Tag Archives: shade plants

Smitten by Solomon’s Seal

Polygonatum x hybridum 'Striatum'

Polygonatum x hybridum ‘Striatum’

Unfurling

Other forms….Unfurling

Dancing

Dancing

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Dangling

Just a few images to share….loving the various species and  forms in the genus Polygonatum (Solomon’s Seal).  We currently have about 15 selections, ranging in size from tiny 6″ Polygonatum humile to  6′ selections of P. biflorum. and are always seeking out more.

quick facts: Solomon Seals is in the family Asparagaceae. Most forms are hardy in zones 5-8, (a few in zones 3 & 4). They slowly spread by jointed rhizomes, and enjoy well drained soil in partial to full shade. Long lived and almost indestructible, Solomon’s Seal is one of those plants that holds its good looks with little care all season.

Mahonia x media ‘Charity’

Mahonia x media 'Charity'

Mahonia x media ‘Charity’

What shrub has evergreen foliage resembling both holly and fern, blooms in late fall/early winter with a candelabra of fragrant primrose yellow flowers, is drought tolerant once established and not a favorite of marauding deer? Answer: Mahonia x media ‘Charity, a hybrid of the two species, M. japonica and M. lomariifolia.

Ever since I saw a form of Mahonia  blooming in winter in the Plymouth MA garden of my friend Susanne, I have wanted to have this plant in my garden. Certainly, this is pushing the hardiness limits in our neck of the woods, so I have been  scouting for a very protected spot (thinking of a clearing in our now dense grove of Yellow Groove Bamboo).  ‘Charity’ is hardy to 0 degrees F, but we usually dip below that for at least a day or two each winter.

Of course all of you who live in balmier zones 7-9 should consider giving this winter interest plant a try.  It is a broadleaf evergreen, and so it would be prudent to choose a site with protection from winter winds and strong western sun. Plants develop a vase shape and usually grow to 5-7’ tall but can reach 10’ in mild climates, with a width of 3-6’. The flowers begin forming in late October, providing unexpected color when you need it most from late November into January. The multiple upright racemes of small flowers are magnets for bees, who may venture out on mild days. Rich blue fruit follow in spring, thus the common name Grape Holly,  and these are relished by birds. Older foliage may take on reddish tones in late winter, and tarnished leaves should be pruned once fresh growth begins to unfurl.

Mahonia can be grown in full sun or dappled shade, but if grown in full sun it it may require a bit more watering in dry spells. I should also add that the foliage has rather unfriendly sharp edges, and can deliver a “look but don’t touch” message to passerby.

Do you grow any forms of Mahonia and how have they performed where you live? Please share your experience.

Not Just Fall Color: Enkianthus campanulatus

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Enkianthus fall foliage

Redvein Enkianthus is about to betray its quiet charms any day now, with a display of technicolor fall foliage in shades of gold, orange, fiery red through purple. In mid to late spring it delights in a more soft-spoken way, bearing dainty clusters of white or red bells, depending on the cultivar. E. ‘Lipstick’ has white bells delicately edged in brick red, ‘Red Bells’ are colored, as the name suggests, coral red, and ‘Showy Lantern’. A slow growing shrub at first, it is often listed at growing from 6-8′ tall and 4-5′ wide, but with age it can easily reach 15′ or more with a wider reach. In fact, Enkianthus campanulatus can be pruned to from a lovely small tree. It is a perfect candidate for the partially shaded garden, both large and small.

Enkianthus campanulatus

Enkianthus campanulatus

Enkianthus 'Lipstick'

Enkianthus ‘Lipstick’

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Enkianthus c. ‘Red Bells’

Enkianthus c. 'Showy Lantern'

Enkianthus c. ‘Showy Lantern’

Grow Redvein Enkianthus in full sun or partial shade. It enjoys an enriched, well drained, acidic soil that stays evenly moist, although we have found it to be quite forgiving of dry spells, once established. It is deer resistant, but please note that deer will eat almost anything if hungry enough. Perfectly hardy in zones 5-8, with some reporting success growing it in zone 4B.

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5 Fall Bloomers for Shady Gardens

Actaea simplex 'Hillside Black Beauty'

Actaea simplex ‘Hillside Black Beauty’

What’s black (dark chocolate) and white (ivory) and smells like grape jelly? Answer: Actaea simplex ‘Hillside Black Beauty’, formerly categorized as Cimicifuga and commonly known as Fairy Candles (yes!) Bugbane (eee-uugh!), or Cohosh. This selection originated years ago at Fred and Maryann McGourty’s famous Hillside Gardens in CT. Select this plant for its brown/black foliage which is attractive all season. In September, fragrant  ivory flowers on 5-6′ stems emit a smell reminiscent of my childhood… Welch’s grape jelly. Actaea like a soil that has even moisture, and will need supplemental watering in dry spells. Hardy in zones 5-8.

Tricyrtis 'White Towers'

Tricyrtis hirta ‘White Towers’

Toad lilies  have their charms….exquisite, up close and personal blossoms, sometimes lavender, sometimes purple spotted…Tricyrtis ‘White Towers’  has pure white blossoms which lack spots, but are accented with lavender tinted stamens. The upright somewhat arching stems grow 18-20″ tall, and plants spread by stolons. Toad lilies like an evenly moist soil as well, and are hardy in zones 4-8.

Hosta 'One Man's Treasure'

Hosta ‘One Man’s Treasure’

More attention should be paid to Hosta with showy flowers, especially when they bloom at the end of the summer. Hosta ‘One Man’s Treasure’ is a small to medium Hosta with simple dark green leaves that have distinctive reddish purple petioles. In late September  clusters of showy dark lavender flowers are produced.  Hardy in zones 3-8.

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Aralia cordata ‘Sun King’

Aralia cordata ‘Sun King’ , commonly known as Spikenard, has bold compound leaves which are bright yellow when grown in a lot of sun, and  more of a chartreuse if given more shade. At first this plant seems unimposing, but give this Aralia a few years and it will be super sized…a good 5-6′ tall and wide. White starbursts of flowers form in September on dark stems followed by black fruit. Hardy in zones 4-9.

Begonia grandis 'Heron's Pirouette'

Begonia grandis ‘Heron’s Pirouette’

Pretty enough to be grown as a container specimen, yet Begonia grandis perpetuates for us in well drained soil, especially in pockets at the top of our retaining wall. Plants are propagated by dividing little bulbils which form underground as well as along the stems.  The attractive ovate leaves are under-sided in a ruby red ,  and from August to October sprays of  dainty pale pink flowers are born on 18″ upright then decumbent stems. Please note that in the spring, plants don’t show signs of like until late May here in New England, so mark the planting spot to prevent plants from accidentally being dug up. Hardy in zones 6-10.

 

3 Unique Hydrangea

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Hydrangea serrata ‘Kiyosumi’

More subtle and nuanced than the big mop heads, the species H. serrata hails from the higher elevations of Japan and Korea and is considered more reliably cold hardy than most H. macrophylla. What caught my eye about this particular selection H. ‘Kiyosumi’ , even before the blossoms developed, was the attractive brick red tint to the new foliage. The 4-6″ lace caps are composed of tiny rose tinted fertile flowers, accented with a skirt of larger florets colored white to pale pink with a rim of brick red. This compact selection grows 4′ x 4′, and is hardy to -10F without stem dieback. H. serrata ‘Kiyosumi’ does bloom on old wood, and I can vouch that it survived the winter of 2014-15 quite admirably.

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Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Snowflake’

An old favorite for the shade garden is the double form of Oakleaf Hydrangea, H. ‘Snowflake’. The bold oak leaf shaped foliage is handsome all season, but in early summer it bears long (10-15″) panicles of exquisite double white to celadon green florets which age beautiful to shades of pale green and rusty rose. It’s grace and beauty never ceases to draw compliments.

Like all H. quercifolia, ‘Snowflake’ blooms on old wood, so care should be taken when pruning so you are not sacrificing too many potential blossoms. H. quercifolia ‘Snowflake’ grows 7-8′ tall and wide, but the weight of the blossoms gives it an arching habit. Although this particular form can be grown in full sun if it has evenly moist soil, it has always been happier in our  cooler, shady border. It is hardy in zones 5-8.

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Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Zebra’

I was recently alerted about the new Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Zebra’ from my gardening friend Barbara Smith, who suggested it as a great Hydrangea for cut flowers. (Didn’t need much convincing; I bought 3). This new patented selection is a sport of the all white cultivar H. ‘Schneeball’ (German for Snowball) and is distinguished not only for its 3.5-5″ trusses but for its very dark green foliage and almost black stems. I hear the flowers age to a wonderful pale green. Plants form compact shrubs 3-4′ tall and wide.  I suspect that this form will only bloom on old wood, so I am trialing one in a protected area and the others in a more open spot in the garden. The literature says it is hardy to zone 5, but we’ll see if that means bud hardy, won’t we?

Tricyrtis hirta ‘Tojen

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Tricyrtis hirta ‘Tojen’

A must have plant for the late summer/fall shade garden is Tricyrtis hirta, commonly known as Japanese Orchid or Toad Lily. There are numerous cultivars; one I am especially fond of is the selection ‘’Tojen’’ , with has unspotted lavender, orchid like flowers held in loose sprays on sturdy stems above large lush foliage.

Toad Lilies enjoys a rich welled drained soil that stays adequately moist in the growing season. ‘’Tojen’’ is more forgiving of drier soils than other cultivars, but I recommended keeping the soil irrigated to keep plants at their best in late summer when they really show off. ‘‘Tojen’ grows 24-30”” tall by 30”” wide and is hardy in zones 5-8. Some great companion plants are Kirengeshoma palmata, Begonia grandis and late blooming Hosta such as ‘’Red October’’.

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Beesia deltophylla

Beesia deltophylla in bloom in early June

Beesia deltophylla in bloom in early June

We shouldn’t be surprised many people do not know or grow little Beesia. This Buttercup relative was brought into the U.S. from China by Dan Hinkley of Heronswood Gardens fame less than 20 years go. Sometimes thought of as a west coast plant, we have found that when sited in a protected spot it has thrived for half a dozen years in our zone 6A garden.

Beesia deltophylla is semi evergreen for us, but in mild winter climates folks can enjoy its glossy dark green heart shaped foliage all year round. The silvery veining adds a nice accent, and in late spring and early summer it sends up 10-15″ stems bearing dainty white flowers. We have included it with Hellebores, Epimedium and Hakonechloa in an understory planting under our ancient oak tree.

To grow Beesia well, provide a well drained soil that is rich with humus, and irrigate during dry spells. In cold climates like ours, let the fallen leaves acts as a winter mulch or spread sterile straw over the plants to protect from cruel winter winds. We suggest using it in urban gardens, which are often more protected.

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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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Impatiens omeiana

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.

 

Peucedanum ostruthium ‘Daphnis’

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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.

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