Northern Shade Gardening

Athyrium Beautiful Garden Ferns

Monday, June 29, 2009 Category: Perennials
Athyrium filix-femina (lady fern) with broad leafed plants

Athyrium filix-femina (lady fern) with broad leafed plants

The Athyrium ferns add delightful lacy foliage to the shadows in the garden. Their foliage adds movement to the garden, swaying in the breezes. The finely divided fronds of ferns look especially nice next to large, solid leaves. These ones are all hardy, and thrive in the shade.

In this photo, the Athyrium filix-femina (lady fern) are planted with Pulmonaria ‘Majeste’, Brunnera and Hosta ‘Francee’. Their fresh green colour looks good with silver leafed plants.

Athyrium filix-femina are wonderfully robust ferns for the garden. These are the second ferns to unfurl in spring in my garden, right after the Matteuccia struthiopteris (ostrich ferns). However, the fronds of the lady fern last longer in the fall. The lady ferns continually unroll new fronds through the summer, making substantial clumps. They are very easy to divide.

My lady ferns came to the garden of their own accord, showing up as tiny ferns in the spaces between my patio stones at my last garden. I had no other ferns at the time, so they must have drifted in. I haven’t had any self spore since then, but the groups have grown, and I’ve divided them to form new plants.

Athyrium filix-femina 'Lady in Red' full fronds

Athyrium filix-femina 'Lady in Red' full fronds

Athyrium filix-femina ‘Lady in Red’ are an especially attractive version of the lady fern, with darker red stems. These contrast nicely with the lighter green foliage, and give them a little pizazz. These have been very hardy in my garden, and they are up reasonably early in the spring too.

Athyrium filix-femina comparison with 'Lady in Red' on right

Athyrium filix-femina comparison with 'Lady in Red' on right

Above is a collage of the two ferns side by side.You can see the midrib of the A. filix-femina on the left is green, while the midrib of  ‘Lady in Red’ on the right is a dark red. This red colour is most pronounced on new growth.

Athyrium niponicum 'Pictum' a few fronds

Athyrium niponicum 'Pictum' a few fronds

Athyrium niponicum ‘Pictum’ (Japanese painted fern) is a very slow plant to come up in spring in my garden. It sends up a single frond quite late, and then tentatively, a few others. I moved these plant last fall to a site with a bit more  morning sun, hoping that it would bulk them up. Perhaps the move set them back, so we’ll see next year.

Athyrium x 'Ghost' (ghost fern) new fronds

Athyrium x 'Ghost' (ghost fern) new fronds

I particularly admire the light silver fronds of Athyrium x ‘Ghost’ (ghost fern), with the contrasting red coloured midrib. These ferns form a good sized clump, and their light colour shows up well in the darker areas of shade. They make a great background to show off other plants in front of them. They are more robust then the painted ferns, but not quite as vigorous as the lady ferns.

Athyrium filix-femina (lady fern) June

Athyrium filix-femina (lady fern) June

All of these Athyrium make great garden plants for the shady areas. The variations in colour of their foliage and midribs add variety to the garden, while the lacy fronds of these ferns add a fine texture.

You can read more about my hardy ferns in this post, about fern combinations in another post, and see photos of new fiddlehead ferns in this post.

Designing a Shady Garden Bed

Friday, June 26, 2009 Category: Garden Design
After shady bed east side

After shady bed east side

Here is a before and after comparison of one of my shady garden beds, and how it has been changed from eight years ago. The above picture was taken this June, so the plants are not quite their full summer size. I like the mixture of textures in this bed, from all the different foliage colours and shapes.

At the back is a mockorange shrub, Philadelphus virginalis. It gives a shady green backdrop for the garden bed. In front of the mockorange are a group of Athyrium filix-femina ‘Lady in Red’ (lady fern). These are a fresh green colour with dark red stems. In front of them on the right are some Brunnera macrophylla ‘Mr. Morse’ (Siberian bugloss), with their silver and green leaves. In front of the Brunnera, to the left and right, are some Asarum europaeum (European ginger), with extra shiny leaves. To the left are some Pulmonaria ‘Samourai’ (Samourai lungwort), with long silver white leaves. On the far right edge of the picture are some Trillium grandiflorum.

Ugly before picture

Ugly before picture

The before photo of this same area was taken when I first moved into the house 8 years ago. I think it makes a classic before picture, because it’s so bad and decrepit that anything you do to the area has to be an improvement. The before is actually just a bad grassy area in front of a rundown fence. The new bed is near the fence, between the maple tree on the right and the sidewalk on the left.

after east shady bed sideways

after east shady bed sideways

This is a sideways view of the area now, with the fence on the right. This shows the plants in spring, so they are still a little small here. I like the combination of leaves in the bed, and I think it looks interesting , even when the flowers are gone. There are delicate, finely cut fern fronds, large heart shaped leaves, round shiny leaves, and long matte finished silver leaves. This year the Trilliums are adding their groups of three too.

After east bed showing pulmonaria

After east bed showing pulmonaria

This view is farther back, to show a bit of the Pulmonaria on the left. There is a new fence behind the Philadelphus virginalis, although  it’s mostly covered here when the shrub leafs out. This mockorange has never bloomed for me, but I’m excited this year, as it appears to have buds. I thought perhaps it was too shady a location for it, but if anything, it is even more shady now. We even had a cold winter, and quite a few late spring frosts, which I thought would have decreased the bud count. I’m looking forward to seeing the flowers for the first time. This mockorange has never performed as well as my Philadelphus lewisii ‘Blizzard’.

Here are two previous posts showing before and after pictures for other garden areas that were changed, a corner shade garden redesign and a narrow side garden remake.

There is a great sense of satisfaction in creating or renovating a garden bed, and watching it develop. It is fun to see how the plants work together, whether the plant shapes, flowers and leaves look good collectively, and fit their space. Have you been redoing any beds? How do you plan a new area?

Phlox Divaricata Clouds of Perfume

Wednesday, June 24, 2009 Category: Perennials
Phlox divaricata 'Clouds of Perfume' (woodland phlox) plant

Phlox divaricata 'Clouds of Perfume' (woodland phlox) plant

Phlox divaricata ‘Clouds of Perfume’ (woodland phlox) is covered in showy blooms in spring. The wonderful flowers are a bluish lavender colour, and make a focal point when they are in bloom. This plant does well in part shade or medium shade, but won’t bloom in deep shade. If you have a smaller monitor, you’ll have to click the top picture to see the whole photo.

I used it have the woodland phlox for a couple of years in deeper shade, where it had to compete hard with a willow. The plant survived at the same size, but never bloomed. Then I moved it to this medium shade area, where it gets about 2 hours of sunlight, or so, and it is very happy. The Phlox puts on a great floral display, and is about four times the size now.

Depending on the angle of the sun, the ‘Clouds of Perfume’ blooms can appear more bluish or more lavender, but they always look marvelous. Their name is more of a metaphor for beauty, than a description of their scent, since I never detect much of a fragrance.

Phlox divaricata 'Clouds of Perfume' and ostrich fern

Phlox divaricata 'Clouds of Perfume' and ostrich fern

I love the way the Phlox divaricata looks in front of this Matteuccia struthiopteris (ostrich fern). The lacy fronds make a great backdrop for the flowers, while their narrow vase shape gives lots of room at the bottom for the phlox. The plants spread out nicely over time, but not in an annoying way. It’s very easy to pull it back if you want to, and not insistent about returning. I’m happy to have the woodland phlox fill out the space here. The groundcover is gradually moving towards the edge of the Hydrangea shrub, and makes a good underplanting for it, since the Hydrangea is slow to leaf out in spring.

We had a number of frosts in May, and many of the leaves of this perennial turned a tan colour, I thought that it might die back, or lose its buds and not bloom, but it recovered just fine. There are so many new green leaves, that I can’t even see the damaged ones, and the plant is full of these beautiful blooms. This plant handles zone 3 and a cold spring very well.

Woodland phlox blooms for about three weeks in late spring, and as they fade, I always wish that the flowers would continue to enliven the garden. After the blooms are finished, I cut them and the flower stalks back. The foliage afterwards is short, around 15 cm (6 in), and although it has a nice green colour, it fades into the background. I planted some Heuchera in front of it last fall, to add interest for the rest of the season. I think this should work well, as the Heuchera has much showier leaves. I’m delighted by the splash Phlox divaricata ‘Clouds of Perfume’ makes when in bloom, so it’s definitely worth adding to the garden, but you might want something in front for the rest of the season.