Gardening in a mostly shady plot


Hello, I am interested in designing a garden for our front and back yard. I really love the work of Piet Oudolf, but we don’t have full sun in the front yard. Partial sun. pretty shady in the backyard. ( i put in a picture of the front yard at noonish. backyard is under construction right now but totally in shade)
any suggestions for the types of plants to give that New Perennial look but in a shady area?



Thanks for your question and for the photo of your front garden with its dappled partial shade.

Piet Oudolf’s amazing gardens have been an inspiration to many of us.  As one of the leading proponents of the ‘New Perennial’ movement, his beautiful swathes and drifts of perennials and ornamental grasses embrace the philosophy of naturalistic planting: his plants are chosen for their form, shape and structure as well as for their colour and texture.  A visit to New York wouldn’t be complete without a walk on the High Line, one of his urban triumphs!

You will have a fun project ahead of you in translating the Oudolf vision to the smaller urban garden.  Here is an interesting article which may provide a jumping-off point: .

Ornamental grasses are a good place to start because of their strong presence:  they are a wonderful component of a perennial garden, especially because they provide architectural interest during the winter season.  Most ornamental grasses prefer full sun, but there are many varieties of the Carex family (not technically a grass, these are actually sedges) that thrive in a shade or partial shade garden.  Some of the lovely Japanese Hakone grasses will also grow well in partial shade.   Spring planting is usually recommended to allow root systems to establish, but container grown grasses may be successful if planted in the early fall.

For ideas, you may enjoy reading through the Toronto Master Gardeners guide to perennials for shade, which provides a list of perennials for both dry and moist shade gardens.  It also mentions another lovely grass: Hystrix patula, known as bottlebrush grass because of its shapely seedheads.

One of the good things about living in a climate where the garden sleeps during the winter is that you have a long period in which to look at the bare structure of your garden and envision what you would like to see, do some research, pore over catalogues and books and imagine the transformation of your shady space.

Good luck with your garden design, front and back!