The Secret to Successful Shade Loving Gardens

Shade gardens offer a place of refuge during those hot summer days. These spaces naturally attract plants in cooler tones (think blue, purple, and green) creating a space that is designed for relaxation. The secret to success is choosing the perennials, evergreens, and annuals that thrive in these lower-light spaces.


First a bit of clarity, shade is not darkness. All plants need sunlight to grow, however, the level that they need will vary depending on the variety.

Shade is defined as any area in your garden that gets less than 4 hours of direct sunlight a day. Plants that prefer this lower level of light, often tend to like either morning or late afternoon sunlight as it tends to be a bit cooler.


Unlike animals, plants are stationary which means that over thousands of years they’ve developed strategies to ensure that they are healthy.   However, to tap into these strengths, you need to plant them in an environment that mimics their natural one.   When you put these plants in the area, they will thrive.  

On the flip side, if you plant a sun-loving plant in the shade or a shade-loving plant in the sun, it may struggle making it more prone to parasites and disease. Placing plants in their preferred light conditions sets them up for success. 

One of the easiest ways to know the preferred light level of the plant is to check an online plant guide or with your local garden centre.  As a general rule, if the plant has bright yellow, orange, or red in its leaves or flowers, it is most likely a sun lover.  However, there are always exceptions to the rule, the bright blooms of Astilbe, for example, will burn in the sun. 





Available in a wide range of varieties including shrubs, vines and even trees, the colourful blooms of hydrangea will fill your shade garden with colour and fragrance. These resilient, low maintenance shrubs don’t even mind the cold, in fact, some varieties are rated as a zone 3.


Add texture and a bit of drama to your shade bed with the feathery, lengthy, bloom of Astilbe. Available in a range of colours including bright red and pastel pink, this perennial will fill your garden with its beautiful bloom all summer long.


Known for their dramatic foliage, hostas are a beautiful addition to any perennial shade garden. These plants prefer rich, moist soil, products like Garden Gallery’s Organic Triple Mix, can be added to provide the nutrient-dense soil that these plants love. Although they do bloom, it is the beautiful tones and variegation of their foliage that make them one of the top perennials for Ontario shade gardens. For best results: plant variegated hostas in areas with filtered sunlight as the lighter tones do require a bit more sunlight.


If you’ve wandered any forest, you will notice ferns peeking in almost every corner and for good reason. This delicate looking species of plants love popping up in darker corners, which makes them a natural addition to any shade garden. These easy to grow plants prefer rich, moist soil similar to what you find on the ground of your local forest. When choosing your fern, double check the zone. Zone 4 or lower are ideal if you’re looking for a fern that will return year after year.


Heuchera are a fantastic way to add colour to the shade garden. They have a compact, rounded growth habit, similar to a Hosta. Their foliage comes in rich shades of purple, orange, red, green, and yellow. They do flower, however are revered for their standout colour in the garden.

May 27, 2021 — John Vanderwees