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9 Beautiful Shady Yards Overflow With Lush Plantings (17 photos)

Whether it’s a woodland garden in dappled light or a north-facing walkway along the side of the house dotted with ferns, shaded landscape areas present opportunities for creating beautiful garden vignettes. Unlike in full-sun gardens, flowers often take a back seat in the design of shaded planting beds, allowing a palette of varying greens — bright chartreuse, silvery green and deep emerald — to take center stage.

The key to creating interest with the greens is to include contrasting foliage types and to add occasional bright accents, like plants with white blooms or green-gold leaves, to help lighten shadowy areas. The following nine gardens, in conditions ranging from partial to full shade, show how this planting strategy works to create dynamic shade gardens.

Lakeside woodland gardenjonathan craggs garden design
1. Lush Canyon on Vancouver Island

With boulders blanketed in emerald green moss, and a cascade of bronze, purple-green and lime-colored foliage surrounding a stone pathway, this superlush partially shaded canyon set beside Shawnigan Lake on Vancouver Island, off the Canadian coast, is what shade garden dreams are made of.

Designed by Jonathan Craggs, the garden features a cornucopia of contrasting foliage, with plants including red Japanese maple, bronze coastal doghobble, medium-green ferns and low-growing purple bugle weed; splashes of chartreuse come from Japanese forest grass and ‘Lime Rickey’ coralbells.

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Lakeside woodland gardenjonathan craggs garden design
Plants include:
  • Bugle weed (Ajuga reptans, USDA zones 4 to 9; find your zone)
  • Coastal doghobble (Leucothoe axillaris, zones 6 to 9)
  • Deer fern (Blechnum spicant, zones 5 to 8)
  • Japanese forest grass (Hakonechloa macra, zones 4 to 9)
  • Japanese maple (Acer palmatum, zones 5 to 8)
  • Japanese skimmia (Skimmia japonica, zones 7 to 9)
  • ‘Lime Rickey’ coralbells (Heuchera ‘Lime Rickey’, zones 4 to 8)
  • Western sword fern (Polystichum munitum, zones 3 to 10)
Water requirement: Moderate; the designer says that all the beds are irrigated as needed with lake water via drip lines.
Light requirement: Partial shade; a few hours of some afternoon sun

Caution: Bugle weed may be invasive in your area. Check with your local nursery or county extension office before planting.

Modern WoodlandBlue Ribbon Lady Landscaping
2. Contemporary Woodland in Dallas

For this front yard design in Dallas, the team at Blue Ribbon Lady Landscaping used a soft, textural plant palette of varying foliage types to create what they call a modern woodland garden. Feathery Japanese maple and maidenhair fern contrast with the large, rounded leaves of ‘Limelight’ hydrangea, with pale green to white blooms from spring through fall. The planting beds surround a mature live oak tree, which, as an evergreen, creates the same light conditions year-round.

Modern WoodlandBlue Ribbon Lady Landscaping
Plants include:
  • ‘Burgundy Glow’ bugle weed (Ajuga reptans ‘Burgundy Glow’, zones 4 to 9)
  • Coral bark Japanese maple (Acer palmatum ‘Sango-kaku’, zones 5 to 8)
  • ‘Crimson Queen’ Japanese maple (Acer palmatum var. dissectum ‘Crimson Queen’, zones 5 to 8)
  • Lenten rose (Hellebore sp., zones 4 to 9)
  • ‘Limelight’ panicle hydrangea (Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’, zones 3 to 8)
  • Maidenhair fern (Adiantum sp.)
Water requirement: Moderate to high
Light requirement: Full shade with filtered morning sunlight

Caution: Bugle weed may be invasive in your area. Check with your local nursery or county extension office before planting.

LotusLand South aka Sycamore  Canyon LandscapeMargie Grace - Grace Design Associates
3. Gravel Garden in Santa Barbara

Margie Grace of Grace Design Associates designed this stunning backyard beneath mature oak trees for clients in Southern California, with a low-water focus in mind. The planting strategy cuts down on irrigation costs and keeps oaks — which need little to no water in California’s dry summers — healthy and thriving. The areas directly beneath the tree’s drip lines (the areas underneath the canopy) are primarily plant-free, with gravel and a few accents of low-water grasses.

LotusLand South aka Sycamore  Canyon LandscapeMargie Grace - Grace Design Associates
In beds closer to the home, Grace used a plant palette of potted bronze Japanese maple, lush but low-water foxtail fern and a few potted bromeliads for drama.

Plants include:

  • ‘Big Ears’ lamb’s ears (Stachys byzantina, zones 4 to 9), at the sunnier edge
  • Bromeliad
  • Foxtail fern (Asparagus densiflorus ‘Myers’, zones 9 to 11)
  • Japanese maple (Acer palmatum, zones 5 to 8)
  • Pittosporum (Pittosporum sp.), at the sunnier edge
Water requirement: Low to moderate
Light requirement: Shade with partial sun

Caution: Lamb’s ears can be an aggressive spreader and can become invasive in some areas. Check with your local nursery or county extension office before planting.

Cape Ann FarmhouseHilarie Holdsworth Design
4. Fern-Filled Woodland on Cape Ann

Sitting beneath the dappled shade of deciduous trees, this Asian-inspired garden house in Massachusetts acts as a calming retreat within the larger woodland garden, by landscape designer Hilarie Holdsworth. Swaths of mainly native fern varieties form a sea of green every spring as fronds unfurl beneath the trees. Hosta, white flowering dogwood and naturalized forget-me-not border the flagstone pathway.

Cape Ann FarmhouseHilarie Holdsworth Design
Plants include:
  • Dogwood (Cornus sp.)
  • Eastern hayscented fern (Dennstaedtia punctilobula, zones 3 to 8)
  • Forget-me-not (Myosotis sp.)
  • Hosta (Hosta sp.)
  • Ladyfern (Athyrium filix-femina, zones 4 to 8)
  • Ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris, zones 3 to 8)
Water requirement: Moderate to high
Light requirement: Partial to full shade with high overhead canopy
Merion Station ResidenceAthyrium Design
5. Native Plant Border Near Philadelphia

Landscape designer Lee Armillei of Athyrium Design used a combination of native and ornamental plants to add year-round interest to a front border in Merion Station, Pennsylvania. Against a backdrop of evergreen boxwood, native partial-shade-loving perennials such as heartleaf foamflower, fall-blooming pink turtlehead, white-flowering Virginia sweetspire and dwarf fothergilla create a succession of seasonal blooms.

Merion Station ResidenceAthyrium Design
Lawn covers the ground in the sunny areas; beds close to the sidewalk are planted with catmint.

Plants include:

  • Brandywine lenten rose (Helleborus orientalis, zones 4 to 9)
  • Bunny Blue sedge (Carex laxiculmis ‘Hobb’, zones 5 to 9)
  • Dwarf fothergilla (Fothergilla gardenii, zones 5 to 8)
  • Heartleaf foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia, zones 4 to 9)
  • ‘Little Henry’ Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica ‘Little Henry’, zones 5 to 9)
  • Pink turtlehead (Chelone lyonii ‘Hot Lips’, zones 4 to 9)
  • ‘PJM’ rhododendron (Rhododendron ‘PJM’, zones 4 to 8)
  • ‘Winter Gem’ Korean boxwood (Buxus sinica var. insularis ‘Winter Gem’, zones 5 to 9)
Water requirement: Moderate; the designer reports that the plants here have been receiving no supplemental irrigation since they became established.
Light requirement: A few hours of morning sun; high, bright shade the rest of the day
Birch SkirtFlowers in the Front Yard
6. Dynamic Foliage in Toronto

Beneath the dappled shade of a mature birch tree, landscape designer Candace Carter of Flowers in the Front Yard has created an exuberant shade garden with a rich mix of colors and textures. The bold leaves of variegated hosta contrast with strappy Japanese forest grass and ruffled bronze coralbells. Hydrangea and goat’s beard form a backdrop of frothy blooms and screening for the deck.

Plants include:

  • Coralbells (Heuchera sp.)
  • Goat’s beard (Aruncus dioicus, zones 5 to 7)
  • Hosta (Hosta sp.)
  • Hydrangea (Hydrangea sp.)
  • Japanese forest grass (Hakonechloa macra, zones 4 to 9)
  • Japanese painted fern (Athyrium niponicum var. pictum, zones 3 to 8)
  • Juniper (Juniperus sp.)
  • Lady’s mantle (Alchemilla mollis, zones 3 to 8)
  • Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum biflorum, zones 3 to 9)
  • Sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum, zones 5 to 9)
Water requirement: Moderate to high
Light requirement: Partial shade

Caution: Sweet woodruff and lady’s mantle can be aggressive spreaders and can become invasive in some areas. Check with your local nursery or county extension office before planting.

Shady Madrona Front PatioErin Lau Landscape Design- Seattle
7. Front Yard Patio With Plantings in Seattle

Growing a traditional lawn was out of the question for this front yard in Seattle, deeply shaded by a large sequoia tree. Instead, designer Erin Lau created an attractive front patio that the owners surrounded with built-in Cor-Ten planters filled with a dynamic mix of sedge, coralbells and creeping Jenny trailing over the side.

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M & C King ProjectKoru Landscape Construction
8. Shaded Walkway in Denver

The simple but varied plantings growing on either side of a stone slab staircase in this garden by Koru Landscape Construction add enough interest to the walkway that one might want to pause and slow the journey. Variegated foliage, both of the hosta and of the coralbells, packs the biggest punch, contrasting with rich greens on either side and brightening the shaded area.

Plants include:

  • Hosta (Hosta sp.)
  • Variegated coralbells (Heuchera sp.)
  • Viburnum (Viburnum sp.)
Water requirement: Moderate to high
Light requirement: Partial to full shade
Mckendry Dr.Pritchard Landscape Design
9. Peaceful Patio in Northern California

Landscape designer Ben Pritchard of Pritchard Landscape Design helped transform what was once the site of a patchy lawn into an inviting entry garden for a client in Menlo Park, California. “We installed a privacy fence, low-maintenance gravel garden and low-maintenance plants surrounding the border,” Pritchard says. Mature trees make the area primarily shaded, but it also experiences hours of filtered sunlight, allowing plants such as golden Scotch moss and white striped flax lily to thrive.

McKendry Dr.Pritchard Landscape Design
Plants include:
  • ‘Double Otto’ fuchsia (Fuchsia ‘Double Otto’, zones 8 to 12)
  • Japanese maple (Acer palmatum, zones 5 to 8)
  • ‘Midnight Rose’ coralbells (Heuchera ‘Midnight Rose’, zones 4 to 9)
  • Mondo grass (Ophiopogon japonicus, zones 6 to 11)
  • Oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia, zones 5 to 9)
  • Princess flower (Tibouchina urvilleana, zones 9 to 11)
  • Scotch moss (Sagina subulata ‘Aurea’, zones 4 to 8)
  • Variegated flax lily (Dianella tasmanica ‘Variegata’, zones 9 to 11)
  • Variegated winter Daphne (Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’, zones 7 to 9)
Water requirement: Moderate
Light requirement: Filtered sun to shade, depending on time of day

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