Sample garden design: shade native garden

Gardening in the shade can be difficult. Most shade plants don’t grow in dry soils, so the secret to a successful shade garden is to keep adding organic material so that the soil doesn’t dry out.

Some shade plants can be invasive and spread quickly. Take time to thin these patches to prevent them from taking over your garden. Ensure that the plants you select are suited to the amount of shade your garden gets as some will want more sun than others. Full–shade plants will want less than three hours of sunlight, and preferably not intense afternoon sun, while part–shade plants can tolerate three to six hours of indirect sun.

Plants used in this design

Spring interest

  • Cornus canadensis, bunchberry
  • Asarum canadense, wild ginger
  • Maianthemum racemosum, false Solomon’s seal
  • Tiarella species, foam flower

Summer interest

  • Anemone canadensis species,
    Canada anemone
  • Campanula rotundifolia, harebell
  • Helianthus divaricatus, woodland sunflower
  • Cimicifuga racemosa, snakeroot

Fall interest

  • Aruncus dioicus, dwarf goat’s beard
  • Adiantum pedatum, northern maidenhair fern
  • Solidago flexicaulis, zig zag goldenrod
  • Cornus alternifolia, pagoda dogwood


Receives less than three hours of direct sunlight each day, with filtered sunlight during the rest of the day.


The ideal plants for a native shade garden are ones that thrive naturally in forested areas. Create soil that mimics the conditions of a forest floor (rich, moist soil): add at least 5 cm (2 in) of organic material (e.g. manure, compost, leaf mold) every few years. Throwing leaves on the garden in the fall is a great way to build up a forest floor effect.


New plants may need extra watering until roots are well established (one to two seasons). Mulch is especially useful in this type of garden. Adding 5-10 centimetre (2-4 inches) of mulch every two to four years will practically eliminate the need for watering once your plants are established.

2 MBPrinter-friendly: Shade Native Garden plan