North-facing gardens may not be as high on the wish list to that of South-facing gardens, where there’s the advantage of more sunshine, but every garden is a valuable haven for any home. The key is in knowing how to make the most of the shaded space. With our expert tips owning a home with a north-facing garden no longer means having to compromise a beautifully lush outdoor space.
In fact a variety of plants have been introduced to the UK gardening scene in recent years which don’t require lots sunlight, making them better suited to north-facing garden ideas. Meaning there’s still plenty that can be grown and thrive in north-facing gardens, with some careful prep and planning.
North-facing garden ideas for a flourishing outdoor space
‘Often clients come to me with a north-facing garden and think of it as a problem area – but really, there is a wealth of planting potential’ explains professional gardener Rachel Morgan, who shares her work @Terra_Legra_on Instagram.
‘Shade planting can be joyous – lush greenery, pops of colour when you least expect it, and some of my favourite plants thrive in these kinds of spaces. With the right intel on which plants can thrive, a north facing garden can be just as pleasing as any other aspect.’
Read on to find out how best to achieve a thriving plot, even when your garden is mostly in the shade.
1. Embrace lush greenery
‘Embracing lush greenery can be incredibly impactful in north-facing gardens’ explains gardener Rachel. ‘Green gardens do not have to be dull or boring, as you can have incredible variation in green shades. One of the great benefits of having a lush, mostly-green garden is that invariably many of these will be evergreen, so you will have constant interest all year round.’
‘Pops of colour can be added seasonally, or in certain sections of the garden for extra impact. For example, a fully shaded border can be filled with ferns, but add hellebores for a jolt of colour in spring, and welsh poppies for the same in summer.’
2. Consider the impact of ground cover
‘Ground cover can really work wonders in a north-facing garden where light is lacking’ says Rachel. ‘Filling a space can be done in a pleasing, organic way with ground cover, which creeps and expands to the space.’
‘Vinca minor is a brilliant plant for this’ advises Rachel. ‘You can also use dogstooth violets, cyclamen, bergenia, cardamine, and euphorbias for the same effect.’
3. Know your shade
It’s important to understand the type of shade that envelops your garden, in order to identify how best to deal with it.
‘For some there may only be light shade which is open to the sky but with no direct sunlight, whilst others may have deep shade due to a dense tree cover. Taking the time to do this will make the process of choosing suitable plants that little bit easier. Some plants like the Hosta family thrive under light shade, whilst the ‘soft shield’ fern can blossom in dry shade with little to no sun’ advises Chris.
4. Plant on repeat
Where your options are limited it’s always advisable to play to strengths, and that for north-facing garden ideas is planting on repeat! ‘Repeat planting is incredibly helpful in north facing gardens where the planting options are more limited’ explains Rachel. ‘Repeating plants not only increases your options for what to choose, but it leads the eye throughout the garden space and adds to a sense of cohesion.’
5. Make the most of natural light
Any obstructions to sunlight must be removed, including any trees or structures in order to maximise light levels. ‘Remove a layer of leaves from a particular dense canopy to do this, or look at lowering imposing hedges that may obstruct light’ suggests Chris.
6. Create more light
If your garden is lacking light try creating your own with a few savvy tricks of the trade. There are clever ways to create ‘fake’ light in the garden. A popular method includes installing a garden pond idea, with the water reflecting much needed light back into the surrounding space. For a cheaper option consider adding mirrors to an outbuilding or decorating pieces which will utilise the little light.
7. Generously plant bulbs
‘Many bulbs thrive in shadier spaces, so come autumn you can really fill a border with hyacinths, snowdrops, crocuses, fritillaria, tulips, muscari and scilla’ advises expert gardener Rachel. ‘These will need to be planted in the autumn ready for a bold, brash riot of colour come the spring.’
8. Choose plants that thrive in shade
It’s important to understand that different plants have different needs. Some require large amounts of sun and thrive in dry conditions. Others only prosper in shady and damp areas, perfect for planting in north facing gardens.
Try planting flowers which do well in limited light conditions often reserved for winter like Snowdrops or Cyclamen Coum which are revered for their hardy properties. ‘By simply taking the time to learn about the plants which prosper in an environment with little sunshine, achieving a flourishing garden is surprisingly easy,’ explains Chris Bonnett from Gardening Express.
9. Improve the soil
Help plants thrive by getting the most suitable soil to suit their needs. Marcus advises, ‘Improve the soil quality to aid plant growth. Add manure and some grit if the soil doesn’t drain well.’
10. Consider extra lawn-care
Majority of full-turf grasses will require a large amount of sunlight and without they can end up deteriorating and becoming prone to disease. Therefore, extra care is required to avoid the lawn becoming sparse due to the lack of sunlight.
‘Ensure the grass is fed and not cut too often or look at putting down a shade friendly species of grass. Such as those from the Fescue family, all of which are incredibly adaptable to varying amounts of shade.’
11. Grow your own herbs
Dobbies Garden Centres Horticultural Director, Marcus Eyles recommends the conditions for growing herbs. ‘Create a herb garden’ he suggests, ‘Although Mediterranean herbs love full sun, there are a number of herbs that will thrive in partial shade, such as chives, coriander, parsley and rocket, keeping you supplied with homegrown pickings.’
12. Enliven the space with sunshine yellow
Welcome a splash of bright yellow to your north-facing garden to substitute the sunshine. Painting a wall or fence is a quick option which offers maximum impact for a backdrop to lush greenery. Alternatively, you could incorporate this sunny shade with furniture and accessories.
Outdoor Living Buyer at Dobbies, Lynsey Abbott explains, ‘The bright uplifting tone of yellow works perfectly outdoors. A naturally good fit for the garden, it is rooted in the colour of nature – reminiscent of warm spring days, golden daffodils, and cheery sunflowers. Versatile and timeless, it can easily be incorporated into every outdoor space. Whatever the weather, this shade will help to bathe your garden in sunshine!’ ideal for shady gardens lacking the real thing!
13. Choose soft neutral for hard landscaping
Darker gardens need all the help they can get to feel brighter, keep that in mind when choosing hard landscaping. Choosing lighter stoneware or gravel for a patio or terrace will help to prevent the space from feeling flat and even darker. Keep all the colour choices bright to enhance the light quality.
14. Go faux for a perfect lawn
In a garden that is more lacking in direct sunlight, artificial grass may be the better option. This very modern way of turfing a garden requires no element of sunshine to maintain a Wimbledon-esque look all year round.
A popular alternative to real grass, fake grass will ensure your lawn looks Wimbledon-worthy whatever position it is to the sun. With artificial grass find out all you need to know about costs and how to lay a faux lawn.
15. Create a shaded area for kids to play
A shaded garden is not all bad, it offers the added benefit of extra shelter and shade for children and pets to play in during long hot summers. Embrace the shady spot to pop in a sandpit and dedicated play area for the kids.
16. Gather around a fire for warmth
A primarily shaded garden needs all the help it can get when it comes to welcoming heat, because it can’t reply on the sun for warmth. A fire pit is always a welcome garden addition, but even more so in a shaded north facing garden.
‘Extend the amount of time enjoying the garden with the addition of a firepit or chimenea’ suggests Marcus. ‘Adding some warmth to milder afternoons and evenings, it will create a cosy and inviting spot.’
17. Embrace the shade for perfect cooking conditions
North facing gardens are ideal for an outdoor kitchen with respects to cooking conditions. They may not be the best place to bask in sun rays over a sociable BBQ, but we say embrace the silver livings.
Hege Lundh, Marketing Director at Lundhs, explains why shaded gardens, or areas that feature garden shade ideas like pergolas, are the perfect spot: ‘The outdoor kitchen should not be fully exposed to sunlight, and if possible find the least windy area.’
A secluded spot within the garden, preferably closer to the house should cater well for most garden layouts.
18. Consider clever garden lighting
Help to illuminate the darker garden space with thoughtful lighting. ‘In a North-facing garden, clever garden lighting ideas are a-must,’ advises Marcus. ‘From solar stakes to line a pathway to lanterns and candles’. After dark is when this garden shines just as bright as that of a sunny south-facing garden.
19. Make the furniture moveable
Make the most of any sun that the garden does get by having the freedom to easily move the furniture throughout the day – chasing the sun! A simple, lightweight set will enable you to move around the plot with ease to seek a slither of sunshine.
What plants are best for north facing gardens?
‘Right plant, right place – make sure you select plants that are suitable, or they won’t give you the results you are looking for ‘ explains Marcus Eyles, Horticultural Director, Dobbies Garden Centres. ‘Just because it may get less sun, doesn’t mean your garden has to any less exciting or lack colour and interest. As you would with any room in your home, planning is key to help your garden reach its full potential.’
He recommend the following plants for shadier gardens:
- Hardy ferns – ‘Beautiful calm green foliage. Perfect for shady gardens, lush leafy ferns paired with Camellias will create an oriental garden feel for your very own space of calm and zen on the doorstep Thriving in rich moist soil with good drainage, choose Painted Ferns for a more colourful variety, these have a grey tinge that looks painted with flashes of silver and purple. Growing horizontally rather than upright, these hardy plants will carpet the ground with a layer of texture and colour.’
- Pyracantha – ‘Evergreen, white summer flowers and autumn berries.’
- Viburnum tinus – ‘Evergreen, white winter flowers.’
- Clematis alpina – ‘Nodding bell-shaped spring flowers normally in blue.’
- Forget-me-nots – ‘Showering gardens with colour in springtime, the classic blue forget-me-not can tolerate both full sun and part shade and grows best in damp shady areas, often found growing near brooks and streams underneath woodland. Working well as a filler plant, they will thrive in any type of soil as long as it’s moist but well drained .’
- Camellias – ‘Bringing colour to shady areas, these striking evergreen plants work well in containers or as large impressive garden plants. These generally bloom better in partial shade and are best planted in autumn once soil has been warmed during the summer months but before the harsh chill of winter.’
How do you brighten a north facing garden?
You can brighten a north-facing garden with the age old styling trick of placing mirrors. Despite the lack of direct sunlight there will still be an element of light available to bounce around the space to help brighten a north-facing garden. Another idea is to get creative with Garden paint ideas to give your outdoor space a splash of brighten colour.
Thoughtful planting can also help to brighten a darker garden. As suggested above the evergreen Viburnum tinus offers a wash of white winter flowers to add a bright white canvas. Or try Forget-me-nots to shower a north-facing garden colour in springtime.