Adding Color in the Shade Garden (Without Plants!)

Do you dream of a vibrant, colorful garden oasis, but your backyard is a more shaded haven than a sun-drenched paradise? Don’t despair! Just because your space gets limited sunlight doesn’t mean it has to be a yawn-fest. In this post, we’ll ditch the traditional flowers and explore some creative ways to add a burst of color in the garden. Without ever needing to pick up a trowel!

Colorful pink and blue pillows on a black bench in a shade garden.

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Warm temps, blue skies, and green grass…finally!

Summer has never been more welcome as we begin planting beautiful flowers and jumping into outdoor living.

My favorite thing in our backyard is our giant maple tree. It is SO beautiful and gives our patio much-needed shade during the hottest days of the summer.

As beautiful as this tree is, it is REALLY hard to grow anything underneath it. And, whether a vibrant flower garden or a monochromatic look, I have tried all sorts of colorful plants that just struggle to take hold. There are reasons for this…

A Colorless Garden – Three Shady Reasons

  1. Full shade. As in this area gets NO sun. None. Not even a tiny bit of filtered light.
  2. Tree roots. Trying to dig a hole to plant something is useless. I managed to transplant some hosta plants several years back and they have done really well! However, I honestly think I have exhausted every possible non-rooted spot.
  3. Bentley. Oh, my dearest Bentley! This is probably the biggest reason to avoid actual plants. Our adorable sheep-a-doodle dog, Bentley, loves to go tearing through the yard as he plays chase with his toys. He has already crushed some emerging coneflowers in another bed. To try to plant in this shaded area with this unpredictable dog-child in the picture is just not realistic.
A garden area with green plants but no color.

It would be so nice to have some bright colors in the area underneath the tree. We have hostas, black mulch, and a charming black bench. However, this area needs color and it needs to come in non-plant form.

How Do You Add Color to a Shade Garden?

Who says shade has to be synonymous with snooze-ville? Even if your backyard gets less sun than a vampire’s vacation home, you can still create a vibrant, colorful escape. 

Forget the traditional flowers for a sec – we’re getting creative! This section is all about adding unexpected pops of color to your shade garden, using everything from a chosen color scheme to colorful home decor. 

So, grab your metaphorical paintbrush, and let’s turn your shady haven into a masterpiece of color!

Having tried many different solutions, I’ve come up with a list of different ways that have worked for me in turning our barren patch into the focal point of our backyard!

Decide Your Shady Color Palette

Let’s take a moment to plan your color attack.  

Just like with any room in your house, your shade garden needs a color scheme to feel cohesive and, well, stunning!

And even if you don’t have flowers in the area, use your favorite flowers to help define your color palette!

In terms of color, this can mean many things. Your range of color could mean all sorts of garden colors but it could also mean a white garden with various shades of neutral colors, silver foliage, and white flowers.

white tulips

The first thing you need to consider is the vibe you’re going for.

Do you want your shade garden to feel energizing and vibrant? Then maybe warm colors like reds, oranges, and yellows are your jam. 

Craving a sense of peace and tranquility? Cool colors like blues, greens, and purples might be your best bet.

warm color palette for garden
purple and green color palette

Now, you don’t have to stick to just one temperature! Complementary colors, which sit opposite each other on the color wheel, can create a dynamic and eye-catching effect. 

pink and white flower with color palette.

Feeling like a color maestro? Explore fun color combinations like triadic (three colors evenly spaced on the wheel) or analogous (colors next to each other on the wheel).  But remember, even Picassos need a starting point! Choose a main color as the star of the show, then use other colors to accent and complement it.

Do you feel overwhelmed by all these fancy color terms? Don’t sweat it! You can also keep things simple with a monochromatic color scheme.  Just choose one color and play with different shades and tints of it. 

Warm color palette for color in the garden.

Rather than a riot of color, my favorite colors for our shady spot are various shades of greens with fun shots of purple and pink.


The key is to choose colors that make you happy and fit the overall feel you’re going for. 

Pro Tip: Grab a magazine, browse Pinterest, or simply close your eyes and picture your dream shade haven – the color inspiration will come!

From the Ground Up

We’re talking about adding color from the ground up, literally! 

Mulch is a great place to start. You can add literal color by using red mulch in your garden bed. However, as you consider the color choices in your palette, consider what backdrop color you want to support your pops of color.

I like using brown or black mulch because garden accents and foliage colors really “show up” against the dark background.

Brown mulch around a hosta plant.

Who says stepping stones have to be boring gray?  Create your own masterpieces with mosaic tiles, paint them in bold colors, or even use brightly colored stones to create a unique pathway. Every step will be a colorful adventure!

A diy mosaic stepping stone to bring color in the garden.

Outdoor rugs aren’t just for sunny patios! Throwing a vibrant rug under your shady seating area is a good way to add a splash of color. Mix and match patterns with your chosen color scheme to create a truly personalized space.

An outdoor rug on a cobblestone patio.

Bringing the Indoors Out

Oh, the power of pillows!   Who doesn’t love to cuddle up with a comfy throw pillow? 

Add a splash of color and some serious comfort to your shady seating area with outdoor throw pillows in your chosen color scheme. Don’t be afraid to mix and match patterns and textures for a layered and inviting look.

I created these bench pillows using woven placemats and pom poms. Color and texture in one easy and inexpensive DIY!


Someone throw me a blanket! 

Even the shadiest gardens can get chilly sometimes. Drape a vibrantly colored outdoor throw over your chairs or a cozy bench swing. It’ll add instant warmth and a nice accent color to your shady sanctuary.

String lights are a classic for a reason! Drape them overhead or weave them through the branches of your shade trees for a magical, whimsical ambiance. Bonus points for choosing colored lights to match your overall scheme!

String lights.

Speaking of magical, lanterns and candle holders add a touch of fairytale charm to your shady spots. 

Display colorful lanterns around your garden or place vibrantly colored candle holders on your patio table.  The warm glow, combined with the pops of color, will create an atmosphere pure relaxation.

This DIY tissue paper lantern adds a pop of color while featuring beautiful pressed fern fronds.

A pink diy tissue paper lantern brings subtle colored light into the garden.

While our outdoor dining space is not placed directly in the garden space, its proximity has a direct effect on the mood of your garden.

Spruce up your outdoor dining area with colorful tablecloths, placemats, and napkins. Even a simple change like these can add a burst of color and make your shady patio feel like an extension of your cozy kitchen.

A table setting with color nestled beside a shade garden.

Gaze Upon This: Colorful Gazing Balls for a Touch of Whimsy

Remember those giant glass balls you’d see in grandma’s garden? Well, they’re back and better than ever, adding a touch of whimsical charm and, you guessed it, color to your shade garden!

Gazing balls come in all shapes, sizes, and, most importantly for us, colors! They’re like little spheres of color magic!

Plus, gazing balls are super versatile. Place them on a stand in the center of your shade garden, hang them from a shepherd’s hook, or even tuck them amongst your shade-loving plants for a peek-a-boo surprise of color.

I have two gazing balls in blue and white colors. No stands…I nestle them into the ground as if they popped up organically. Such an easy way to add color in a small shaded space!

Blue and white garden globe orbs in aa shade garden for color.

A Moveable Garden: Shade-Loving Color on the Go!

By planting shade-loving beauties in brightly colored pots, you can create mini bursts of color that can be moved around your garden at will. 

Pink impatiens flowers in a white planter box in a shade garden.

Feeling a little sunshine peeking through the trees in a specific spot? Wheel your vibrant container garden over and bask in the (limited) sunbeams.  

These pink impatiens get just a wee bit of sun in the morning so love this location!

Hosta plants and impatiens with color in a shade garden.

Need a pop of color near your shady seating area? Simply move your colorful pot creations closer for a touch of floral cheer.

 Plus, container gardens are perfect for those who might not have a ton of space or gardening experience. They’re low-maintenance and can be easily adjusted to fit your ever-changing shade garden desires.

Faux Real

I have always considered it a badge of honor when I am able to grow beautiful flowers in the different areas of our backyard. 

But there is no dishonor in using faux flower boost to create a beautiful garden. I think the key is to subtly embed faux flowers along with your different plants and garden elements.

I love to use these floral garden spheres in my shade garden. You can see them HERE.

Because the faux flower spheres can be split in half, I decided to “plant” two half-spheres next to some of the hosta close to the bench. By tucking the spheres close to the hosta, it creates the illusion that these pretty pink flowers are emerging from the foliage plants.

A faux flower sphere tucked under a hosta plant.

Now I can sit on the patio or under my favorite tree while drinking coffee and watch Bentley play. All the while enjoying some pretty pops of color in our shade garden!

The dog, Bentley, standing beside the garden bench with colorful pillows.

Now I can sit on the patio or under my favorite tree while drinking coffee and watch Bentley play. All the while enjoying some pretty pops of color in our shade garden.

 There you have it…a whole toolbox full of ideas to add a splash of color to your shade garden, without ever needing to get your hands dirty with potting soil (unless you want to, of course!).  

The key is to have fun, experiment with different colors and textures, and let your creativity run wild!

Happy gardening (or should I say, happy color-adding?)!


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Adding color in the shade garden without plants.

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  1. Amazing ideas, Missy!! My patio gets mostly shade, as well. It’s taken me years to figure out what to do on it so it doesn’t look boring! I love your tips that you shared, especially the pillows, area rug and little accessories!

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