Category Archives: Shade Gardening

plants that like shade

Fargesia rufa ‘Green Panda’

Fargesia rufa 'Green Panda'Mention hardy Bamboo to people and you usually get one of 2 reactions: disbelief that Bamboo is not just a tropical plant or terror that it will spread and take over the universe. Yes, we can affirm there are invasive varieties, but that?s why we want you to know about the various Clumping Bamboo, such as Fargesia rufa ‘Green Panda’. ‘Green Panda’ does not set runners, but forms expanding clumps of culms ultimately reaching 6-8′ in height, and 8′ in width. It grows well in sun or shade and can be used as a focal point specimen or grouped en masse to form a screen or hedge.

Fargesia rufa ‘Green Panda’ is hardy to minus 15 degrees, and is evergreen in most winters, although in a particularly severe one it may brown out and may need to be cut to the ground in mid spring. By late spring, new shoots emerge attaining at least the height achieved the previous season. As the new leaves emerge on the old culms, the old foliage will brown and drop. ‘Green Panda’ continues to look fresh through the season, and is a handsome asset for the winter landscape.  Snow loads on Fargesia are not a problem. The flexible stalks may bow with the weight of snow, but bounce back nice and tall as the snow melts away. This is particularly useful information if you are looking for an evergreen that may be crushed by snow falling from roof eaves. After the snowy winter of 2010-11, we think many people will find this trait quite desirable.

Grow Fargesia rufa ‘Green Panda’ in an organic but well drained soil. It is quite tolerant of dry conditions once established. Panda may like to munch on its foliage in China, but deer in the USA do not. Since browsing deer is a problem in so many areas, it’s good to know that ‘Green Panda’ is a feast for human eyes and not for deer palates.

Paeonia mlokosewitschii

Paeonia mlokosewitchiiCommonly 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.

Tricyrtis formosana ‘Gates of Heaven’

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. 

Kirengeshoma palmata

Waxbells, as Kirengeshoma palmata is commonly called, is an herbaceous perennial with a shrublike habit that adds striking foliage and sweet pale yellow flowers to the late summer shade garden. The flowering display begins in mid August and continues through September. Earlier in the season, the large maple like leaves add bold contrast to the many delicate textures that predominate in our beds. Kirengeshoma may be a little late to break dormancy in the spring, since the new shoots are quite frost sensitive, but once it finally feels the weather is safe, it quickly grows to a height of 4-5′.  With time, plants form large clumps 3-6′ across.  And if you need another big plus, the deer dislike it.

Kirengeshoma is native to the woodlands and low mountain regions of Japan and Korea, which accounts for its hardiness through zone 5.  It grows best in a rich, slightly acidic soil that is moist yet well drained. Propagate by seed or by division in early spring. We like to associate Kirengeshoma with blue and gold Hosta, such as ‘Deep Blue Sea’ and ‘Brother Stephan’ as well as late blooming Actaea ‘Hillside Black Beauty’ .

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Hydrangea arborescens ‘Hayes Starburst’

Hayes Starburst Hydrangea is a floral arranger’s dream. This chance discovery, by Hayes Jackson of Anniston, Alabama, differs from the species by its showy display of clustered greenish white, multi sepaled star shaped flowers. It is a form of Hydrangea arborescens, also known as Smooth Hydrangea or Hills of Snow, and although native to the southeastern U.S., is cold hardy into zone 4.

Hydrangea arborescens ‘Hayes Starburst’ blooms on new wood, so there is little danger of winter damage to flower buds. We recommend cutting back the woody stems to 12″ in early spring to keep the plants tidy. Hydrangea arborescens prefers to grow in full to half day sun and in a well drained soil that still gets adequate moisture. If there is a common complaint about this species it would be that the flower clusters are so heavy that they weigh down the supporting stems. Some consider this an addition to the plant’s charm, and if it is sited on a slope or above a retaining wall, you could take advantage of its cascading habit. If an upright habit is preferred, situate a large tomato cage over the cut back stalks in spring, which will lend support. The height and spread of this shrub can remain a manageable 3′  x 3′, if pruned annually.

Container Combo for Dry Shade

Begonia, Pilea and Tahitian Bridal Veil

Again, it is so much about the foliage. The angel wing leaves of Begonia ‘Sinbad’ are really a soft celadon green veined in rose, but have a silvery cast. On close inspection, the silvery effect is due to the pebbly texture formed by the tiny raised white leaf segments. Simple, sweet pink flowers dangle from the leaf axils.  For filler, the tiny white variegated foliage of little Pilea, commonly called artillery fern, creates a frothy effect beneath the bolder leaves of ‘Sinbad’ and the casual abandon of Gibasis geniculata , also known as Tahitian Bridal Veil, with its two tone green/purple foliage and white baby?s breath blossoms finish off the combination.

Culturally, use a well drained potting soil, amended with Osmocote. Begonias do not want to live in soggy soil, so monitor watering by allowing the soil to dry out a bit. This ensemble would enjoy morning or filtered light, and would be a suitable arrangement for a covered porch, where the minimal watering needs can be monitored.

Pilea microphylla ‘Variegata’

Expand your repertoire of container plants for shady situations. Little variegated Pilea also known as Tricolor Artillery Fern has dainty white variegated leaves, often tinted pink, which are displayed in a spray like fashion on fleshy succulent stems. Plants grow to a height of perhaps 6″ spreading to 8-10″ and work as an airy filler in container combinations. Often sold as a selection for terrariums, Pilea prefer a sunny window if grown indoors, but outside, bright shade seems to be its perfect growing situation. She needs little care except as needed watering.

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Rhododendron ‘New Century’

‘New Century’ is another tidy compact Rhododendron, with pale citron yellow blossoms. It has a very full foliage appearance due to the fact it holds its evergreen leaves for 3 years, rather than just 2 like most other rhodies. It grows to a well behaved 4′ x 4′ size and is quite hardy for a yellow form, (to minus 15F).

Grow this selection in a spot protected from drying winter winds. Morning suns and afternoon shade is ideal, but plants can take more sun if well irrigated during drier conditions. Like all Rhododendrons, ‘New Century’ appreciates a humus rich soil that remains moist but well drained. 

Rhododendron ‘Blue Baron’

Handsome violet blue blossoms in late April/early May distinguish this welcome addition to the mid spring garden. Introduced by Weston Nursery of Hopkinton MA, Rhododendron ‘Blue Baron’ falls into the lepidote group of Rhodies, which with a few exceptions, have smaller leaves, smaller more open trusses and prefer to grow in a more sunny spot. ‘Blue Baron’ has a compact habit,and is often listed as growing to 3-4′ in height and width, but at maturity can reach 6?. His fine textured elliptical foliage is glossy green in summer but takes on a bronzy cast in colder months.

Grow ‘Blue Baron’ in humus rich soil in full or part sun, and morning sun with some afternoon shade has proven ideal . He can tolerate a bit of wind, but we recommend using an anti-dessicant if winter winds are harsh. Like all Rhododendrons, ‘Blue Baron’ is shallow rooted, and will need irrigating during dry spells. Hardy to minus 10F.

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Phlox divaricata ‘Blue Moon’

The best selection of Woodland Phlox, in our opinion, is this lovely cultivar introduced by Bill Cullina, of Coastal Maine Botanical Garden. Abundant deep sky blue flowers on 12″ stems perfume the May garden, and when planted en masse create ethereal drifts. It makes an excellent companion for woodland poppies and late blooming narcissus

‘Blue Moon’ grows best in light shade in a rich humusy soil that is moist yet well drained, forming clumps 2-3′ across. After the blossoms fade, cut back the spent flowering stems for a neater appearance. It is hardy in zone 4-8.

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