour,' John says. 'Keep it simple and go for bold use of foliage, which suits most shady plants.'
  2. 'Using a muted palette also helps – white often works best in gloomy spaces,' he continues.
  3. 'In terms of paving, small unit paving like bricks or cobbles often work best in shady spaces, as they are less slippery underfoot and moss in the joints is often a positive.'
  4. 'Finally, don't forget about lighting – you can use it at dusk to accentuate the form and texture that you have created.' Our garden lighting ideas will have you inspired in no time.

Which perennial flowers grow in shade?

You may be surprised to hear that there is quite a large range of perennial flowers that will grow very happily in shade. Here are some of our favourites from the RHS's suggestions:

  1. Alchemilla mollis will thrive in deep shade. We love its tiny, star-shaped flowers in vivid green-yellow tones.
  2. Astrantia maxima again works in deep shade, with a pretty, pinkish colouring.
  3. Campanula persicifolia (otherwise known as fairy bellflower) is a deep-shade lover and has pretty lilac-blue flowers. Perfect for a woodland theme.
  4. Geranium phaeum 'Lily Lovell' is another option for deep shade, with vivid green foliage and purple flowers.
  5. Rudbeckia fulgida var. deamii works well in dappled shade, bringing cheer with its bright yellow blooms with black centres.
  6. Geum rivale 'Leonard's Variety' has gorgeous, copper-pink flowers and works well in dappled shade.
  7. Astilbe 'Fanal' is another fan of dappled conditions. Its spikes of crimson blooms makes it perfect for adding texture to a border.
  8. Iris 'Flight of Butterflies' has stunning violet-blue blooms. It will grow happily in dappled shade.
Holly Crossley
Acting Deputy Editor

The garden was always a big part of Holly's life growing up, as was the surrounding New Forest where she lived. Her appreciation for the great outdoors has only grown since then. She's been an allotment keeper, a professional gardener, and a botanical illustrator – plants are her passion.