Northern Shade Gardening

Sweet Scents in the Garden

Saturday, May 31, 2008 Category: Garden Design

Sweet scents add another sensory layer to the garden. Two of my three favourite scented flowers are blooming in the garden right now, Convallaria majalis (lily of the valley) and Syringa (lilac). The third, Paeonia (peonies), are still in the bud stage, but will soon be adding their delicious fragrance to the garden potpourri.

Convallaria majalis (lily of the valley)The perfume from the white bells of Convallaria majalis (lily of the valley) floats over this shady bed. They are getting cozy with Matteuccia struthiopteris (ostrich fern) in this photo. Lily of the valley get cozy with a lot of plants in the garden, but I forgive them this habit when they bloom with beauty and scent in the spring.

Syringa vulgaris \'Wedgewood Blue\' (wedgewood blue lilac)This Syringa vulgaris ‘Wedgewood Blue’ (wedegewood blue lilac) has an intoxicating scent, and its blooms are just as beautiful to observe. The blossoms are a light lavender blue colour, but unfortunately my shrub does not produce many. It is in a part sun location, so it could be that there is just not enough light to produce a multitude of buds. I’ve had it for 5 years, so I would think it’s old enough now to produce more. This shrub is a smaller lilac, growing to about 2 metres (6 feet) when mature. Mine is about 5 feet now. It is planted near my bedroom window; the plan being that the fragrance would drift through my open bedroom window as I fall asleep. There are not enough flowers for it to carry that far yet, but they smell beautiful when I sniff them at close range. I’m still hoping that eventually the scent will drift into the house too. Lilacs are a wonderful shrub to add fragrance to your garden. I have more information and photos about Syringa vulgaris ‘Wedgewood Blue‘ in this follow up post.

Paeonia bud with ladybug and antIn this photo of the current peony bud, a ladybug looks on the hunt for aphids. I don’t know if it had a disagreement about this with the ant directly above it. I couldn’t observe it long enough to see who would win the rights to the peony bud territory.

Paeonia lactiflora ‘Sarah Bernhardt’ (Sarah Bernhardt peony) also produces a wonderful fragrance. It is in a part sun location, but it usually has many blooms, enough that the scent carries for a distance. This perennial is also planted near my bedroom window, but the smell does not waft through my window as planned either. It is definitely worth a walk to this area of the garden a few times a day when this plant is in bloom. I have to sniff its perfume, and observe its large pink overblown petals.

Paeonia lactiflora \'Sarah Bernhardt\' (peony)The flowers are so heavy that this peony needs a ring to keep it off the ground when in full bloom. I usually place a 2 tiered ring around it when it is about 30 cm (1 foot) tall. The one piece sturdy structure takes less than a minute to insert, and the foliage grows quickly to cover the support. This picture shows one side of the peony heavy with flowers from last year. Even in the part sun/shade exposure, this plant gets about 30 blossoms.

Peonies, lilacs and lily of the valley are 3 plants that will appeal to another sense in the garden, beyond their beauty. While strolling around, looking at the foliage and flowers (or more frequently bending over to pull a few weeds), I have a series of pleasant scents to enjoy.

You can read more about the  Sarah Bernhardt peony in this later post. Here is some information about Dianthus (carnation), another plant with a beautiful fragrance.

White Flowering Shade Perennials for Spring

Wednesday, May 28, 2008 Category: Perennials

Here are 2 shade perennials in my garden that bloom with white flowers for spring, Dicentra spectabilis ‘Alba’ (white bleeding heart) and Convallaria majalis (lily of the valley). Both of these do very well in a cold northern climate. They are old fashioned, easy care plants, that are still charming.

My D. spectabilis ‘Alba’ is a medium sized perennial with light green attractive foliage. In zone 3, in the shade, the foliage lasts until frost. This bleeding heart has all white flowers which are very pretty. They dangle in a row from the underside of a branch. The white hearts near the main stem are fully open now, with the bead below, but the flowers on the end of the stalk are still dangling down like Solomon’s seal flowers.

Convallaria majalis (lily of the valley)Here are the Convallaria in their favourite setting of dappled shade. The scent of lily of the valley is a sure sign that spring is well under way. Their pretty white bells dangle down the stalks, and light up the shade. Although they like to spread, I find them easy to pull if they grow too close to other perennials, but I wouldn’t plant them next to small delicate woodland flowers. They look charming under taller perennials. I think they mix well under shrubs, or with taller ferns and astilbe, which hold their own. In large enough groups, you don’t even have to bend down to sniff them. The wonderful smell hangs in the air.

I love walking by the west side of my garden right now, with the heady scent in the air. Now that the willow tree is leafing out, I enjoy the dappled patterns it is casting on these plants. The shadows will grow larger as the willow leaves fully expand.

There are some white flowering summer plants in this post, and more white spring flowers in this post.

Even common perennials bring beauty to the garden.

New Woodland Perennials for the Shade

Tuesday, May 27, 2008 Category: Perennials

I recently bought some new shade plants for an expansion to the shade garden, Athyrium filix-femina ‘Lady In Red’ (lady in red lady fern), Pulmonaria ‘Samourai’ (Samourai lungwort) and Asarum europaeum ( European ginger). This area is under a maple tree and behind the area is a Philadelphus virginalis (mockorange) that is about 2 metres tall (6 feet). Last year I had some double flowering impatiens in front of the shrub, but there was a big jump between the two in height. This year I’m digging it out a little wider and adding some woodland perennials. These are still in their pots. You can see more woodland flowers in my garden here, as well as Sanguinaria canadensis.

Athyrium filix-femina \'Lady In Red\' (lady in red lady fern)I’m planting this Athyrium filix-femina ‘Lady In Red’ (lady in red lady fern) in front of the P. virginalis. You can see how it got the variety name by the striking red stems. They make a rich contrast to the lush green fronds. I find my other regular lady ferns, which volunteered in the cracks of my old patio, to be very hardy. Last year I was moving them in the spring and they accidentally landed upside down, breaking many of their fronds. While they were upside down, I just whacked them in half with the shovel and replanted both mangled pieces. By the middle of summer they were lush and full. You have to love a plant that thrives in the shade, survives a severely cold winter, and bounces back from mishaps.

Pulmonaria \'Samourai\' (Samourai lungwort)

I also bought some Pulmonaria ‘Samourai’ (Samourai lungwort), which is a cross between P. ‘Majeste’ (Majeste lungwort) and another Pulmonaria. I was actually looking for P. ‘Majeste’, when I saw these. They are very similar, except the ‘Samourai’ leaves are longer and thinner, which I found appealing. These have a stronger silver colour to the leaves than this photo shows. You can see how the new baby leaves and leaves on the flower stalk have the typical spotted pattern of Pulmonaria, before developing the silver cast of the mature leaves. They also have the typical pretty blue flowers of Pulmonaria, but start off pinkish.

Asarum europaeum ( European wild ginger)

I have been waiting to get some Asarum europaeum ( European ginger) for awhile. I have seen A. canadensis (wild ginger) around, but I was looking for A. europaeum, because the leaves are much glossier, as you can see in this photo of one of my new ones. The dark green, shiny, heart shaped leaves of this perennial should contrast nicely with the matte, elongated silver leaves of the Pulmonaria.

I’ll need to dig and reshape the bed in order to plant these perennials. I’ll post pictures later of how the new plantings looks. I think they should do well under the maple shade, and the foliage should look interesting together. You can see some other shade perennials in my garden in this post.