Northern Shade Gardening

Exquisite Brunnera macrophylla in 3 Silvery Versions

Saturday, June 13, 2009 Category: Perennials
Brunnera macrophylla 'Jack Frost' 3plants

Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’ 3 plants

Here are three splendid Brunnera macrophylla (Siberian bugloss) that make the garden a prettier place. Their charming spring flowers and decorative foliage make them a choice garden plant. These Brunnera, ‘Jack Frost’, ‘Looking Glass’, and ‘Mr. Morse’ handle a a northern climate and a shady garden very well.

Brunnera macrophylla 'Jack Frost' silver leaves

Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’ silver leaves

Delightful Brunnera macrophylla Jack Frost’ combines silver and green etched leaves with sky blue flowers. These charming flowers will bloom for about six weeks in spring.

Brunnera macrophylla 'Jack Frost' flower closeup

Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’ flower closeup

The lovely flowers are held in sprays above the foliage, making an airy cloud of blue floating above the plants. Jack Frost is the first of the Brunnera to flower in my garden, shortly after the leaves emerge.

Brunnera macrophylla 'Jack Frost' leaf closeup

Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’ leaf closeup

In this spring photo, the  ‘Jack Frost’ leaves are still small. By summer, they can be two or three times as big. Their silver leaves are great in the shade, making the most of a shadowy area. Since the green follows the lines of the veins, it makes patterns like stained glass, not random blotches.  The green edging set off the silver nicely. The intricate patterns make each leaf a work of art.

These leaves of Brunnera grow large, and overlap, so they are very good at suppressing the growth of unwanted plants. The maple keys don’t grow through them, which saves a little work.

Brunnera macrophylla 'Mr. Morse' plant

Brunnera macrophylla ‘Mr. Morse’ plant

Brunnera macrophylla ‘Mr. Morse’ has exquisite green and silver leaves that are very similar to ‘Jack Frost’, but the flowers are white. the leaves appear slightly more green, and a little less silver.

Brunnera macrophylla 'Mr. Morse' flower closeup

Brunnera macrophylla ‘Mr. Morse’ flower closeup

If blue flowers don’t fit in with your colour scheme, or you want even more lightness, then ‘Mr. Morse’ would be a good choice. Although I have trouble thinking of anything that blue clashes with, since I think it coordinates nicely with everything else in the garden.

Brunnera macrophylla 'Mr. Morse' and fern

Brunnera macrophylla ‘Mr. Morse’ and fern

Here Mr. Morse is in front of an Athyrium filix-femina ‘Lady in Red’ (lady fern). I particularly like the combination of silver hearts and feathery fronds.

Brunnera macrophylla Mr morse and Athyrium Lady in Red

Brunnera macrophylla Mr morse and Athyrium ‘Lady in Red’

The fern and Brunnera were both still small at the beginning of June, but now they’ve grown to just touch at the edges, and it makes a very effective display.

Brunnera macrophylla 'Looking Glass' leaf closeup

Brunnera macrophylla ‘Looking Glass’ leaf closeup

Brunnera macrophylla ‘Looking Glass’ has a more overall silver cast to the leaves, combined with the same striking blue flowers as  ‘Jack Frost’. In early spring, the leaves appear very similar to ‘Jack Frost’, with the same strong green patterns running along the veins. However by summer, they develop a much stronger overall silver colour, with very little green. If you are looking for a very light coloured perennial to reflect the maximum amount of light in the shade, then ‘Looking Glass’ is a great choice. In the above photo, you can see the last of the white Chionodoxa bubs flowering too.

Brunnera macrophylla 'Looking Glass' flower closeup

Brunnera macrophylla ‘Looking Glass’ flower closeup

All three of these perennials tolerate a fair amount of shade and root competition. Many of my Brunnera are planted right next to trees, some only 30 cm (1 foot) from a trunk, yet thrive just fine. Some other plants seem to have trouble competing with the willow roots, but the Brunnera grow satisfactorily. The plants in denser shade under the willow grow a little smaller than the ones in semi-shade.

Brunnera macrophylla 'Jack Frost' little one

Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’ little one

This little Jack Frost got one of the worst sites, but still grows and blooms four years later. When I was planting this group under the willow, I had to plant between the roots. There was one small space between two roots, that was too small for the Brunnera root ball to fit. I shook off most of the soil from the root ball to make it fit, and stuck it in the tiny pocket anyways. Then I covered it with a thin layer of mulch. It looked fine from the top, but I knew that there was no real soil or space underneath. Although it is much smaller than all of the other Brunnera, it still grows those perfect leaves and little blue flowers every year.

Brunnera macrophylla 'Looking Glass' (Sibrian bugloss) beautiful blue flowers

Brunnera macrophylla ‘Looking Glass’ (Sibrian bugloss) beautiful blue flowers

Brunnera macrophylla take the cold winter of zone 3 with no problem. For all of their hardiness, they do not bother other plants, and don’t try to take over the garden. They don’t send out runners, or self seed to take over your garden. Brunnera hits the sweet spot that gardeners are always searching for – wonderfully hardy and easy care, but never annoying or trying to take over. Here is a post I wrote last year on Brunnera Jack Frost. I have some of these silver leafed Brunnera between spruce in my front garden, as well.

Brunnera macrophylla 'Jack Frost' blue flowers

Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’ blue flowers

These three Brunnera macrophylla are wonderful additions to the garden, with their superb foliage and flowers, exceptional hardiness, and shade tolerance. Did I mention those beautiful blue flowers?

43 Responses to “Exquisite Brunnera macrophylla in 3 Silvery Versions” »

  1. Gail :
    June 13, 2009 at 7:53 am

    I love this plant…but, have never even given myself permission to try it! A Midsouth USA, zone 7 garden, doesn’t seem hospitable to a plant that loves your zone and needs moisture. Sigh! But it is oh so lovely in your garden!

  2. Northern Shade :
    June 13, 2009 at 8:07 am

    Gail, it’s possible that the word “Siberian” in the common name might not be a good sign for your zone. It would be an interesting experiment to see how much heat it takes. :) I’ve found it to be very accommodating to hardships, including a few that were the fault of the gardener.

  3. jodi (bloomingwriter) :
    June 13, 2009 at 8:22 am

    They are fabulous, aren’t they? But to my mind, they’re enough alike that I only need one of them so as to spend more money on other plants that are really different. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it! :-)

  4. Northern Shade :
    June 13, 2009 at 8:47 am

    Jodi, you’re right that the ‘Jack Frost’ and ‘Mr Morse’ have almost identical foliage. Their big difference is the flower colour, blue or white. Once they are done blooming, you would be hard pressed to tell them apart (unless you grow them in your garden, and walk by everyday to look at the beautiful leaves. :). The foliage of ‘Looking Glass’ looks almost identical to them in the spring, but by summer it loses almost all of its green, and has an all silver sheen. Most people would probably pick the one they like best and go with that, but then they might not end up with 24 of them growing around their garden. :)

  5. Sylvana :
    June 13, 2009 at 9:57 am

    You are the first blogger I have seen, besides myself, mention Looking Glass. I held off buying brunnera, but could not resist that variety! To really appreciate the silveriness of the leaves, you really have to see it in person. It shimmers in the day and glows at night. It reminds me of pearls – I love pearls!
    I bought one plant a few years ago. I moved it two times and divided it once (it likes TONS of water for a couple of weeks when you move or divide). A really excellent plant. I look forward to dividing it again in two years to spread it around more of my garden!

  6. Northern Shade :
    June 13, 2009 at 10:14 am

    Sylvana, I like the almost metallic silvery sheen to the leaves of Looking Glass. I like looking out at the garden in the evening, and it does show up well at dusk. They stand out in the shadows, and make a good contrast.

  7. Joanne :
    June 13, 2009 at 11:44 am

    Such lovely leaves and dainty flowers. they nice with the fern in the background

  8. Northern Shade :
    June 13, 2009 at 12:12 pm

    Joanne, the flowers make pretty blue clouds above the leaves. It’s a charming effect. I have some Brunnera next to maidenhair ferns, and they make a nice combination too.

  9. Shady Gardener :
    June 13, 2009 at 1:48 pm

    I do not have Looking Glass, but the “healthiest” of my Brunnera is the (original?) Heartleaf Brunnera. It grew Very Large, Very Early. It flowered prolifically and held them for a long time. (And this plant is only 3 years old!) I love watching Spring develop at your house! Happy Day!! :-)

  10. The Garden Ms. S :
    June 13, 2009 at 3:02 pm

    I love how the white flowers of the ‘Mr. Morse’ dance above the gorgeous silver foliage. They would look like stars in the evening.

    When I saw the name I thought of my very favourite fictional detective, Inspector Morse. For that reason alone, I should get one :)

  11. Northern Shade :
    June 13, 2009 at 3:33 pm

    Shady Gardener, my Brunnera that are in part-shade and under the maple are the largest, almost 60 cm (2 feet) across in summer Those under the willow or in medium to deeper shade are smaller. They all bloom, but the very shadiest (about a half hour of sunlight or so) have the fewest blooms. I’m loving spring too.

    The Garden Ms. S, Mr. Morse is supposed to be named after that character (by a plant breeder and mystery fan, I guess). Perhaps it can solve the mystery of the disappearing front yard Muscari.

  12. Joy :
    June 13, 2009 at 5:36 pm

    I love seeing this beautiful post on yes, truly exquisite plants .. I am a brunnera fan for life and can’t imagine not having them in my garden .. I am hunting down Mr. Morse .. since this Spring .. I must have one : )

  13. teza :
    June 13, 2009 at 6:02 pm

    Brunnera is one of my favourite shade essential plants. Jack has stolen many hearts since his introduction….. there is another one called ‘Silver Wings’ in which it looks as though someone dabbed a paint brush in silver and dabbed the outline of each leaf. Not as prominently silver, but an interesting and eye catching pattern none the less! A wonderful post from another shade gardener! Bravo!

  14. Northern Shade :
    June 13, 2009 at 6:04 pm

    Joy, I bought the Mr. Morse last year, but I haven’t seen it around anywhere locally this year.

    You probably guessed that I’m a big Brunnera fan too. ; ) I took lots of pictures of individual leaves, and had trouble narrowing it to the ones in the post. It’s a very photogenic plant.

  15. Northern Shade :
    June 13, 2009 at 6:12 pm

    Teza, I have 7 different groupings of Brunnera, from part-shade to deepish shade, and they all flourish. It is an endearingly adaptable plant, plus good looking too. I will have to check out ‘Silver Wings’. It sounds like it would coordinate very nicely between a group of silver plants and green plants.

  16. Kim :
    June 13, 2009 at 6:41 pm

    I’ve not seen Mr. Morse and Looking Glass, but I do love my Jack Frost. I recently wrote a post about them, and I just added 3 more to my garden. I’m in Zone 7, and it gets pretty hot and humid here in the summer. They got a bit moldy last year, but came back like gangbusters this spring, so maybe Gail would do well with them.

  17. Northern Shade :
    June 13, 2009 at 7:03 pm

    Kim, it’s good to hear that they came back in zone 7. I ended up adding a group at a time to the garden too. Each time the Brunnera looked so nice, so I’d try them with another plant combination.

  18. Dave :
    June 14, 2009 at 6:20 am

    Hi Northern Shade; Thanks for the pictures of the Siberian Bugloss. They will have to do for me, since only one of mine made it through this winter, a ‘Jack Frost’ planted in the sunniest of the shady spots, and even the flowers on that one are tiny – you need a hand lens to see them. My other ‘Jack Frost’, a Brunnera macrophylla ‘Spring Yellow’, a Tiarella ‘Iron Butterfly’, an Aconitum napellus, and perhaps a Hosta ‘Frances William’ all from one north-house bed with deep shade and consistent deep snow appear to be gone. A spring with too many refreezings of wet soil is the probable culprit.

    The monkshood will be missed – one of the first plants I put in here (2004) and the last to try to bloom (typically around the beginning of October) – it was always entertaining. The flowering stalks went to over 2m and the race with the frost to see who would win kept us anxious each Fall. When the monkshood made it, the giant purple spikes in an otherwise browning garden were spectacular.

    Still, I think the replacement money will go to Siberian Bugloss. The ‘Jack Frost’ brightens up a shady area for such a long time that it is hard to beat. Surprisingly, I really liked the ‘Spring Yellow’ too, not so much for its namesake spring leaves, but the large, dark green summer leaves are striking. I used to find myself staring at them in admiration – and not a spot of silver.

  19. Heather Lollar :
    June 14, 2009 at 6:58 am

    I have never heard of Mr. Morse. Although I love the idea of airy forget me nots, the white is gorgeous, too. Years ago, I visited the Denver Botanic Gardens. They have several different types of Brunnera growing everywhere during the month of May. Drifts of it. I love comparing the leaves, the variegation, the slight color differentiation of flowers. I wish I had more shade so I could plant more of this wonderful plant!! Great blog!

  20. Northern Shade :
    June 14, 2009 at 7:52 am

    Dave, it’s too bad that you lost so many perennials from one bed. The bed on the north side of my house is the one I have the most trouble with too. I’m surprised that the Brunnera went as well. I’ve taken advantage of their good nature to put them in some of the poorer sites, and they’ve performed well. Most of mine get a lot of their shade from the trees though, although some are on the north side of a fence. Their early leaves get to collect some sun, before the trees fully leaf out.

    I like the tall flowers of monkshood. However, in my last garden they would get attacked by the delphinium leaf tier (Polychrisia esmeralda), so I gave up on them.

    In a short gardening season, I appreciate having the early and late bloomers, to garden as long as possible. My Cimicifuga simplex ‘White Pearl’ never did beat the frost to flower. I’ve gone with an earlier bloomer now.

    Heather, I think that Mr. Morse was new out last year. The Brunnera display at the Botanic Gardens sounds great. I’d love to see them all side by side, to compare them.

  21. Carol :
    June 14, 2009 at 8:53 am

    How lovely and I lament as I cannot grow this dainty plant any longer. So great to see it growing so heathy and happily in your garden. I miss it so! Your photos are beautiful … esp. when clicked on. Great post!

  22. Northern Shade :
    June 14, 2009 at 9:27 am

    Carol, thanks. It’s unfortunate that it doesn’t grow for you now. I find that it brings the garden to life when the flowers bloom, and when they are done, the leaves get even larger and lovelier.

  23. Jan (ThanksFor2Day) :
    June 14, 2009 at 9:52 am

    My shade garden has evolved this year because of your great info on brunnera and others like it…but I haven’t yet added anything beyond Jack Frost…which, by itself, has added beauty to the garden. I will keep my eye out for the other varieties,– thanks for sharing!

  24. Northern Shade :
    June 14, 2009 at 10:54 am

    Jan, I’m glad you’re enjoying the Jack Frost. Don’t they combine great with other plants, and look super in the shade?

  25. Birgitta :
    June 14, 2009 at 1:09 pm

    Lovely photoes. I also love Brunnera.
    My Mr Morse didn’t survive the winter but today I have planted 3 new ones. Brunnera ‘Silver wings’, ‘Yellow Spring’ and ‘Emerald Mist’. Hope they will grow and flourish in our garden.
    Birgitta

  26. Northern Shade :
    June 14, 2009 at 6:46 pm

    Birgitta, it’s unfortunate that your Mr. Morse didn’t survive the winter. The other 3 Brunnera sound interesting. I will have to check them out. Perhaps they will overwinter better for you, especially if they get established over the growing season.

  27. Beth :
    June 14, 2009 at 8:25 pm

    I was given a cutting of brunnera this year – little blue flowers but the leaves were a solid green – not the silvery kind of Jack Frost. Do you know what variety that would be?

  28. Northern Shade :
    June 14, 2009 at 9:15 pm

    Beth, that sounds like the basic Brunnera macrophylla, a hardy little plant with large heart shaped solid green leaves and pretty blue flowers. It’s a nice plant for the shade. Shady Gardener was mentioning how she finds it very hardy in her garden.

    Many named variations have been offered lately, with varying silver or cream coloured leaf patterns. I quite like the silver toned leaves for their decorative leaf designs.

  29. Pomona Belvedere :
    June 14, 2009 at 9:43 pm

    OK, it’s official, you’re now my brunnera expert as well as my campanula expert. Loved the portraits of all three lovelies, and was interested to hear that they’re among the plants you can plant over roots of bigger plants. Don’t know if they’d survive in my climate, but I’m tempted to find a coolish spot and try…

    And sincerest commiserations on the various monkshood demises.

  30. Northern Shade :
    June 15, 2009 at 7:59 am

    Pomona, I’ve been very pleased with how tolerant the Brunnera are about being planted between tree roots. Some of the ones in the tightest spots are smaller, but they still have the same pretty leaves and flowers. They don’t appear stressed. They are seldom bothered by anything, and I rarely see any holes in the leaves. (although I don’t have a slug problem here)

    Those leaf tiers were merciless on the delphiniums and monkshood. I got tired of picking them off, only to have the new growth be eaten out anyways. I don’t grow them anymore, but I miss the delphiniums for the sunny area and the monkshood for the shade.

  31. Martyn Cox :
    June 15, 2009 at 10:29 am

    Hi Northern Shade, the only brunnera I grow is ‘Betty Bowring’, which is a real good doer. It flowered its socks off in spring filling my front garden with frothy white flowers for weeks.

  32. Northern Shade :
    June 15, 2009 at 12:17 pm

    Martyn, I like the way the Brunnera holds its flowers well above the leaves, very showy. It’s a nice counterpoint to the more discrete spring plants that hide their flowers half under stems and leaves. I haven’t seen ‘Betty Bowring’ before. White flowers really catch your eye in the shade. It’s been interesting to read about the other Brunnera that people are growing and their characteristics.

  33. Marnie :
    June 15, 2009 at 1:51 pm

    I have wanted Jack Frost for years. The thing that stops me from running out and buying a dozen is our hot, summers with long drought periods. I promised myself not to add any plants that need to be watered frequently. I think yours are just beautiful.
    Marnie

  34. Northern Shade :
    June 15, 2009 at 8:19 pm

    Marnie, I understand wanting plants that are adapted to your area, especially the moisture level. I’m not sure just how small an amount of water Brunnera can survive and stay healthy in. It would be an interesting experiment. Here’s hoping you get a little rain mixed in with your sunshine.

  35. Corner Garden Sue :
    April 23, 2010 at 9:18 pm

    Hi Northern Shade,
    I’m pretty sure I’ve visited here before. I came here from another post of yours about brunnerias. I am going to a plant sale tomorrow, and both the macrophylia (sp?) and Jack Frost are on the list. I’ll have to look at them and see which looks better to me than the other.

  36. Corner Garden Sue :
    April 23, 2010 at 9:19 pm

    I enjoyed your posts, by the way.

  37. Northern Shade :
    April 23, 2010 at 10:43 pm

    Sue, the ‘Jack Frost’ leaves are especially good looking, with that elaborate silver veining. If you see ‘Looking Glass’ there, you might like the strong silver colour to the foliage too. The silver colour on both stands out in the shadier areas, where darker colours would blend in to the shadows.

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  39. April :
    December 29, 2011 at 11:45 am

    I have a shade garden and was looking for care of the Brunnera Macro Betty Bowring. I just recently had a front landscaping job with stairs and plants put in and want to keep all the plants from dieing. I just lost some Geranium Johnston Blue which was lovely, but with the fog my husband keeping the water off, it believe that may be a cause. However, just to make sure I don’t lose the rest, especially the Brunera Macro, I wondered how you care for them in a shaded garden with red woods for shade? I appreciate your help. This is a tough plant to find upkeep and think you are an expert.

  40. Northern Shade :
    December 29, 2011 at 7:11 pm

    April, I’ve found the Brunnera to be generally easy to care for, but they don’t like to get too dry. I’ve sited them from light to heavy shade, and they do well in all of those light exposures. Although I don’t have redwoods, I do grow them successfully under both deciduous and coniferous trees. They compete well with tree roots, but if located very close to the trunk, they tend to be smaller. My largest ones are under the deciduous trees, where they get some spring light. The Brunnera under the conifers do well though. I give them some supplemental water, to help them compete with the large spruce and pine. The large, shapely leaves are really attractive, and combine well with many other shade plants, while the sprays of spring flowers create a pretty woodland display. I’m looking forward to spring, when they will be in bloom again.

    It is too bad that you lost your ‘Johnson’s Blue’, since they have such blue flowers. If you are looking for a replacement, you might try Geranium ‘Rozanne’. It has similar blooms to ‘Johnson’s Blue’, but they last much longer, and are less floppy. They are also sold as Geranium ‘Jolly Bee’.

  41. Rookie gardener :
    April 27, 2012 at 12:20 pm

    Thanks for the info! I got 2 of these plants, I think the Jack frost version last year at home depot, not really knowing what they would do, and was pleasantly surprised this spring at how early they grow and bloom! I LOVE this plant. Went back to get some more, but I think they have the ‘looking glass’ ones in right now. Might try them too, just waiting for the 2 for 1 perennial coupon to come out!! Was glad to see the plants can be divided in fall, that was what I was trying to figure out. Thanks!

  42. Northern Shade :
    April 27, 2012 at 7:51 pm

    Rookie gardener, in a cold climate I really appreciate the hardy Brunnera that emerge so early in spring. The clouds of blue flowers put on a good show, as the earliest bulbs are fading.

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