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.
In the fall, we turn our attention to trees, and this cultivar of Japanese Maple demands the spotlight in our front garden. It shows off earlier in the year, as well, in mid spring, when Acer palmatum ‘Katsura’ begins to leaf out in lovely apricot yellow tones. The new foliage holds that color until warm weather settles in, and gradually becomes a yellow green for much of the summer. In mid October, the leaves will begin to transform from a happy green to blazing tones of yellow, orange and red. The fiery foliage lingers through early November, after which the handsome silhouette of ‘Katsura’ provides structural form in the winter landscape.
Acer palmatum ‘Katsura’ has a dense growth habit that should be pruned to a shape that suits your garden. It reaches a height of 10′ at 10-15 years of age, and can ultimately attain 20′ uncommon or more. It loves humus rich, well drained soil, and will do well in a spot that gets morning sun, afternoon shade. It is hardy in zones 6-8, and possibly in zone 5 in a protected location
Commonly known as “Molly the Witch” (its specific name is a mouthful, try to pronounce mlock-oh-zih-VITCH-ee-eye three times) this species peony is early to bloom, which in our neck of the woods, means late April through the beginning of May. It emerges with attractive biternate glaucous foliage with a red tint. The single soft yellow chalice blossoms are 3-4″ across and in varying shades of pale lemon through buttery yellow. Plants usually reach a height of 2′, and are an unusual showy accent plant for mid spring.
“Molly the Witch” is native to the Caucasus, and is hardy in zones 6-8 ( some accounts say colder, but we like to err on the safe side). It appreciates a rich, but well drained neutral to slightly acidic soil in a spot that gets a good 4-6 hours of sun or more. Its scarcity in the trade is due to the fact that plants are very slow to increase . This means a limited number of divisions. Propagation from seed is slow. It often takes a year or more from sowing to germination, and then may take up to 4-5 years from germination to flower.
Just the common name, Toad Lily, sparks curiosity and invites close inspection. The delicate blossoms of this attractive cultivar of Tricyrtis formosana resemble small orchids and have distinctive spotting on the blue-violet petals. Flowering interest begins in early August, but the golden yellow foliage adds color early in the season. Plants are stoloniferous, forming small clumps 12″ high, making it suitable for the front of a border. Small Hosta such as ‘Wogon Gold’ and Japanese Forest Grass Hakonachloa macra make excellent companions.
Grow Toad Lilies in a soil that stays uniformly moist, yet well drained. The foliage tips will brown if the soil becomes too dry, and although not lethal, will make the plants less attractive. Tricyrtis ‘Gates of Heaven’are unappetizing to deer, and are hardy through zone 5-9.