For more advice, tips, and garden shade inspiration, check out our north-facing garden ideas below.

Observe your garden and figure out how to use a north-facing garden. Making the most of a north-facing garden is the key. Plan your design and choose your plants based on where and when the sun hits the garden. 

To track how the sun moves around, draw a sun diagram. There will always be areas without any light and areas of sunlight in north-facing gardens that are ideally suited for sunny seating areas and sun-loving plants. For those areas with less sunlight, plant some shade plants or shrubs that can cope well with the shadier conditions.

From May to October, a north-facing garden will enjoy evening sunshine, so they often benefit from having two separate seating areas, one for morning sun and one for evening sun. In order to make the most of your garden, it’s a good idea to zone it.

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1. Flowers White Add A Luminous Touch

A north-facing garden by Bowles & Wyer (opens in new tab) is really lifted by white planting. Agapanthus umbellatus ‘Albus’ and climber star jasmine add luminosity to the planting. Vande Moortel (opens in new tab) provided the brick paving.

The showy white globes of agapanthus make a great addition to a north-facing garden as a flower bed idea. These starry petals rise high on spiky stems to float above other flowers and add a strong vertical accent to your garden. In a north-facing garden that tends to be predominantly green, these pretty spheres create an eye-catching feature whether planted in a drift or randomly.

 

According to John Wyer, CEO and lead designer at Bowles & Wyer(opens in new tab), there are a number of ways to create an inviting outdoor space in a north-facing garden. Choose species that will add form and texture rather than color when planting. Bold foliage will suit most shady plants. In shady areas, white-flowered plants look great against dark foliage.

 

Paving with bricks or cobbles is often a good choice, as they’re less slippery underfoot and most often appear in the joints. By installing a backyard lighting scheme, John suggests that you can enhance the form and texture of your garden after dusk.

 

2. Shift The Layout To Suit The Sun

This north-facing garden design by Charlotte Rowe uses clever zoning to maximize light and space

With a north-facing garden, dropping the seating area near the house is often a good idea since the far end usually receives the most sunlight.

 Garden designer Charlotte Rowe (opens in new tab) explains that a garden needs to work with its orientation. The location of the areas that catch the most sunlight is especially important when the garden faces north. 

 

 The idea of having a large terrace close to the house was abandoned in favor of this garden. In its place, the garden was turned around. A seating area was created in the middle of the garden surrounded by plants to capture most of the midday and afternoon sun. To maximize the evening sun, we placed the dining terrace at the end of the garden. 

 By making the main destination the furthest from the house, flipping expectations like this encourages a journey through the garden. A slow reveal can make north-facing gardens stand out when it comes to adding an element of surprise.

 

3. Rich Greens Need Shade-Loving Plants

The north-facing garden design by Tom Massey layers plants with varying shades of green, leaf texture, height, and form. 

The combination of green plantings adds long-lasting interest and is very restful. When filled with lush foliage, a dark corner becomes a calm and welcoming space.

For shady spaces, lush green ferns, Japanese forest grass (Hakonechloa macra), and tree ferns (Dicksonia antarctica) are ideal, says garden designer Tom Massey. Generally, green foliage and white flower tones brighten shady areas, too.  

 

From the Crittall doors of a Petersen(opens in new tab) brick-clad extension, Tom’s compact north-facing garden opens onto a polished concrete terrace and pathway through lush planting. Using large tree ferns, bespoke Corten steel planters are filled with grasses and ferns, creating an exotic and verdant atmosphere. 

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4. Improve Your Neighbor's Landscape

With this garden by Farlam & Chandler, planting fills every crack and crevice between paving and around the seating areas, making the garden feel like a green sanctuary in the city all year round.

 Your own design can be influenced by trees and plants in a neighboring yard. If you live in a built-up area, borrowed landscapes can be particularly useful. 

 

Consider your neighbor’s beautiful tree as part of your own space, and even replicate this idea in your own yard if you have the space, as you already know this variety thrives in a north-facing garden.

 

A solid brick bench with a steel backrest anchors this garden in the dappled shade beneath the canopy of a mature Griselina tree that works well with the planting beyond the boundary. A simple, relaxed entertaining area is created as a result.

 

We created a sociable L-shaped bench in this shady courtyard,’ says Harriet Farlam, creative director of Farlam & Chandler(opens in new tab). By creating a destination in the garden, you encourage people to use it more often.

 

A north-facing garden doesn’t mean you can’t layer up plants for a lush appearance. ‘Don’t be put off by a north-facing garden,’ says Harriet. Instead, celebrate the diversity of plants you can use and the escapism they provide from the heat of the sun. North-facing gardens can become calming, zen-like spaces with careful consideration.

5. The Lawn Must Be Got Rid Of

This flower bed design by Catherine Clancy includes white hydrangea paniculata and red heuchera ‘Paris’, which thrive in north-facing gardens; blue geranium ‘Roxanne’ should be planted in the brightest spot on the border. 

Think about reimagining the lawn space for better use if you have a small north-facing garden. You may find that your lawn doesn’t look like the verdant stretch of green you imagined. For a lush green look, increase the size of flower beds and plant masses of flowers. 

Designer Catherine Clancy(opens in new tab) says you will need a variety of plants, including some for shady borders and some for sunny ones. The white flowers of hydrangea paniculata will glow in the shade, while climbers can cover shady walls. Plant shade-loving grasses and shrubs such as Polystichum thus sense (Korean rock fern) to add green texture. 

 

If you decide to have a lawn in a north-facing garden, make sure it is in the sunniest part.

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6. Materials Suitable For Planting

Planting and hard landscaping can be harmoniously combined, as in this design by Farlam & Chandler 

Plants look beautiful against a backdrop of brick or stone walls and patterned paths. Harriet Farlam, creative director of Farlam & Chandler, recommends choosing materials that will weather well over time, such as dark bricks. It is only natural for moss to grow between cracks in paving.’

Hard landscaping is equally important to create an uplifting feel in a north-facing garden. You can set them off beautifully against each other if you strike the right balance. 


A shady space will be dynamic and green all year round with layers of grasses that catch the light, ferns with the textural appeal, and evergreen plants on the backbone,’ says Harriet. In a north-facing garden, ferns are one of the first plants people think of. Plants with evergreen foliage can add winter interest, and perennials come in a variety of shapes and sizes.

7. In A North-Facing Garden, Follow The Light

Observation is the key to great gardening. Plan your planting according to how the light changes throughout the day. The area closest to the house will be overshadowed by the building until the sun is high in the sky, so plant shade-loving plants there. You can use the farthest end for a bench and pots of sun-loving annuals.

8. The Structure Must Be Worked With

Light can be blocked by garden walls, fences, sheds, and tall trees. You might just have to live with some of them, but maybe moving a shed or lowering the fence could help. You can create gorgeous dappled light across borders and beds by replacing fence panels with horizontal slatted screens or trellises, or by thinning out the canopy of trees. 

9. Know Your Dark Side

Take heart if you’re stuck in a dark corner where nothing seems to grow. A variety of plants will thrive in a shady spot when planning shade garden ideas. A zing of lime green can be found in the flowers of Euphorbia amygdaloides var. In spring, Robbie will lift spirits. 

Pink, yellow, and cream epimediums flourish in the shade, too. Shade-loving ferns and hostas will fill out the space.

10. Landscaping Should Be Subtle

Pale paving looks best in a shady garden; avoid glaringly bright porcelain tiles for a natural appearance. The garden is enhanced by a meandering gravel pathway. You can also sprinkle a trail of larger pebbles in a contrasting color among the gravel to create a trail of larger stones along the edges.

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11. Friendly Fronts In A North-Facing Garden

The graceful arching shapes of ferns make them ideal for shade. Their size varies from modest to enormous and they enjoy well-drained soil. Nothing beats watching deciduous ferns unfurl their baby fronds each spring than the evergreen Japanese tassel fern Polystichum polyblepharum. You can sprinkle silver with the painted lady fern, Athyrium niponicum var. ‘Silver Falls’ pictum.

12. For A Brighter Outlook, Color Up

You can paint your way out of a dark spot with a brush, roller, or spray. You can give fencing, a shed, and furniture a new lease of life and a protective coat at the same time. 

Paint, whether on walls or in bright containers, is really useful in a yard that isn’t flooded with sunlight all day. ‘It can make gloom glorious and compensate for a lack of flowers,’ says Lucy Searle, Editor in Chief of Homes & Gardens.

13. Surround Yourself With Coziness In A North-Facing Garden

As early evening approaches, every garden starts to cool. Enjoy the warmth of a firepit to prolong your outdoor stay into the evening. Choose rustic bowls with flaming logs or charcoal, or go all-out contemporary with the Linear Gas Firepit from Solus Decor(opens in a new window). 

14. Set A Woodland Scene

The scents and colors of a woodland walk are irresistible. Plant snowdrops, Solomon’s seal, and hostas in your own patch, along with tall foxgloves, dainty primroses, hellebores, cyclamen, and bluebells for color. You can nourish the soil beneath the canopy with leaf mold or other organic matter if it becomes dry.

15. Ornaments For The Garden Can Be Updated

The mainstays of a garden are flowers and foliage, but sculptural pieces add a touch of Downton Abbey glamour. You can create a grand atmosphere with classic statuary, renaissance-inspired urns set with tumbling ivy, fountains, and sundials. Choose original pieces or new designs cleverly distressed to add the patina of age. Folly and Garden have a good selection of Redwood Stone (opens in new tab). 

16. Bring In Fine Dining

Make a reservation at chez-Vous, where home cooking is always on the menu. It’s simple to create a welcoming outdoor dining scene by setting the table against a white-painted wall and filling it with your brightest crockery and glassware. 

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17. A North-Facing Garden Can Be Made To Look Magical

It’s time to light up the night with magical outdoor lighting ideas. Light pathways with solar stakes create starscapes among the boughs for party fun or romantic late-night assignments. Lights4fun.co.uk (opens in new tab) offers Essential Connect 10m 100 Warm White Connectable Fairy Lights Clear Cable, 50 Warm White LED Micro Battery Outdoor Fairy Lights, and TruGlow Waterproof Outdoor Candle Trios.  

18. Select Shrubs For Spring Flowering

Even though full sun is a bonus, it’s not always necessary for flowering shrubs. Mahonia x media ‘Winter Sun’ brings spikes of yellow flowers early in the year, while Sarcococca confusa (sweet box) blooms from December to March. It has a sprinkling of pretty violet flowers that make it a great ground cover. As exquisite camellias, rhododendrons thrive in partial shade and provide a burst of spring color.

19. Color Plant For Summer

From June to July, nothing says summer like blowsy peonies, like the delicately pale pink Paeonia lactiflora ‘Sarah Bernhardt’ or the deep red ‘Karl Rosenfield’.

Alchemilla Mollis, with its frothy yellow flowers above its distinctive leaves, and Geranium x oxonianum ‘Wargrave Pink’ have pretty pink blooms as well. Don’t forget to back them up with summer bedding. Some begonias, geraniums, and impatiens are good to go in partial shade.

20. Flexible Approach - Bring In Contains

When necessary, you can move pots and troughs to a sunnier spot to coax flowers. When you start a collection of varying heights and shapes, you can play around with them endlessly to get the perfect arrangement. A visit to the garden center will fill them with summer color. Fuchsias, pansies, begonias, and hydrangeas are good choices.

21. All Things Green Are Welcome

The shape, size, and texture of leaves are emphasized when the color is stripped back to mainly green. Try trailing ivy, the huge leaves of Fatsia japonica, or the variegated foliage of Euonymus fortunei ‘Emerald ‘n’ Gold’. 

A lawn may not receive enough light if the garden is small. Increase planting beds, create more paved areas, look into wall garden ideas, or cheat by using fake grass.

22. Sit In A Garden That Faces The North

Choose the sunniest spot for your patio ideas, and position a bench or outdoor dining table there.  It’s also a good idea to add an extra small table and chairs for enjoying a morning coffee and reading the newspaper if there’s also a place where the morning sun shines through. With folding, portable furniture, you can chase the sun all day long.

23. The Illusion Of Space Can Be Created By Blurring The Boundaries

When trees and tall shrubs are included at the far end of a garden, the eye is tricked into thinking the area is larger – an advantage for small north-facing gardens overlooked by neighboring homes. Plant around the wall or fence in a dark shade and the boundary almost disappears. 

24. Fake The Light

A garden pond can add the illusion of light to a shady garden. Water will reflect the skies and attract wildlife as well. Similarly, mirrors will add a bright sparkle to a fence or shed. However, don’t put mirrors anywhere where birds could fly into them. 

25. Don't Be Afraid To Try Something New

Try plants even if they aren’t labeled for shade. Swap cuttings with friends and neighbors instead of buying expensive specimens from the garden center when you are experimenting. Where conditions are similar, plants from a neighboring plot are likely to succeed. 

What Are The Best Shade-Loving Plants For A North-Facing Garden?

When it comes to the best plants for a north-facing garden there are many positives. First, you need to establish what sort of shade your garden has, whether it’s deep shade, light shade, or dappled shade.

There are a surprising number of plants to choose from that will thrive in a north-facing garden once you’ve established what type of shady conditions you have. In fact, it could be time to lose the lawn and replace it with more planting as there’s so much that will work in a space like this. 

 

North-facing gardens have very little direct light, perhaps some early morning sun and some sun last thing in the evening during the summer, but it is consistent and there aren’t extremes, meaning that if you do find plants that work, they’ll be happy!’ says Susanna Grant, co-founder of shade-loving plant specialist and garden design business Linda(opens in new tab), as well as the author of the book Shade(opens in new tab).

Hostas, ivies, euphorbias, and ferns will fill beds with their lush foliage while climbing hydrangeas and star jasmine can be used to cover boundaries. Beautifully scented sarcococca is a great choice for hedging or as a standalone shrub. 

Some varieties of ornamental grasses such as Japanese Hakon come with touches of gold on their foliage which will help to lift dark corners.