Tag Archives: shade containers

Asparagus Ferns to Know and Grow

Perhaps your grandmother had a big hanging basket of Asparagus Fern on her shady porch…you probably didn’t think much about it, but there it lived, thriving with little care, living in the same pot for what seemed to be years on end. Yes-sir-ree…a testimony to a plant which could thrive on neglect.

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Just planted….Asparagus setaceus plumosa, with 2 begonias in an 8″ square pot.

Despite their fernlike ambience, this group of foliage plants are not ferns at all, but members of the Lily family (Liliaceae). An inspection of the root system reveals a mass of bulb-like tubers, (think lily bulbs). Being pot bound doesn’t discourage their vigor and although they like bright light, Asparagus Ferns can exist satisfactorily with quite a bit of shade. They do not need a constant supply of moisture, and prefer a soil that is sharp draining. Take note: Asparagus Ferns make great companions to Begonia  which like similar conditions… bright light to shade, and a soil that doesn’t stay wet.

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Asparagus densiflorus ‘Sprengeri’ (L) and densiflorus ‘Myersi’ (R)

The most familiar species is A. densiflorus ‘Sprengeri’, known for it’s arching stems of apple green narrow leaves. (For those who need to be on top of all things botanical…the genus is now Protasparagus, but that may be too much information for some. ) The next most commonly encountered form is the Foxtail Asparagus, A. densiflorus ‘Myersi’, with its  gorgeous chunky plumes.

Now, let me introduce you to  a few siblings, which offer variety but require the same easy care, and of course are suitable as cut greenery for arrangements.

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Clockwise from upper left: A. densiflorus ‘Cwebe’, A. setaceus plumosa, A. setaceus pyramidalis, and A. macowanii

Asperagus densiflorus ‘Cwebe’ is not dissimilar to Grandma’s form, but ‘Cwebe’ tends to be more upright, growing, to 18-20″ tall, and has an interesting bronze tint to the new growth. Asparagus setaceus plumosa is  very lacy,  and is familiar to those who purchase cut greens for arranging.  Asparagus setaceus pyramidalis also has lacy, fine textured foliage with an upright thrust. Perhaps the sweetest of all is Asparagus macowanii, commonly called Ming Fern, with very delicate forest green foliage. As a young plant A. macowanii  is quite small in stature, but if grown in a conservatory or outdoors where it is hardy, it can reach a height of 5’ at maturity.

The before shots…containers 2015

In early summer, I take “before” images of my containers and then “after” shots in September to document how well the compositions fared over the season.  The plant selection for each arrangement is based on great foliage and unique forms. Flowering plants must be long blooming but without the constant need of deadheading.  Here are a dozen “before” pics.

For sunny and partial sunny areas….

Tall Cylinder Pot: Melianthus major, Verbena bonariensis, Heuchera 'Southern Comfort', Sedim 'Lemon Coral', Lantana montevdensis and Tradesantia 'Pale Puma'

Tall Cylinder Pot..Melianthus major, Coprosma, Verbena bonariensis, Heuchera ‘Southern Comfort’, Sedum ‘Lemon Coral’, Lantana montevdensis and Tradesantia ‘Pale Puma’

California Hydrangea Pot: Unknown Hydrange, Origanum 'Kent Beauty', Oxalis triangularis, Abutilon 'Pink Charm'

California Hydrangea Pot: Lovely, but unknown Hydrangea, Origanum ‘Kent Beauty’, Oxalis triangularis, Abutilon ‘Pink Charm’

Not flower bud hardy for us outdoors in zone 6A, but love the coloring of this dwarf hydrangea we purchased on a trip to CA a couple of years ago.

Closeup of the Hydrangea, which influenced color selection. This hydrangea, purchased on a trip to CA a couple of years ago, (don’t think it’s ‘Pistachio’), is not flower bud hardy for us outdoors in zone 6A, but makes a great container specimen.

Cast Iron Urn: The friendly agave relative, Beschorneria 'Flamingo Glow' with Cuphea hyssopifolia aura, Pelargonium sidoides, Variegated Ivy and Tradescantia 'Pale Puma'

Cast Iron Urn, starring the friendly agave relative, Beschorneria ‘Flamingo Glow’ with Cuphea hyssopifolia aurea, Pelargonium sidoides, Variegated Ivy and Tradescantia ‘Pale Puma’

Detail, showing Cuphea hyssopifolia aura and Pelargonium sidoides

Detail, showing Cuphea and Pelargonium sidoides

Hummer's Pot: hummingbird magnet Cuphea 'David Verity' with Heuchera'Southern Comfort, Oxalis 'Zinfandel', Coleus 'Tapestry' and Helichrysim 'Limelight'

Hummer’s Pot: Hummingbird magnet Cuphea ‘David Verity’ with Heuchera ‘Southern Comfort’, Oxalis ‘Zinfandel’, Coleus and  Helichrysum ‘Limelight’

White Bean Pot: Gaura 'So White, Pelargonium sidoides, Heuchera 'Obsidian'and Dicondra 'Silver Falls'

White Bean Pot: Gaura ‘So White’, Pelargonium sidoides, Heuchera ‘Obsidian’, Lantana montevidensis alba and Dichondra ‘Silver Falls’

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Charcoal Urn: Pink Stripe Phormium, with a variety of succulents and Dicondra ‘Silver Falls’

And for more shady spots…

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A living wreath  (sort of a vertical container) for shade: Mini Spider Plant (Chlorophytum ‘Bonnie’ )

 

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Abutilon ‘Pink Charm, again, with Heuchera ‘Beaujolais, Pilea microphylla variegata, Fuchsia ‘Madame Daishu’ and the barely seen Ceropegia woodii (String of Hearts Vine)

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Amorphophallis konjac with big Begonia ‘Wild Pony’ and petite Begonia bowerae. 

And of course: Succulents…I’ll try not to bore you with too many!

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A new succulent combination for the 32″ black zen bowl…(there are too many plants to list).

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Succulent Martini anyone?

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Fan favorite Succulent Clam Shell.

Which container planting can you see in your garden?

PS…Check back in September to see which containers till look fabulous.

Ligularia x ‘Last Dance’

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’.

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Plectranthus ‘Mona Lavender’

Plectranthus ‘Mona Lavender’ just beginning to bloom

Plectranthus is a large genus from South Africa, related to Coleus. This selection, ‘Mona Lavender’, was bred at Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden in Cape Town, S Africa in the 1990’s and was introduced into the US market by Ball Horticultural. Plectranthus ‘Mona Lavender’ is a stunning plant bearing dark green foliage with eggplant purple undersides. She teases you with an occasional bloom in summer months, but we have found here in southern New England that it is not until  late August when the real display begins. Multitudes of lavender throated flowers are held in upright spires providing a show that continues right until frost.

Grow Plectranthus ‘Mona Lavender’ in rich soil in sun or partial shade. Plants branch quickly when pinched, and this encourages a compact form. ‘Mona Lavender’ generally reach 18-24″ for us, but may get 2-3′ in a climate with a longer growing season. (Customers in Florida wholeheartedly give this plant a thumb’s up). We love using her in containers where her dark foliage adds contrast, and surprise from the late flush of blossoms. Alas she is only hardy to 35 degrees, so when frost is predicted, you may want to bring ‘Mona Lavender’ indoors. She might be very happy spending the winer on your sunny window sill.

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Plectranthus ciliatus

You might pass by this plant and think, hmm…that’s an interesting Coleus with its old gold/khaki colored leaves. Turn the leaf over and note the purple coloring. It is in fact a member of the Labiatae (mint) family which of course means it related to Coleus (Solenostemon). Its claim to fame in our book, besides its attractive foliage, is the especially striking flower display presented in late summer and early fall.

Plectranthus ciliatus is native to forested areas of southern Africa, is hardy to about 35 degrees F and can tolerate quite a bit of shade. It can grow 2′ tall, but it has lax stems that will root along if planted in open ground. We suggest that you should offer it at least a few of hours of sun, since the sunlight will induce an abundance of spires of large lavender pink flowers on the decumbent stems in late September through October.

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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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Fuchsia triphylla ‘Gartenmeister’

What a workhorse! This plant always looks terrific. Beloved by hummingbirds for his endless supply of long tubular salmon-red flowers, this upright bushy Fuchsia has handsome velvety dark green tinted purple bronze foliage. ‘Fuchsia Gartenmeister’, also known as ‘Gartenmeister Bonstedt’, in honor of it’s hybridizer, can reach a height of 2-3′, but can be pinched back if a shorter stature is desired, and can grow to a width of 18-24″ in one season.

We recommend growing ‘Gartenmeister’ in morning sun/afternoon shade, although we have grown this plant in a very sunny spot, where the flower supply was even more generous. Use a  rich well drained soil and keep well watered. Fertilize container grown plants bi weekly. Plants are winter hardy in very warm climates (zone 10) but can be easily wintered over indoors, should you wish to keep plants for next year.

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