North-facing garden ideas – top tips to make the most of a shaded outdoor space

Don't be left in the dark with these gardening tricks
  • We earn a commission for products purchased through some links in this article.
  • South-facing gardens have the advantage of more sunshine, and therefore tend to be more sought-after. However owning a home with a north-facing garden no longer means having to compromise a beautifully lush outdoor space.

    ‘South-facing gardens sit high on the wish list for many home-hunters, but there’s still plenty that can be grown and thrive in north-facing gardens, with some careful prep and planning’ advises Marcus Eyles, Horticultural Director, Dobbies Garden Centres.

    For more expert advice visit our garden channel for ideas and inspiration for all outdoor spaces

    north facing garden ideas

    Image credit: Lizzie Orme

    A variety of plants have been introduced to the UK gardening scene which don’t require lots sunlight, making them better suited to north-facing gardens.

    ‘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. Read on to find out how best to achieve a thriving plot, even when your garden is mostly in the shade.

    North-facing garden ideas for a flourishing outdoor space

    1. Know your shade

    Hostas planted in garden border

    Image credit: Michelle Garrett

    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.

    2. Make the most of natural light


    Image credit: Tim Young

    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.

    3. Create more light

    Patio with mirror small garden ideas David Still

    Image credit: David Still

    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 pond. The water will reflect much needed light. For a cheaper option consider adding mirrors to an outbuilding or decorating pieces which will utilise the little light.

    Read more: Garden mirror ideas to flood gardens with a little ray of light

    4. Choose plants that thrive in shade

    north facing gardens

    Image credit: Amateur Gardening

    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.’

    5. Improve the soil

    garden hazards

    Image credit: Oliver Gordon

    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.’

    6. Consider lawn-care

    north facing garden ideas

    Image credit: Lizzie Orme

    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.’

    7. Grow your own herbs

    Garden trends

    Image credit: Simon Bevan

    Dobbies’ expert Marcus 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.’

    8. Enliven the space with sunshine yellow

    North facing garden with yellow painted wall and potted plants

    Image credit: Dobbies

    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!

    9. Choose soft neutral for hard landscaping

    Grassless-garden-ideas-gravel with pallet benches

    Image credit: Future PLC

    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.

    10. Go faux for a perfect lawn


    Image credit: Carpetright

    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.

    11. Create a shaded area for kids to play

    kids garden play area

    Image credit: Joanna Henderson

    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.

    12. Gather around a fire for warmth

    Fire pit

    Image credit: Tim Young

    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.’

    13. Embrace the shade for perfect cooking conditions

    Image credit: WWOO outdoor kitchen by Garden House Design

    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.

    14. Consider clever garden lighting

    garden ligthing ideas with uplighters

    Image credit: Brent Darby

    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.

    15. Make the furniture moveable


    Image credit: Robert Sanderson

    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 with ease.

    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.’

    All the latest from Ideal Home