Fall Shade Plantings

Hydrangea paniculata 'Dv Pinky' (Pinky Winky hydrangea)
Hydrangea paniculata 'Dv Pinky'

Here some new perennials ready to plant in the shade garden. In zone 3 it’s getting late in the fall to plant, but we have had incredibly warm weather this week, and I hope the plants will settle in before the ground gets cold. There are not a great deal of plants left at nurseries by the end of September in my zone, mostly just left overs. I was fortunate to find many of the plants I wanted to add to the garden. These plants are posing in their pots before planting.

This shrub is Hydrangea paniculata ‘DV Pinky’ (Pinky Winky hydrangea). I short listed different H. paniculata, such as Unique, Pink Diamond, Pinky Winky and a few others. How did I narrow it down to this hydrangea? It might be because it is a very healthy specimen, has bright red stems which will look good in winter, grows extra large white panicles that turn deep pink in the fall starting at the bottom, or maybe it was the peer pressure from Joy. It’s a very attractive shrub, and I can’t wait to see what it looks like next year.

polygonatum commutatum 'giganteum' (Solomon's Seal)
polygonatum commutatum 'Giganteum'

These Polygonatum commutatum ‘Giganteum’ (Giant Solomon’s Seal) do not look as good in their pots at the tail end of the season as they will in the ground next year. I’m about to make the classic gardening mistake, “1 metre (3 feet) apart for these little twigs? They’ll look ridiculous; surely I can space them closer.” : )

I will have to show them the ‘Giganteum’ tag to give them some growing inspiration. I have tried different tall shade plants against the fence under the willow, but they usually get a little stunted, whether from the shade, lack of water, or just losing the competition with the willow roots. I’ll see if these will grow to their full height in that tough area. I’ll look forward to the dangling white blooms next spring.

Brunnera macrophylla 'Looking Glass' (Looking Glass Siberian bugloss)
Brunnera macrophylla 'Looking Glass'

This is Brunnera  macrophylla ‘Looking Glass’ (Siberian bugloss). It has the typical heart shaped leaves of Brunnera, with an overall metallic silver cast to them. The flowers are the familiar forget me not blue, that bloom in spring. The Brunnera will be planted with the Athyrium niponicum ‘Pictum’ (Japanese painted ferns). I like the look of the large rounded Brunnera leaves next to more delicate fern foliage, and they both do well in shade.  Both plants have some silver in them, but the fern also has purple and red tints. I’m moving two other Japanese painted ferns to make a larger group, along with the new ones I bought.

Cimicifuga ramosa 'Atropupurea' (bugbane)
Cimicifuga ramosa 'Atropurpurea'

Here is my latest attempt at getting a bugbane that will flower before the end of the season. My Cimicifuga simplex ‘White Pearl’ (now called Actaea) flowers too late in the fall to get much of a bloom display in zone 3. Cimicifuga ramosa ‘Atropurpurea’ (bugbane) is supposed to flower a little earlier, so I should know by next September if I’ve just bought another foliage plant, or if there will be some white wands. The C. ramosa ‘Atropurpurea’ has more purplish foliage than C. simplex. Cimicifuga at 1.5 m ( 4 to 5 feet) tall is great for the back of the shade border. It makes a useful green backdrop behind other plants, and the leaves are a little more attractive than Aruncus dioicus (goatsbeard), with the Cimicifuga being more delicate and finer cut.

Epimedium grandiflorum 'lilafee' (lilac fairy barrenwort)
Epimedium grandiflorum 'Lilafee'

Epimedium grandiflorum ‘Lilafee’ (‘lilac fairy’ barrenwort) is a low growing shade plant that has attractive foliage too.  I like the shape of the leaves, and the overall mounding outline of the plant. Some of these leaves have the reddish cast already. When this blooms in the spring it will have purplish flowers, but the plant should look good all season.

Geranium 'Rozanne'
Geranium 'Rozanne'

This perennial is Geranium ‘Rozanne’. Most sources, including the plant tag, rate this to zone 5, so I was hesitant about trying it. However a customer ahead of me at the till said that she overwinters them with no special treatment, so now I’m optimistic that they’ll do fine in zone 3. This geranium has beautiful blue flowers with a much more pronounced white centre than G. ‘Johnson’s Blue’. I have ‘Johnson’s Blue’ under one side of the lilac, and now a group of Rozanne on the other side in part-shade. Geranium plants fill in quickly, so these should cover the area by next summer, and bloom all season.

Heuchera 'Mint Frost' new fall colour
Heuchera 'Mint Frost'

I also picked up four more Heuchera ‘Mint Frost’ (mint frost coral bells). This perennial has mint green and silver foliage over the summer, but turns a reddish orange in the fall. My own plants have just begun the change, but these new ones are quite advanced. They should look nice as a clump in front of the Phlox divaricata (wild blue phlox), which look great in spring, but nondescript once their blooms are gone. I think the heuchera will hide the short phlox foliage well, while allowing the phlox blooms to show in spring.

Helleborus 'Ivory Prince'
Helleborus 'Ivory Prince'

These Helleborus ‘Ivory Prince’ (Lenten Rose) have great foliage, especially considering they’ve been sitting in a nursery pot all season. The leaves are very thick and stiff, with an interesting pattern, so I’m going to put them next to some lacy ferns. I can’t wait to see them bloom next spring. Since they are borderline hardy in zone 3, I will let the willow put them to sleep under a blanket of leaves for extra protection.

There will be a little less grass to mow next summer, once I finish expanding the beds. Planting these perennials involves moving around a number of others, so I’ve been doing a lot of digging and rearranging. One advantage of rearranging in the fall is that most of the plants are full size, so I’m not as tempted to squeeze them too close together like I am in spring. My next post shows how I planted these  perennials and shrubs, and combined them in their new shade beds. Although they look a little spindly in their pots right now, I’m picturing them flourishing in the ground next year. I hope that all of these make it safely over the winter, because next spring I’ll be eagerly pulling back the leaf mulch from the flower beds, looking for regenerating shoots. What are you planting this fall?

34 thoughts on “Fall Shade Plantings”

  1. I just saw another post on Pinky Winky. PW is on my ‘Watch List’ since it is supposed to be more drought tolerant than most other hydrangeas.

    You are like me, I’m energized in the fall. The cooler weather makes me want to be outside moving, changing, adding.

  2. Hi! I did a post about my Pinky Winky today too, lol. It is a new addition to my garden this fall as well. I love the great selections you found this year for your shady areas. Solomon’s Seal is one of my favorite shade lovers. :)

  3. Last summer I also bought Pinky Winky as a blooming plant. This year, and now planted in the soil, it didn’t have many flowers. I was a little disapppointed. Maybe it has got a wrong place, i.e. too near to a tree. I also planted some new garden treasures a wee ago e.g. peonies, some new hostas, a dark red heuchera (which is unfortunately the same I already have ;-) !!) and of course there are still a lot of new bulbs to be planted too. By the way, do you know the brunnera “Jack Frost” with a very special silver shaped leaf? It looks like the drawing you have on this comment sheet.

  4. Hellllooooo Northern Shade !
    Thanks for the mention girl ! LOL
    I just know you are going to love Pinky Winky .. I have to take a few more pictures before I cut some flowers to dry. It is gorgeous right now still.
    I think you will have more luck with ‘atropurpurea” cimicifuga (now it is this “Actae” genus ? how do they change something that was in the other catagory for so long ?) ..
    I have that one, and it does flower earlier, and competes well with Joe Pye weed .. kiwi and grape vine and a number of other perennials close to home with it.
    I did fall for the darker foliage ones like “Burnette” and “Hillside Black Beauty” the foliage is nicely cut like you have said. I don’t know how I ended up with so many different kinds but now that my back garden is becoming more shade garden .. I guess it was the right direction to go in ?
    We share some great plants girl !

  5. Northern Shade,

    Boy do I wish I was with you at the nursery…your plants all look good. I am not sure what has happened but the past two seasons there have been few if any great plants to temp me at our local nurseries. Pinky sounds great and I am going to check to see if it will tolerate our dry conditions. You, Joy, Racquel and now Frances are making me think this is a keeper shrub! Thanks for an inspiring post.


  6. Marnie, putting in the Cimicifuga meant moving the iris, which meant moving the lily of the valley, which meant moving the next plant. They all went round the merry-go-round. I still haven’t finished all of the beds.
    I was happy to find such a good healthy specimen of Pinky Winky at a good discount.

  7. Ken, I was happy to find so many perennials that were on the lists I have been keeping, and in good condition also. I can’t wait to see them next season. I like interesting leaf shapes and colours too.

  8. Racquel, I will have to read your post about your Pinky Winky hydrangea.
    Do you have the giant Solomon’s seal, and did it grow large quickly? How much space do you leave for each one? I’m looking forward to seeing the Solomon’s seal towering over the lily of the valley next year, next to the ferns.

  9. Barbara, sometimes hydrangeas seem to have off years where they don’t bloom much. It is also tricky sometimes to find the spot with just the right amount of sun and water. My Annabelle hydrangea did not do well this year. Pinky Winky is going in a part-shade site. I hope it is to its liking.
    I ended up getting more of the same type of Heuchera that I already had too. Partly because I like it, and partly because it is what was available.
    Bulbs are next.
    Yes, the Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’ leaf is from a plant in my garden. I adore its colour pattern and shape. I have a number of clumps of them, and ‘Mr. Morse’, which has a similar leaf, but white flowers. However, this is the first time I have tried ‘Looking Glass’. The Brunnera look great next to ferns and plants with small or long leaves.

  10. Hi Joy, you trendsetter.
    The C. simplex wands are just starting to open now, when we would normally have had frost by now. They are most likely wishing they had been shipped to a warmer zone, with a longer growing season. In zone 3 you can’t wait until October to start flowering. I am looking forward to the C. atropupurea putting on a better show next year.
    Yes they changed the classification from Cimicifuga to Actaea. I understand why plants get renamed to improve the classification, but I wish they wouldn’t. It defeats the other side benefit of using scientific names, being able to discuss plants with other gardeners from around the world, using a common language. I often go to sites in other languages, and if they use the botanical names, It is much easier follow the post. I assume visitors who don’t use English as a first language find it easier too.

  11. Gail, the nursery that had the healthiest stock, with the best selection, also had the biggest discount. The down side is that I now have about 40 plants to get in the ground. Then I had a brainstorm of which beds to enlarge, and how I could move things around. I’m in the middle of moving about 5 times as many plants as I bought.

  12. i love shopping for perennials at the end of the season. sure, some of the plants look a little sad having sat out the summer in their little pots but, like you, i enjoy the anticipation of seeing them in bloom next season. I’ve heard wonderful things about pinky winky. looks like you got a good one. good luck with the ivory prince. in my garden, it was among the first bloomers and the flowers lasted for weeks and weeks and weeks (and I’m not exaggerating).

  13. Irena, the Pinky Winky had the reddest stem of the hydrangeas I looked at. I think it will look decorative when the leaves are gone too.
    It’s good to hear about the extended bloom time for the Helleborus ‘Ivory Prince’. Those first blooms are the ones I appreciate the most in the garden.

  14. Brunnera macrophylla ‘Looking Glass’ and Athyrium niponicum ‘Pictum’ I think will be pefect together. To find good partners for ‘Looking Glass’ is a bit difficult, at least for me. I have moved this plant almost 10 times because of its ‘blue –silvered’ leaves.
    I have just dug down the last plants and they are,
    Epimedium ‘Chris Norton’
    Epimedium ‘Amber Queen’
    You can’t get to many of Epimedium :)

    Wish you a pleasant garden weekend

  15. Hi Shade, I have been meaning to come visit you and finally got here and am so glad. I love shopping trips, even vicarious ones. All of your selections are great, I grow some variety of them all, even at zone 7, but several would prefer cooler temps and more rain than what we can supply. About spacing the solomen’s seal, if it grows like the tag says, you can move some or divide it later. We have the variegated one, a passalong, and it has spread nicely and has no problem with root competition. More is better and bigger is better still with that plant. We can’t get a flower out of our actea, bugbane atro. either, funny isn’t it? Ivory prince is tempting, look at that healthy foliage. Good gardening!


  16. Birgitta, now that I see how nice ‘Lilafee’ looks in the shade under the willow, I wish I had picked up more. Which is your favourite of the Epimedium?
    Although I had a rough idea of where I wanted to put the new plants, I’ve been rearranging the pots as I dig in others. I have an Athyrium ‘Ghost’ fern as well that I might put next to the ‘Looking Glass’. They look good in their pots on the ground next to each other. I’ll see how they look growing together next season.
    This weekend will definitely be a busy gardening one.

  17. Frances, preferring cooler temps is a good trait in a plant. : )
    It’s good to hear that the solomon’s seal does fine with root competition. I compromised on the spacing, part way between the distance I really wanted to plant them and the tag recommendations. I think they might not grow to their full size in that location.
    ‘Ivory Prince’ has red stems too. It’s an all around nice looking plant.

  18. Ivory Prince is just fabulous – does better in a sheltered location – I’ve got one out front and one in my little fenced garden. The sheltered plant is much bigger and beefier (I’m Cdn 6B US 5B – no reliable snow cover). Once it starts to bloom, you’ll be paying it a visit every day. I’ve taken so many photos of mine – I need a whole sector on my computer for its files.

  19. Barbarapc, after reading your comment I have the urge to go back and get more ‘Ivory Prince’ to enlarge the clump of 3. They will be in a fairly sheltered location, in the backyard, near a fence, under a tree. One advantage to my area is that we do have reliable snow cover, usually from October to April.
    I’m anticipating the flowers of early spring already.

  20. What wonderful purchases you made Northern Shade. You are going to be busy for a while getting them all settled unless you’re much faster than me! I had to chuckle at your comment on spacing ~ I make that mistake all the time then end up relocating. I just bought a Brunnera myself ~ pairing it with the painted ferns is a great idea. I have the “burnette” cimicifuga but transplanted it the end of August (long story) so it did not bloom this year. It has in past years for me tho (zone 5). Good luck with yours. I need to purchase some epimediums, as I agree with the poster who said you can never have enough. I have lots of bulbs to get in the ground! Happy planting! I hope the weather cooperates till you get it all done.

  21. Kathleen, I’ve been working my way through the garden rearranging, but I’m longing for the extended light hours of mid-summer. At the end of June I could garden until 11:00, which is one advantage of a northern latitude.
    It’s tricky getting plant spacing just right, so the groups will meet at their edges without leaving gaps, but then those darn plants have a habit of growing, so you have to predict how large they will be in 3, 5 or 10 years, and compromise about when you want it to look best. Big gaps now? Too tight later? Filler plants? Rearrange everything periodically? Underplanting? Seeing how everything matures is one of the fun parts of gardening.
    The Brunnera and ferns are going into an area with lots of roots, so I have to plant in pockets between the larger roots, which means they don’t always get placed in the exact spot I want them.
    I’m already enjoying the new epimediums. They have a lovely woodland look under the trees.

  22. Northern, Oh the domino effect in gardening! Hoping you get them all into the ground before a big frost! Zone 3! We are now Zone 7 and unhappy about it! I miss snow, once upon a time we had a few days of snow.

  23. Gail, I did get the last of the new perennials and the moves finished today. It was a perfect gardening day, sunny with a scattering of leaves falling while I worked. However, as I watered everything in and looked at the front bed, I kept thinking I should get another matching hydrangea on the other end.

  24. Sure sounds like you’ve got a perfect plan for all your new perennials. They are all foreign to me but I liked reading your thoughts and plans on how they will fit together and with your existing layout.

    It is really surprising to know you are planting this late in your zone. I’m always learning new things from northern gardeners. What I would give to be able to have Pinky in my garden! And love the “looking glass” leaves and color. You are right about mixing the textures of foliage… all these should reward you nicely in your shady garden next summer!
    Meems @Hoe&Shovel

  25. Hi,
    I have had the best time looking through your elegant and informative blog!
    You have such and eye for interesting plants. I love the Aruncus “goatsbeard”, astilbes,dicentra,all of your campanula sp. and so many more. I also enjoyed the post you did on foliage effects.
    I am so pleased to have met you.
    Best regards,

  26. Meems, I had a rough idea of where I wanted most of the plants to go when I bought them, but putting the pots on the ground and rearranging them is a lot of fun. Like Gail mentioned, there is that domino effect once you get going.
    Normally this is a little late to be planting in my area, but we have had extraordinarily warm weather this fall. We’ve had no frost yet, and even broke a high temperature record for one day last week that went back to the 1800’s. I have to keep repeating to myself, “Global warming is actually a bad thing.” I have impatiens and begonias still blooming, while last year the frost got them at the beginning of September. Because of the late planting, I’m going to cover the beds up with leaves for an extra layer of insulation before the cold comes. My trees cover most of them for me, but I’ll throw a few armloads where they miss.
    The Brunnera, including ‘Looking Glass’, are my equivalent of your more tropical caladiums, lovely shaped and patterned leaves for the shade.

  27. Philip, thank you. The Campanula are some of my favourites. The Aruncus and Astilbe flower plumes are great for adding light and airy colour over more solid foliage in the shadows. The little white hearts dangling on the Dicentra in spring are delightful, and right now their golden leaves are starting to carpet the ground below.

  28. All those plants are great if you ask me, I really do like perennials with nice foliage. I hope that Rozanne will survive in your zone…and I think it will! Do you get snow? Some perennials don’t survive in my zone (it rains a lot in the winter) but they do in friends’ gardens (with snow). :) I’ve been planting some Echinacea and Heuchera during this fall…can’t wait until next year and see how it turns out.

    Have a nice week! Karin

  29. Karin A, we have very reliable snow. Usually the permanent snow comes at the end of October or beginning of November, and there is a constant layer on the ground until April. It helps to insulate the plants against the cold, but it defines the beginning and end of the gardening season. That’s why I like plants that get a jump start on blooming in the early spring.
    It sounds like you’ve been having fun planting too. Which Heuchera did you get? It is great to anticipate, to see how everything grows, and then how the garden comes together next year.

  30. What a beautiful array of plants you have there in you shopping cart. for just being left overs, you nursery really does have a good array of stuff available, and you must really have allot of room in your garden. I think I would have to dig my garden a little further in order to accommodate all of those plants!

  31. Vioboy, I was lucky to find a number of the plants on my list. I went back and added a few other too. Altogether I ended up with about 55 new ones.
    My garden beds are a little larger now, and the grass is slowly shrinking.

  32. I have never heard of winter sowing. What is this, would you be able to send me info. I do plan on growing seeds inside. I did it this spring and had great results. I tried it some years before, but did not have much luck.

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