Northern Shade Gardening

Great Foliage Matters

Wednesday, April 23, 2008 Category: Garden Design

Great foliage is important in a shade garden. Many plants that thrive in the shade tend to have no flowers or short blooming times or sparse flowering because of the low light. The flowers may come and go, but good foliage is visible for the season. The feathery plumes of the astilbes look great while they are flowering, but their lacy foliage looks great for even longer (this is probably truer in a northern climate).

Plants with leaves of different textures, habits and colours provide interest. If you are craving more colour, many of the newer Heuchera (coral bells) combine a rainbow of leaf colour.shade foliage Brunnera and Adiantum, ferns I’m partial to using a low key combination of different green shades, combined with silvers such as the perennial Brunnera macropylla ‘Jack Frost’ (Siberian bugloss). This picture from last summer also shows the Adiantum pedatum (Northern maidenhair fern) to the left, Convallaria majalis (lily of the valley) behind and Matteuccia struthiopteris (ostrich fern ) in the back corners. I like the feathery texture of the maidenhair fern next to the heart shaped silver veined leaves and the broad lily of the valley leaves with the vase shaped ostrich fern. These plants all do well under the shade of a willow tree with some dappled light.

Alternating perennials that are vase shaped, rounded, tall or sprawling adds excitement to the shade garden. Repeating these combinations around the garden ties it together. If you are looking for more foliage ideas, here is another post I wrote which has many foliage pictures.

What are your favourite perennial foliage combinations? When you go to buy a plant, which is more important to you, the leaves, the flowers, the plant form, the scent, or is it something less concrete like past memories you associate with the plant?

7 Responses to “Great Foliage Matters” »

  1. kerri :
    April 26, 2008 at 1:35 pm

    Hello! Thanks for stopping by and leaving such a nice comment. Yes, it’s wonderful when two plants combine well and bloom together!
    I looked at your garden plants page and found it very interesting and informative. I like the way you’ve shared both a photo and information about each plant.
    You have a beautiful garden!
    I planted Brunnera Jack Frost last summer and I’m excited to see that it’s just beginning to grow. You’re right…the leaves are quite a masterpiece.
    We’re having lovely warm, sunny days, but need rain very badly. I hope you’re enjoying some lovely weather for gardening too.

  2. Northern Shade :
    April 26, 2008 at 6:00 pm

    One of the reasons I especially enjoyed seeing your bulbs, Kerri, is that my garden is still under snow. My one blooming bulb is currently buried under a fresh layer.

  3. Joy :
    April 27, 2008 at 3:04 pm

    Hi there !
    Thank you for stopping by my blog. I love your header picture of Jack Frost .. my favorite brunnera : ) I just bought one last year and was amazed how well it has held up with our heat and humidity here in Kingston. I have a lot of ferns as well .. also the Maiden Hair which I transplanted to a shadier spot hoping it would be happier.
    I have two Korean Goatsbeard now .. started with one last year and loved it .. I think if I had to stick to one garden it would be a shade garden. I love the quite cool stillness.
    Enjoying your site ! Thanks !

  4. Layanee :
    April 27, 2008 at 4:15 pm

    Hi there! Thanks for stopping by my garden and leaving a trail to yours. I love foliage combinations and your beautiful B. ‘Jack Frost’ reminds me that I have yet to purchase one…five! I am into big clumps these days. I’m looking forward to more of your garden combinations.

  5. Northern Shade :
    April 27, 2008 at 8:47 pm

    Thanks, Joy. I do a lot of juggling with plant placements too, trying to find the best site.

    Layanee, I know what you mean about big clumps. I ended up with 3 different groupings of Brunnera ‘Jack Frost’. I have one grouping of 5 with some maiden hair ferns, one group with some Campanula, and one group with some shooting stars in front of some ostrich ferns.

  6. gardener :
    April 28, 2008 at 9:32 pm

    Always nice to connect with another Zone 3 gardener. Nice pics. I’ll check back regularly for updates.

  7. Northern Shade :
    April 29, 2008 at 12:42 am

    I enjoyed your site, gardener. Be careful those Canada geese don’t make themselves at home in your water garden to raise their young. It would be hard to share a balcony with them.

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