How To Grow A Vegetable Garden In Shade – The Story Of a French Potager Kitchen Garden Gone Shade

Garden — By on October 5, 2011 11:08 am

Shade french potager kitchen garden in shade

When a very well known garden expert (who will go unmentioned) said to me at a dinner party last year, “really, dear, vegetables are full sun animals!” I about choked on my drink. This is a huge mythic untruth in common vegetable Back garden before grass was removedpractices – even among many so-called “experts”. Vegetables will indeed grow in shade. The secret is to pick the best vegetable varieties for the shady conditions.

This startling conversation inspired an epic rebuild of my traditional suburban back lawn into a French Potager Kitchen Garden gone shade crazy. Below I tell you how I did it and also what vegetables grow very well in shady conditions. Perhaps it will inspire you to put in your own amazing shade vegetable garden and help feed both your family and the community with organic vegetables.

What Vegetables Grow in Shade:

First step for building a vegetable garden in the shade is to lay out a plan which supports shade loving vegetables.

There are many different vegetables which will grow well in part-shade, and generally speaking, if the plant has leaves or stems that you are harvesting, then it should perform alright in shade. Plants that produce fruits or larger vegetables (like watermelons) do not typically do well in shade. Below is a list of shade-loving vegetables -

  • Arugula
  • Basil
  • Beans
  • Beets
  • Celery
  • Collards
  • Corn Maiche
  • Cucumbers
  • Herbs (i.e. chives, cilantro, lemon balm, mint, oregano, parsley, scallions)
  • Kale (all types)
  • Lettuces (all types)
  • Mustard Greens
  • Pak Choi
  • Peas
  • Potatoes
  • Radishes
  • Rhubarb
  • Spinach
  • Swiss Chard

Out of all the vegetables that were planted and harvested this season in the garden, the three best performers in shade were Basil, Celery, and Dinosaur Kale.

Below is the design I used for the shade potager garden:

Back Shade Design

Building the Basic Shade Vegetable Garden:

What the garden looked like without grassAs a first lawn conversion step I had to remove the grass and build the basic structure of the potage garden. Grass removal is a challenge and it was quite a shock to see my back yard look like a mud pit. I decided on four raised beds and a wine bottle path. You can go to this link to see the basics on the grass removal and wine bottle path building Shawna in back yard with kits ready to be assembled.process – LINK.

After removing the grass, and laying out the paths, the next step was to assemble the raised beds which I got from Greenland Gardener. This turned out to be remarkably easy because the Greenland kits take about five minutes to assemble each, with no drilling needed. Hooray!

Once the kits were assembled, it was then time to fill them with organic soil from Organic Mechanics Soil. This was a very important step to me because I wanted all the vegetables to be organically grown. I also added rotted manure for an extra kick of natural fertilizer.

Organic mechanics soil in Greenland Gardener's raised beds in my back yard.

Planting went quickly – I planted both vegetative plants from Burpee Home Gardens and seeds from Botanical Interests Seed Company. As you can see in the top photo, by the end of summer the raised beds were completely overflowing with plants in shady conditions which have less than two hours of direct sunlight per day.

A french potager kitchen garden success!

back shade garden freshly planted

Very special thanks to my special garden helper Cathy DeMarchi for contributing the garden design seen above and helping me build and plant this particular garden – it was much appreciated!

******To see a more current and updated version of the back yard full shade vegetable garden, please link through here – LINK. I show a new color blocking design I tried out recently which might add a lot of brightness to your dark and shady vegetable garden corner.

*Note – Because the FTC requires it, I am noting that Botanical Interests Seeds supplied seeds for this planting experience. Greenland Gardener sponsored the Double Bed Raised Garden. Organic Mechanics Soil sponsored the soil used for this project. Also, Burpee Home Gardens supplied the vegetable plants grown in the garden this season. I  write many instructional stories and videos with these incredible products and donate a large portion of the vegetables to the local food pantry when harvested.

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41 Comments

  1. Well done! Thanks for debunking a “truism.”

  2. Glad you liked it David. :-)

    Shawna

  3. loridean says:

    What side of the house was your garden on, Shawna? (i.e. N,S,E,W) And what type of full sun did it get? (morning,afternoon, evening) I've experimented with growing veggies anywhere I can this year, and have found a difference with not only what 'type' of sun, but what 'time' of sun. The garden looks beautiful!

  4. Great info…thanks! I have very little sun and even my tomatoes do 'ok'…but not great, by any means. My cukes do pretty well, too. Glad to know some others I can try.

    • AJ says:

      Hello, I plant my tomatoes under my cedar tree and they never get sun. The grow in pots and I use string to let the vines climb the tree. I have tomatoes from spring thru November. Every time the plant is done producing, I just keep watering it and it will continue to produce more and more each time. Amazing. I also allow the roots to grow into the ground. Then I grow everything else above ground hanging in the cedar tree as well. I put everything in coconut planters and allow them to grow into the tree as well. My cucumbers and watermelons grow great. Nothing actually needs to be in the ground. Research DisneyWorld in Florida. They grow all their own vegetables for the entire place. It is amazing. I have actually seen this and they grow it all. Your garden looks amazing.

  5. Ryan Schmitt says:

    Shawna, this turned out great…I'm glad it all grew.

  6. Jennie says:

    so this looks like dappled shade. would these work in full complete shade?

  7. Grumpy Gardener says:

    I'm growing Brussels sprouts in light shade now and they're doing pretty good. In the front yard too — so outrageous.

  8. Thanks for all your comments. Jennie – I think these would not work for deep, deep shade. Dappled or better would be best.

    Shawna

  9. Hi Shawna: Your new garden looks great. But I had some questions. How are you defining shade? How many hours of light a day? When do you get sun? (Afternoon, mornings). I've tried to grow tomatoes and beans in partial sun, and they haven't done well. So, I think it may depend on how many hours, when you get the light, and where the garden is located in your yard. Thoughts? Thanks for sharing. Teresa

  10. Thanks for this article! I am re-planning my beds for next season!

  11. Teresa -

    This garden has very indirect light. It gets very indirect dappled shade most of the day – but not a straight time with direct full sun EVER.

    I'd say you could not categorize this as “DEEP SHADE”, however, again – the light is never full sun at any time during the day. There is much leaf cover.

    In fact, in the top photo you can see the seating area has a very small bit of direct sunlight – this is the only area in the garden to receive it. Everything else is at the light level you see in the top photo a very large percentage of the day.

    Shawna

  12. Anonymous says:

    Tell me about the wine bottles… Thanks!

  13. GORGEOUS!
    Well done, Shawna
    and informative. I always equate veggies with full sun too;-))

  14. So glad you like it!

    Shawna

  15. Mary Hysong says:

    Very nice looking garden; I really like all the different colors and textures. Love the purple furniture!

  16. Shawna: Thanks for the reply! I'm amazed … but delighted with your new kitchen garden. Hope to see you again soon. Best, Teresa

  17. Darcy says:

    You information is amusing

  18. I LOVE the purple furniture and and the whole look! This is my first time reading your blog, wow—very pretty potager. I wish you lived on our block, I feel alone at times since I've been tearing up my small lot to grow food!I wish more people would grow food in their backyard:-)robbie

  19. I've never had full sun and have grown all kinds of veggies, including tomatoes, eggplant, and zucchini in under 6 hours of sun a day. They don't produce as much as in full sun, but they still produce! The same is true for some plants everyone touts as full sun, like rudbeckia–they grow just as well in shade/part-shade, just not as aggressively, (I argued that one with my own local “expert”–thankfully she didn't call me “dear” or I would have choked HER, ha ha!).Seriously, it amazes me how many “experts” don't actually just try stuff and see what happens, instead just repeating “truisms.” Linda (Garden Girl) also has a decent veggie garden in part shade. And, finally, my potatoes produced well in a container in under 4 hours of sun a day!! :)

  20. Monica and everyone,

    So glad you like the post and gave even more suggestions. :-)

    Shawna

  21. Heather Head says:

    You are my new garden hero! Our one-acre lot has a few spots of sun, but mostly dappled shade. Now I know what to grow!

    Also, I've noticed that none of our plants seem to want as much sun as the books all say they need. In fact, they seem to wilt and fade when it gets hot and sunny. Basil, for instance, seems to thrive like CRAZY in the shade of a large tomato plant–much better than when it's in full sun.

    Thanks for all the terrific ideas! Love the food garden in the front yard video too.

  22. Thanks Heather – YOU CAN DO IT!

    Shawna

  23. Patty says:

    Thanks for this Post, we are planting a new garden this year that gets more shade than our previous garden did, and it is heartening to know it will do ok in that spot. Lots of good veggies on that list.

  24. LilBlossom says:

    I'm currently planning one of the side bends of our house. We're on a corner lot, and this one is facing the road under a maple tree.

    I love hostas, astilbes, bleeding hearts and hydrangeas, but I want to also try something different. I was thinking of doing it in a white/silver combination, with maybe one plant popping in dark red… I'm not sure if that would make it look out of place or not.

  25. April Bayne says:

    Good looking garden and nice suggestions. I have gardened in dappled shade for a long time. I just pop swiss chard, herbs, lettuce, and other greens in where I think they will do well and look good too. I’ve done vegetables in the front yard garden, even though some get poached. My favorite is rainbow swiss chard.

  26. lowri says:

    I love your site, full of informative words and images,thank you, shedreamsingreen.org

  27. Cee says:

    How creative ! Look @ the reuse of the wine bottles. Do they catch the sun, being glass?

  28. Kristin says:

    Hi Shawna -
    beautiful garden and a great looking plan! I have a new veggie garden in the front yard this year which also gets part shade (maybe 4-5 hours direct sun/day). The beans and spinach are not doing so well there – are there any varieties you’ve tried that you could recommend? Thanks!

    • Shawna says:

      My spinach is not doing as well this year either – the heat makes it bolt. Same with my cilantro. Bolt. Bolt. Bolt.

      And no – I think it’s the heat, not the variety.

  29. HAGtips says:

    I want to take advantage of the space between my house and the neighbors house. The amount of sunshine various through the growing season. Mostly shade, but for a few hours it receives direct sun. What can take both direct sun but mostly shade from the house.

    • Shawna says:

      I think the above list of plants would do nicely under those conditions. Only a few hours of direct sun a day is still considered “partial shade”. :-) Best of luck!

      Shawna

  30. Lanna Matthews says:

    I have very, very successfully grown several varieties of Tomatoes in shade, too! They recieved morning sun, until around 1:30 pm,and from then on, partial to FULL shade in the evening. The evening sun here in Texas is the hottest.

    • Shawna says:

      Awesome! I think it helps if you have the heat to push tomatoes forward. It’s tougher in my northern garden, were it’s cooler, to have a tomato that produces in shade.

  31. Lynn Jenkinson says:

    Thank you so much for your pages, especially the one for growing veggies in shade! I have a tiny front and back yard, neither of which get full sun all day, so this is going to really help me this spring when I start planning!

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