A wintry mix of weather blew into town this week, but Ligularia ‘Last Dance’ didn’t want the waltz to end. This recent introduction from Itsaul Plants looked smart all season with glossy bronze purple round foliage accented by slightly pointed lobes. To add Halloween contrast, it sent forth bright yellow composite flowers in October and is still blooming away as of 11/14. Hardy and tropical looking…hmm. First disclaimer…it did winter over in our zone 6 garden last year, but during the coldest period we were blanketed with snow. Ligularia x ‘Last Dance’ is a hybrid of Ligularia (Farfugium) hiberniflora and Farfugium japonicum, two species from Japan and Taiwan, but the Farfugium japonicum can’t be trusted in zones colder than 7.
Ligularia ‘Last Dance’ is being marketed with plant tags saying it is hardy into zone 4. I’m thinking this is a stretch. Reports from commercial growers say it is growing and wintering in Zeeland, Michigan (Zone 6) and Philadelphia (Zone 7). If you do want to grow this for its end of the season burst of color, here is the data: Foliage height is about 12″ high, and can grow to 2-3′ wide. Yellow blossoms are held on 1-2′ stems. It does well in sun or partial shade in a moist soil, but seems as happy in average conditions.
I think this season I will put down a winter mulch to protect my investment. Should it prove not to be zone 6 hardy, I say it should get 100 points for being a stunning container plant. Would love to hear from anyone else who is growing Ligularia ‘Last Dance’.
Garden designers may bypass this late blooming hardy impatiens for bolder showier forms, but gardeners with a curious streak will want to try little Impatiens omeiana. Growing only 6-8″ tall for us, I hear it gets to a robust height (12-15″) in milder climates. Apricot yellow flowers with red speckled throats appear in September and October. The notched narrow elliptical dark green leaves have a striking white midline, and since this plant is stoloniferous, it can become a handsome ground cover whether it is in bloom or not. Plants prefer partial to full shade and a soil that is moist during the growing season but require good drainage to winter over. It is native to Mt Omei, China and would make a good companion plant with Tricyrtis, Tiarella and dwarf Rhododendrons.
Looking for a new perennial to brighten up a shady spot? Consider this variegated form of Peuce, also known as the other Masterwort, (no, it’s not Astrantia). Peucedanum ostruthium ‘Daphnis’ is a recent introduction from France, and we’ve stumped a number of plant pros with its identity. At first glance it looks like a refined form of Variegated Aegopodium (Goutweed), and as people shudder with horror, we calm their fears immediately. Peucedanum forms tidy clumps, and is not invasive. It does have lovely cream, gray and green foliage, grows 8-10″ tall and spreads to about 15-18″. Flowers, born on 20″ stems in early summer resemble Queen Anne’s Lace, and are lovely cut.
Peucedanum ostruthium ‘Daphnis’ is easy to grow, preferring an average to moist soil in partial to full shade, but will take even more sun in moist settings. We know it is hardy in zones 5-9, but it may in fact prove even more cold tolerant. It is an attractive foil for Ferns, Hakonechloa macra or dark green Hosta.
The longer we garden the more we appreciate both subtlety and contrast… especially when a plant makes you do a double take because of some extraordinary features. Boehmeria platanifolia is one of these plants: unique foliage, size, with late summer pale green flowers. This species of Boehmeria has large sycamore shaped green leaves (up to 5″) with serrated edges and covered with tiny hairs giving the plant a soft glow. The leaves attach to the sturdy stems with contrasting red petioles. Green tassel flowers emerge from the branch tips in August and continue to droop into the fall.
Boehemeria platanifolia performs best in partial shade, in a soil that is evenly moist. Established plants can grow to 5′ tall and 4′ wide. It is a Japanese member of the Nettle family, Urticaceae, and this particular species is quite hardy…reports say to zone 4, but we’ll play it safe in saying it will grow well in zones 5-8.
Combines well with Tricyrtis (toadliles), Begonia grandis (Hardy Begonia) and Leucoseptrum (Japanese Wood Mint) in the fall shade garden.
Japanese Mint Shrub, although not a primary player, is a plant that will make a nice addition to your partially shaded areas. For the whole growing season, it is cloaked in golden yellow, opposite, toothed leaves, and then at last in October and November, the stems erupt with creamy yellow bottle brush spires. For most of us Leptoceptrum japonicum ‘Gold Angel’ behaves as a herbaceous perennial, growing to 3′ in height and width, although in mild climate zones it may in fact develop a woody base. If that’s the case, cut it back hard in the spring to maintain a tidy shape.
You can combine Leucoceptrum japonicum ‘Gold Angel’ with so many plants, but it’s a great companion to the shade classics: Kirengeshoma palmata, Begonia grandis, bold leaved Hosta as well as shrubs such as Fothergilla ‘Blue Shadow’, Clethra barbinervis and of course Japanese Maples . Easy to grow, attractive gold foliage, hardy in zones 4-8, tolerates shade, blooms in the fall. Wow! Why aren’t you growing Japanese Mint Shrub?
Autumn Fern with Epimedium and Heuchera ‘Caramel’ in early spring
Designing a garden that still looks good in the fall requires using a palette of plants whose foliage remains clean and attractive throughout the summer. Autumn Fern, or Dryopteris erythrosora ‘Brilliance’, is on the top of our list for its durable good looks and easy care. It begins unfurling for the season in late April here in New England, with coppery pink fronds, which we could also associate with autumn tones. These fronds age to green, but new ones are continually produced all season to create a dual toned effect right into fall. When autumn temperatures prevail, the older green fronds take on warm russet shades.
Dryopteris erythrosora ‘Brilliance’ prefers to grow in evenly moist slightly acidic soil that is well drained, although we?ve found it to be forgiving of dryer situations. It can be grown in a spot that receives a half day of sun as well as a locale that is quite shady. Height is usually in the 18-24? range, but it could possibly grow taller when grown in super rich, damp soil. Autumn Fern will remain evergreen in most winters, but by late winter snow loads may have collapsed the foliage to an unattractive mat. Once spring warmth returns, remove those old leaves to allow the fresh new growth to emerge. Dryopteris erythrosora ‘Brilliance’ can be grown in zones 3-8, which includes much of the continental United Sates.
Need a bold, deer resistant plant for the shade garden? Consider Aralia cordata’Sun King‘, tropical in appearance, but a really good option for cold climate gardens. Hardy in zones 3-8, this choice selection of Spikenard is slow at first, but once established, forms a 3′ x 3′ mound of broad compound brilliant yellow foliage. It retains a golden glow throughout the summer as long as it gets 2-3 hours of sunlight. Sturdy 3-4′ stalks emerge in mid August, each topped with a small fireworks display of white flowers. Dark fruit follow the floral display. When the show is over, ‘Sun King’ will need a rest and will die back with the first hard frost.
Aralia cordata ‘Sun King’ grows best in a rich but well drained soil that has available moisture during the growing season. Good companion plants, besides Hosta, include Actaea ‘Hillside Black Beauty’, Fargesia scabrida, Kirengeshoma palmata and Hakonechloa macro .
There are some plants which you have to meet in person, as photographs just can’t convey their personality or presence. Thalictrum ‘Splendide’, a new giant Meadowrue from French breeder Thierry Delabroye, is one such specimen. Vigorous stalks shoot to the sky ( 6-9′ in height), are heavily branched and bear clouds of dime sized lavender blossoms in such volume, the bouquets may indeed become top heavy, so added support by staking is a good idea. This airy display begins in June and continues for months (yes, months) into September.
Good news for cold climate gardeners: Thalictrum ‘Splendide’ is quite hardy, wintering over in zones as cold as 4 (some even say zone 3). It is a hybrid of T. delavayi planand it is sterile, which accounts for its long season of flower production. Like all Meadowrue, ‘Splendide’ enjoys a rich moist soil in sun or partial shade. Use ‘Splendide’ in the company of other big perennials and shrubs that also thrive in somewhat moist conditions, such as Eupatorium maculatum, Persicaria polymorpha, Hibiscus coccineus or Hydrangea cultivars. Don’t let ‘Splendide’s size intimdate you. It?s refreshing to have perennials in the garden that you can look up to.
So easy, so stunning, so underplanted. A dozen years ago, our plant buddy Margie Mott visited us bearing gifts, including a clump of this beauty from one of the gardens she tended. She informed us that we needed to grow this plant, and she was so right! Disporum flavens emerges gracefully in early mid spring with stiff arching 18-24″ stalks adorned with apple green leaves and nodding lemon yellow bells in May. The floral display carries on for a couple of weeks, after which the foliage remains attractive and well behaved.
The common names for Disporum vary. We’ve heard it referred to as Yellow Mandarin and Yellow Fairy Bells. It is in the Colchichum family, which also include two hundred plus species of herbaceous perennials which grow from roots that form rhizomes and corms. Disporum flavens is slow to increase, but forms dense clumps over time and is very long lived. It prefers soil that is rich with humus but well drained soil in partial shade and is hardy to minus 20F (zone 5). Great companion plants are dark flowered Hellebores such as ‘Midnight Ruffles’ , Hakonechloa macra ‘All Gold’ and Heucherella ‘Sweet Tea?’, as well as any Hosta.
Sanguinaria canadensis ‘Multiplex’, commonly known as Double Blood Root is one of the eastern seaboard’s most lovely spring ephemerals, (that is to say, perennials which emerge with the first sweep of warm weather, and almost as quickly pass, retreating over the next few months into summer dormancy). Here in New England, Double Blood Root begins to poke through the brown earth in mid April, displaying pristine white multi petaled water lily shaped blossoms cupped in barely visible blue green leaves. We always hope that the weather conditions will not be too hot and relatively calm when our Blood Root opens. Too much wind or warm temperatures will shorten the floral display.
Double Blood Root stands on short stems reaching just under 6″ tall. It grows best in rich, humusy, but well drained soil in a partial to deeply shaded site. The rhizomes slowly spread to from dense clumps over time and when severed, exude a deep red liquid, hence the common name (sanguine = bloody). As the blossoms fade, the attractive blue green kidney shaped foliage grows larger in size, photosynthesizing to store energy for the roots below. It is advisable to mark the spot where Blood Root is growing. By mid summer, these attractive leaves will begin to fade into dormancy, and you might easily disturb the area by over planting. Good companion plants for Sanguinaria are mid season bulbs, Tillium, Podophylllum, Asarum, Epimedium, Iris cristata, Woodland Phlox, and Brunnera.