Tag Archives: shade plants

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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Clethra barbinervis

Japanese Clethra is waiting to be discovered.  It is a plant for all seasons, boasting fragrant mid summer blossoms, yellow-orange to red fall foliage, and exfoliating bark in winter. If left unpruned it will grow as a multistemmed shrub or small tree, but we prefer to see it trained to a single leader, with lower limbs removed, so that the showy bark can be better appreciated.

We were smitten when our young plant came into bloom in July. Trios of sweetly scented white, 4-6″, twisting racemes will drip from the branches into August. The ovate serrated foliage, in a shade of dark green, really sets off the white blossoms. Fall color is also striking, ranging form yellow orange to deep red. Although Clethra barbinervis is fast growing, it seems to reach an ultimate height of 15-20′. It prefers a well drained, neutral or slightly acidic soil with adequate moisture. Clethra barbinervis grows well in partial shade, although it will tolerate and bloom abundantly in full sun, if watering needs are met. It can be cultivated in zones 5-8.

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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.

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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Acer palmatum ‘Orange Dream’

We have fallen in love with the New England forest.  It happened several decades ago, but it seems like only yesterday that the spell of fall was cast upon us.  We know it’s the maples celebrating, in a festival of color, their happy home.  A selection of Japanese Maple, Acer palmatum ‘Orange Dream’ begins this celebration in spring, with leaves emerging orange, unfurling to lemon-yellow with orange margins and finally settling in with yellow-green tones through the summer.  Fall harkens ‘Orange Dream’ with a glorious display of yellow-gold.  As winter peels off her leaves, the architectural intricacies of this small tree are revealed.  Each season bring forth a new song from the branches of Acer palmatum ‘Orange Dream’.

‘Orange Dream’ appreciates an eastern exposure, where her feet will stay cool through the summer.  She grows only a few inches a year, but will eventually find her way to 10′ x 10′.  Site in a small garden or as an understory and you will fall in love too.

Helleborus hybridus ‘Black Diamond’

There are rare colors in the plant world, and black is certainly one of them. This new selection of Lenten Rose, from the hybridizing efforts of Ernie and Marietta O’Byrne, is one of the darkest shades we’ve seen. New growth emerges in early March here in New England, gradually sending forth flowering shoots as kinder weather warms the earth. The nodding single rose shaped flowers begin to fade in early May, after which the swollen ovules will burst, dispersing the ripened seed. Seed most likely will not germinate until the following spring, and the seedlings will likely differ in color from the parent plant, as this is a hybrid. New foliage will continue to develop as the flowers fade and the handsome leathery leaves persist through the winter.

Hellebores appreciate being grown in a partially shaded, well drained, fertile, slightly alkaline soil (pH of 7-6). Individual plants usually grow 18-20″ tall, forming sizable clumps over the years, and will withstand temperatures to -20 degrees F.