My Cottage Style Shade Garden: Tips and Lessons Learned

One of the questions I get asked the most is: “I wish I could have a garden like yours, but all I have is shade.” Shade gardening cottage style is a wonderful way to create a charming and inviting outdoor space. With the right plants and cottage design elements, you can transform a shady corner of your garden into a retreat that feels like something out of a storybook.

When it comes to shade gardening, I have to be honest—I am still learning. This is my third year working on this outdoor space. One thing I have learned about shade gardening is that it’s important to choose plants that thrive in low light conditions. Is your area full shade, bright light but no direct sun, or part shade with less than four hours of sun? These conditions make a difference in what you can plant. In my shade garden, I chose hostas, ferns, pink astilbe, brunnera, bleeding heart, hellebores, and heuchera. These plants are typically found in shade gardens; they add beauty and texture and require minimal sunlight to thrive. However, I wanted flowers and color, so I chose to add hydrangeas (bloomstruck and endless summer), Japanese anemone dainty swan, biokovo cranesbill geraniums, and foxgloves. I planted them in areas that receive late afternoon filtered sunlight. The amount of sunlight these plants receive is less than what the plant tags required, but I was able to have blooms—just not as many as if they were in a sunny location. The key takeaway for me is that I could still have cottage-style flowers in my shade garden, and that was important to me.

Forefront: Bloomstruck Hydrangea and Gooseneck Loosestrife

When planning my garden, a key element of cottage-style gardening is creating layers of plants to add depth and interest, just like I do in my sun-loving garden. In my shade garden, I planted the taller plants at the back of the garden bed. I planted hydrangeas, andromeda, bleeding heart, holly, foxgloves, ferns, mountain-laurel, and larger hostas.

In the front of the border, I planted shorter hostas, astilbe, painted ferns, brunnera, heuchera, and cranesbill geraniums along with annuals, such as purple and white new guinea impatiens. Remember, cottage style has a relaxed, informal feel, so embrace the natural beauty of your garden. Let the plants overflow and mix different varieties together in a seemingly haphazard way for a beautiful, layered look.

  • Image 1: Japanese Painted Fern and Primo Wild Rose
  • Image 2: Pink Astilbe
  • Image 3: Lamium, Purple New Guinea Impatiens, Shadowland Whee Hosta

To give your shade garden a cottage garden feel, consider incorporating whimsical elements such as vintage garden ornaments. I have added sundials in two locations, a vintage birdbath, an antique sewing table, and a wooden bench. I have found these over the years on my antiquing adventures. Here are a few options that you could order online that would make a great addition to your garden:

Left to Right: Sundial, Bird Bath, Antique Sewing Table, Sundial

Don’t forget to add a variety of containers filled with shade-loving annuals and perennials to add pops of color to the garden. You can find more shade garden containers here. All of these add a touch of vintage charm and focal points to your outdoor space.

My cottage shade garden is a work in progress. I am learning what works and what does not. But what I have learned is that I am making this shade garden my own by incorporating whimsical design elements and shade-loving plants in color combinations I love. So go out and transform a shady corner of your yard or garden into a beautiful, cozy garden retreat. Happy gardening!

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2 Comments

  1. Wonderful tips- I never thought to grow bleeding hearts in my shade garden. The gooseneck loosestrife does very well for me, as do ferns, tiarella, fallopia & ligularia. I have a huge deer & groundhog issue but they stay away from these plants. Your garden is so beautiful and your posts very helpful for me as I also garden in Connecticut.

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