Shade garden ideas – simple design and planting tips for your outdoor space

While a shady garden can present many undesirable challenges, it also provides a wonderful way to protect yourself from the glaring sun, create privacy in the garden, and plant unusual flora and fauna. The design possibilities to be creative with a shady garden are endless.

Imagine a shady place as a multi-sensory experience of sight, sound and smell. Trickling water or swaying grass will feel cool to the touch, while leaves are good at absorbing heat.

Our solutions for creating shade in the garden make an outdoor dining or seating area a pleasant experience on bright summer days. Check out these shade garden ideas for more advice and inspiration.

1. Create shade in the garden with a parasol

When you have limited outdoor space, flexibility is crucial when it comes to creating shade in the garden. “Fixed fixtures like a tree or a pergola can rob an interior of the light, so parasols, sails and retractable awnings are better choices,” says Laure Chaudanson, Helen Green Design.

  • See: Garden decoration ideas – 11 ways to get the most out of your outdoor space

2. Invest in an architectural element

Ideas for shade gardens

Every garden structure should be considered in relation to the house. That is not to say that it has to go together exactly – old meets new is very popular right now – but your choice should be personable. Here the design of the contemporary pergola complements the garden furniture and the flooring.

3. Increase the shade with tree cover

Ideas for shade gardens

In every garden there are places that you automatically drift to, as well as natural areas of shadow and light. Many homes face east-west and south-west, and umbrellas or sails can move with the sun, but you don’t always want to chase the shade. If you have a large room with a patio, you’ll want a speckled cover here for lunch. Trees provide excellent coverage without blocking too much sun and can be pruned back to suit your needs.

  • See: Garden protection ideas – which do not block the light or intervene in space

4. Stay cool with a temporary canopy

Shadow garden

Temporary structures allow for a bit of fun and the opportunity to beautify the garden for a specific event. For example, an “Indian Summer” theme would require bright colors and stripes on parasols and canopies.

If you are looking for a similar design, you’re in luck. Easy to build with tent poles and guy ropes, a candy-striped canopy offers a charming alternative to a garden umbrella.

5. Drape a pergola with foliage

Ideas for shade gardens

A dining area near the house can be covered by a structure attached to an outside wall. The oak pergola in this garden is covered in roses and grapevines that add color all summer and into autumn.

Pergolas and walkway climbing plants may seem like a romantic option, but the truth is that many can quickly get out of hand and damage load-bearing structures. It is therefore important to choose non-growing species.

  • See: Ideas for garden walls – create a border or define a space with a vertical structure

6. Put up a colorful canopy

Ideas for shade gardens

A simple fabric canopy provides shade wherever it is needed, and the choice of a light color and pattern makes it a highlight even in a large garden. Outdoor fabrics have the advantage of being shower, dirt, UV and light resistant, but an improvised shade in a sturdy inner fabric can withstand occasional use.

7. Create a perfect pergola

Ideas for garden umbrellas

In the Mediterranean, they do well shade out of necessity, so check out pictures of gardens there for ideas for all sizes and budgets.

8. Use an adjustable parasol or sail

Ideas for shade gardens

A freestanding parasol is a smart choice that doesn’t compromise the space or the view. Good quality umbrellas are built to last, but in winter they should be stored under cover.

9. Brighten up a shady spot in your garden

Ideas for shade gardens

It’s no surprise that shade gardens can be a little gloomy at best, but that doesn’t mean you have to put up with the darkness. Use blooming shade lovers, colorful containers, and garden lights to brighten the room.

Even the most minimal of garden lights illuminate a shady garden. In the late afternoon, direct the flow of light to highlight plant shapes, seating areas, and patios to make the space more usable.

10. Install a retractable awning

Ideas for shade gardens

A retractable awning brings the much-needed shade into the interior as well as onto an inner courtyard or terrace. Choose from neutral colors for a subtle look, or add a touch of colorful character with a cheerful yellow and white striped design like the one shown here.

What can I do with shady spots in my garden?

Shadow garden

Almost all gardens have a shady spot somewhere. In the north-facing gardens, the area closest to the house is in shade for most of the day. East-facing gardens are sunny in the mornings, while west-facing gardens get more sun in the afternoons and evenings.

A shady garden has one great advantage – privacy. Living walls that act as privacy screens, pergola-covered terraces and tall trees are just some of the design features that transform a shady place into a private garden retreat.

What Grows Well in a Shady Garden?

Shadow garden

Aside from many evergreen plants, the best plants for growing in shady gardens are: Heuchera (Coral bells), Tiarella cordifolia (Foam flower), Lamium maculatum (Dead nettle), Digitailis (Thimble) and Hakonechloa (Japanese grass).

Some shady spots are easier to plant than others – you’ll be dazzled by the choice for speckled shade but frustrated by the limited choice of deep shade. Even so, there are attractive plants that grow in the darkest corner.

When looking for plants, study pot labels. You will find some strains that can only tolerate shade and others that prefer shade and actually thrive in the dark. Because of this, it is important to identify the type of shade you are dealing with. Perhaps you have a flower bed under a tree, a border at the base of a wall, or a north-facing terrace. A deciduous tree casts mottled shade, while the area under an evergreen tree is in deep shade.

Before you plant your shaded corner or border, there are a few things you can do to improve conditions for great results. If it’s a dry area, dig in compost or leaf mold. Water new plants all over the place, then add a layer of mulch to lock in the moisture.

Improve drainage in wet areas by digging in gravel and compost to improve soil structure. If the trees provide shade, thin the canopy to let in more light and cut off some of the lower branches. Before long you will see a plant display that will shine in the shadiest of gardens.