Flowers and Shrubs for a Shade Garden


Our backyard is adorned with a few beautiful large trees. Because this creates a great deal of shade, grass does not grow well. So I have removed the grass and replaced it with a walkway and river stones. We still have a lot of room for flowers and shrubs near the trees. What types of flowers and shrubs can continue to grow in the shade? The ground is probably acidic due to the huge pine tree in the yard. Many thanks.


You are undertaking an exciting challenge.  The making of a shade garden starts with a great deal of thinking.  Probably you understand the sun’s passage over your yard and can identify areas were there is more or less sun, and if it is morning noon or evening sun.  Mapping out these areas on paper  will help you select the appropriate shade plants.  Most shade plants do best with at least a few hours of dappled sun.  The next item to consider is your trees and their roots.  It is best not to plant heavily under the canopy of trees for various reasons including  damaging the tree’s root system, lack of moisture for plants and in some cases chronically poor dry, soil as the tree removes nutrients and water from the area.  So lightly mulch a substantial area around the tree and avoid planting there.   The third item is soil, the foundation of your garden.  Demanding the best possible soil (blends of native garden soil, compost and manure) will help ensure your investment in plants pays off.

To begin assembling you plant list, you might start with plants that you enjoy in your neighbourhood. And give consideration to hiring a professional to help advise you with the design of your beds and selection of plant material.  Again your neighbours or your closest garden nursery might recommend someone who is familiar with your area.  Here  is a link to Landscape Ontario’s website that has such information.

Some simple design rules include thinking of the focus points (eg the end of those new pathways) and views from inside the house.  Put your favourite flowering plants in these places.  Unless it is a specimen plant, plant in groups of 3 or 5 or 7 to make an impact.  Repeat these clusters of plants throughout the garden.  Limiting the number of different plants lessens maintenance tasks and gives a sense of calm to a shade garden. And most importantly read up about each of the plants you chose.  Believe the labels- hopefully they will grow to the size listed on the tags- so give them the room to do so.

Here are a few of my favourite shade shrubs- Oakleaf hydrangea, Fothergilla (both natives), Vibernum lantana (Wayfaring tree), various hydrangeas (H. paniculata), variegated Euonymous, Hicks, Hills and Japanese yews (evergreen), various Weigelas including dwarf varieties like My Monet Purple Effect, Dogwoods and Deutzia (most of these plants benefit from some sun even if dappled).  If your soil is acid azaleas and rhododendrons may do well with some sun and reliable moisture (again soil composition and moisture are very important).

And some perennials- variegated and lime green hostas, ferns (consider they may spread vigorously),   sedges especial the lime green varieties, and Japanese forest grass.  Flowering perennials that flower in part shade include: foxgloves,  perennial geraniums (cranesbills) false indigo (Baptisia australis),  Virginia bluebells (Mertensia Virginia).

And don’t forget that an eye-catching statue or pot can fill a dark space where it has been impossible to grow anything.

Here are some links to other suggestions of plants for shade gardens:

shade plants

links to other lists for shade plants