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.
I’m surprised that Japanese Hydrangea Vine, Schizophragma hydrangeoides, isn’t planted more often. You can easily see the similarities to Hydrangea anomala petiolaris, the common climbing Hydrangea, but in my opinion it is a much prettier plant, and becomes established more quickly. It grows well in sun or quite a bit of shade and is hardy in zones 5-9.
Schizophragma hydrangeoides differs from Climbing Hydrangea in it’s growth habit and its blossoms differ slightly as well. Schizophragma grows rather flat against it’s climbing surface, attaching by aerial roots, as opposed to Climbing Hydrangea which sends out protruding branches. It is quite handsome climbing up limbed tall trees, as well as trained along a tall wall, reaching 20-30′ with time. In late June and July, 8-10″ flattened corymbs of tiny fragrant white fertile flowers ringed with showy heart shaped sepals appear, and age wonderfully through the season. (If you study a Climbing Hydrangea blossom, the sterile flowers are actually composed of 4 sepals.) There are several good cultivars to choose from: Schizophragma hydrangeoides ‘Roseum’ has lovely rose flushed sepals, and Schizophragma hydrangeoides ‘Moonlight’ has beautiful blue green ovate leaves with a silverly overlay, and the same large white flowers. Fall foliage on all forms takes on various hues of red, and in warmer climates, sometimes yellow tones.
Image courtesy of Briggs Propagators
We thought you might enjoy the subtle charm of this hardy little known Rhododendron (perhaps nomenclature is its problem) . Commonly called Labrador Tea, formerly classified in the genus Ledum, and then later named R. tomentosum, there’s been obvious confusion when gardeners are seeking information. ‘Milky Way’ is a superior clone selected by Steve Hootman. In mid April, it produces trusses of small white starry flowers, which allude to its cultivar name. Fine textured evergreen foliage is small narrow and olive green.
Rhododendron diversipilosum ‘Milky Way’ is quite cold hardy, growing well in zones 3-6. It can take poor soil conditions but will be happiest if given a well drained soil with humus and regular moisture in sun or partial shade. Plants grow to 3′ in height and up to 5′ in width. It would be a great addition to a rock garden planted with early spring Narcissus, Hellebores and Veronica ‘Georgia Blue’.
You may be curious about Helleborus niger. It is the botanical name for the legendary Christmas Rose, but its Latin name translates to “Black Hellebore”. A little confusing to us in modern times, since we see white flowers. During the Middle Ages it was commonly called Black Hellebore (a name also applied to other European Helleborus species) to distinguish it from White Hellebore (Veratrum), both of which had medicinal, if not toxic, properties.
The other common name comes from Christian mythology. The story goes that a young girl’s tears falling onto new fallen snow caused a group of Hellebores to burst into bloom, providing her with a gift for the newborn Christ Child, and thus, H. niger became known as the Christmas Rose. The trouble with this story is that the old varieties of Hellebrous niger rarely bloom sooner than mid January, and that is only in mild winter areas, so perhaps this was a belated gift.
Now, thanks to the busy German breeder Hueger, a new cultivar has been introduced which blooms as early as Thanksgiving, with a good display of 2-3″ pristine white single rose flowers in full display by mid December. This compact new cultivar, growing to roughly 12? x 12?, is being marketed under the name Helleborus ‘HGC Jacob’. (HGC stands for Helleborus Gold Collection, and but I think they should ditch the monogram for marketing reasons). It is hardy in zones 5-9.
Culturally this evergreen perennial prefers a well drained rich soil that is slightly alkaline. Site ‘HGC Jacob’in a protected area, so that winter winds do not desiccate the foliage and flowers, in partial shade. As an insurance measure, apply a mulch of fallen leaves around this little Hellebore, and on mild days, pay him a visit as he peaks through his protective layer. He will put a smile on your face.
With Halloween just weeks away, it’s fitting that we take a look at a very colorful Witch Alder. The Witch Alders, as you may guess, are closely related to Witch Hazels, and are native to the southeastern US. They are multi season plants, with honey scented white bottle brush flowers emerging in early spring (just before and as the plants leaf out), plus attractive form and outstanding fall color. One we are pleased to be growing is Fothergilla x ‘Blue Shadow’ notable for the lovely glaucous blue foliage it displays all summer.
Fothergilla x ‘Blue Shadow’ was discovered by Gary Handy of Boring OR, when he noticed this very blue leaved sport on another fine cultivar, Fothergilla ‘Mt Airy’. It’s a vigorous but compact grower, with an upright habit at first, then becoming thicker with age, and finally achieving 5-6′ in height and width. ‘Blue Shadow’ grows well in full sun or partial shade, prefers a reasonably moist but well drained slightly acidic soil, and is quite hardy in zones 4-8. It can be used as a focal point, or planted en masse at the edge of a woodland. So many plants would make great companions. For spring interest, pair with dwarf Rhododendrons; for summer, Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Peewee’ , and for fall the golden Leucosceptrum and Carex ‘Blue Bunny’ to compliment ‘Blue Shadow’s technicolor display.
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?
Image courtesy of North Creek Nursery
This quite lovely eastern native terrestrial orchid might be quite at home in your garden, especially if you have a spot that stays on the moist side with perhaps 3-4 hours, or more, of sunlight. And at this time of year, it offers deliciously scented blossoms lovely enough for cutting and using in wedding arrangements.
Spiranthes cernua can be grown in a wide range of hardiness zones (3-8). Native populations can be found in sandy moist lowlands in diverse areas, from Florida north into Quebec and Newfoundland. It forms ground-hugging rosettes of silvery green strap like leaves, and over time, can form good sized colonies in wet soil, even in bogs or swamps. This particular selection was discovered in the Delaware Valley region and named for the southeastern PA town of Chadd?s Ford. In September and October, Nodding Ladies Tresses, as it is commonly called, bear scented creamy white orchid blossoms arranged in a spiral fashion around sturdy 1-2′ stems. The fragrance is beguilingly reminiscent of jasmine and vanilla.
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.
Chasmanthium latifolium ‘River Mist’ (image courtesy of Itsaul Plants)
Chasmanthium latifolium ‘River Mist’ is another plant whose charms are not revealed well in a photograph. This variegated selection of Northern Sea Oats, an American native grass with a bamboo likeness, has light and lovely white striped foliage/seed heads, and performs a graceful dance in the garden with any gentle breeze. It does particularly well in light shade and is stunning used en masse or as a vertical focal point in containers. The foliage forms clumps 12-15″ tall and 24″ wide. 30″ stalks bear the showy striped seed heads in late summer and early fall. Take advantage of siting ‘River Mist’ where backlighting will add drama to the display, or use it against a darker shades to set off the white striping.
The objection some may have to this attractive native grass is that it does self-sow, though perhaps not as vigorously as the straight species, and the seedlings are usually not variegated. What one should do to avoid the unwanted seedlings is to cut the attractive flowering stalks for flower arrangements. Plants are tough and hardy in zones 4-9, making them suitable for gardens throughout much of the U.S.
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 .