How to Add More Light to Shady Gardens

Small gardens, especially in towns, are often hemmed in by buildings and tall boundaries that can prevent light reaching the ground, especially in winter when the sun is low. If you’re looking for a bright idea to lighten up your landscape, choosing plants and other features that will bring in some light can make all the difference.

Paint Walls White to Bounce in Light

Introducing pale colours is a quick and easy way to dispel the gloom in a shady garden.

Give rendered walls a facelift with a fresh coat of whitewash to reflect more light, and paint house doors and window frames too if they need it.

Timber structures such as pergolas, gates and arches can also be transformed very quickly using easy-to-apply garden paints for unplaned wood. Here, too, white or cream will add a lightening touch.

Shrubby plants

Other lovely, leafy evergreen shrubby plants suitable for a shady garden include some of the smaller, clump-forming types of bamboo (Fargesia murieliae, Fargesia nitida, Fargesia jiuzhaigou). Again, you’ll find these in good garden centres but for the widest choice. Bamboos add a tropical air to any sheltered, shady garden, as do other evergreens with large or sculptural leaves.

Introduce Warmth with Hard Landscaping

When choosing surfacing materials, avoid drab grey or khaki pavers or slate chippings, which can look quite depressing, especially when wet. Instead, go for a warm, pale honey-coloured stone effect for paved areas.

When it comes to your choice of plants for your shady garden, focus on those that can offer a visually pleasing combination of contrasting textures, colours and foliage shape throughout the year. For example, evergreen grasses that will grow quite happily in dappled shade include Chionochloa rubra (despite its size, this is also very happy in a large pot), pheasant grass (Anemanthele lessoniana), and Stipa tenuissima.

Add Bright Highlights with Plants

Avoid creating a mass of drab, dark foliage in a small, shady garden. Plants with white variegation in their leaves work well if used in moderation among other plants. White flowers also show up beautifully, and a white-themed planting can look cool and sophisticated in low light. Pots of white lilies (Lilium regale are the purest white) will add intoxicating fragrance, too. Golden foliage creates the welcome illusion of sunshine on a dull day – but avoid siting golden-leaved plants in very deep shade, because they will turn green if there isn’t enough light.