Sample garden design: shade ornamental 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 prefer 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

  • Pulmonaria species, lungwort
  • Trillium species, wakerobin
  • Dicentra species, bleeding heart
  • Heuchera species, coral bells

Summer interest

  • Geranium species, cranesbills
  • Athyrium species, painted fern
  • Hosta species, plantain lilies
  • Astilbe species, false spirea

Fall interest

  • Cimicifuga racemosa, snakeroot
  • Deschampsia species, tufted hair grass
  • Acer palmatum, Japanese maple
  • Sedumn species, autumn stonecrop


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


Shade plants generally require moist, rich soil like that found in a forest. You can create these
conditions by adding 5 centimetres (2 inches) of organic material (e.g. compost, manure, leaf mold) every couple of 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 the roots are well established (one to two seasons). Mulch is especially useful in this type of garden. Adding 5-10 centimetres (2-4 inches) of mulch every two to four years will practically eliminate the need for watering once your plants are established. A rain barrel is an excellent source of water for your plants.

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