Northern Shade Gardening

Soft Astilbe Plumes

Thursday, July 30, 2009 Category: Perennials

Some soft plumes waving above finely cut foliage are just what the shade garden needs after many of the other plants have quieted down. The eye-catching Astilbe are blooming, and enliven this area of the garden. These are hardy perennials that take a fair amount of shade, but enjoy a good amount of moisture too. Astilbe arendsii ‘Diamant’ and Astilbe ‘Europa’ bloom at the same time in white and pink.

Astilbe arendsii 'Diamant' many plumes

Astilbe arendsii ‘Diamant’ many plumes

These are the white flowers of Astilbe arendsii ‘Diamant’ (Diamond astilbe). The flower plumes are a bright white, giving off a nice glow in the shade. ‘Diamant’ is about 75  cm (30 inches) tall, a little taller than my Astilbe ‘Europa’ that you can see as shorter pink plumes in the background and to the side.

Astilbe arendsii 'Diamant' new buds

Astilbe arendsii ‘Diamant’ new buds

Here are the flowers of Astilbe arendsii ‘Diamant’ just as they start to open. The top buds are still green. The bottom of the plume opens first, and then gradually the whole flower stem opens to a feathery plume.

Astilbe arendsii 'Diamant' fluffy flowers

Astilbe arendsii ‘Diamant’ fluffy flowers

These are the flowers of ‘Diamant’ as they are halfway open, with the bottom half fluffy, the top buds still to open. I especially like these in front of a green backdrop of foliage.

Astilbe 'Europa' pink fluffy flowers

Astilbe ‘Europa’ pink fluffy flowers

The soft pink of Astilbe ‘Europa’ is one of my favourite Astilbe colours. It blends beautifully with many other soft colours. They look especially nice next to the white  ‘Diamant’. ‘Europa’ is  about 45 cm (18  inches) tall. The feathery flowers of this perennial look light and airy in the shade garden.

Astilbe 'Europa' buds just opening

Astilbe ‘Europa’ buds just opening

In the above photo, the bottom of the ‘Europa’ flower plumes are just beginning to open, and show a little pink.

Astilbe 'Europa' pink flowers

Astilbe ‘Europa’ pink flowers

Growing the Astilbe in medium shade with some mulch cover helps theses plants conserve moisture, so they don’t end up with browning foliage. They might have a few less flowers in medium shade, but the foliage stays healthy. With our cooler summers the foliage lasts right into the fall.

Astilbe 'Europa' pink flower closeup

Astilbe ‘Europa’ pink flower closeup

This picture show shows how frothy the ‘Europa’ plumes are. The Astilbe flowers may only last for three weeks, but they bring a delightful lightness to the shade when they open. After they fade and turn brown, I leave the flower heads of this perennial on for the winter. They are one of the more decorative looking plants, until spring comes again.

Both of these Astilbe are wonderful additions to the shade garden, with their frothy blooms and light colours. My Astilbe simplicifolia ‘Hennie Graafland’ are still at the bud stage, and will show their pink blooms in a few weeks. You can see more photos of Astilbe and their companion plants.

Do you have a favourite Astilbe?

Foliage Combination of Fern and Ginger

Tuesday, July 28, 2009 Category: Garden Design

Here is a foliage combination that is one of my favourites right now in the garden. The fern is Adiantum pedatum (maidenhair fern) and the ground cover is Asarum europaeum (European ginger). I particularly enjoy leaf combinations that have a good contrast, and these two perennials play off each other with different weights, leaf shapes, plant shapes and reflective qualities. They make a terrific pair in the shade garden.

Adiantum pedatum and Asarum europaeum foliage

Adiantum pedatum and Asarum europaeum foliage

If you’re viewing on  monitor set to a lower resolution, you can view the complete photo by clicking on it.

I have a group of Adiantum pedatum ferns behind a group of Asarum europaeum plants. These perennials are under the shade of a deciduous tree. When a breeze blows, the delicate looking fronds of the maidenhair fern sway back and forth above the sturdy ginger. It’s a delightful foliage combination that I enjoy immensely.

Adiantum pedatum is such an ethereal looking fern, because the thin supporting  stems are wiry and black, so they blend in with the soil. This makes the fronds appear to be delicately floating above the ground. The fronds radiate out, with the leaflets forming a circular pattern. The leaflets are a light green colour, turning blue green when they’re older, and making a good contrast to the black stems. Each subleaflet has a scalloped side, that looks like its been carefully cut into with a number of snips. The maidenhair ferns are about 45 cm (1.5 feet) tall, so they rise above the ginger.

In contrast, The Asarum europaeum ginger has solid, thick leaves with a circular shape. The foliage is held very close to the ground, covering the soil. This European ginger  grows about 15 cm (6 inches) tall in my garden. The leaves are highly reflective  of the small amounts of light that make it under the tree canopy. The foliage of these perennials looks rich and attractive in dappled light with their shiny leaves. Although they have the low growing decorative leaves of a typical groundcover plant, they don’t have the fast spread of other groundcovers.

In the shade, I like to plant ferns next to plants with heavy, thick or solid leaves. The contrast adds some excitement to the plantings. The maidenhair fern and European ginger make an especially nice foliage combination.

There are some closeup photos of the foliage of other shade plants in this previous post.

Do you have any particular plant combinations that you are enjoying?

Shade Bed Plantings

Sunday, July 26, 2009 Category: Garden Design

Here are some further additions to the shade bed between the evergreens. I wrote about starting this shady garden bed two weeks ago. There is an hour or two of light hitting different sections of the garden, and some dappled light falling at different times during the day. I’ve been planting more perennials on either side, curving around the tall conifers.

Aruncus aethusifolius with cone droppings

Aruncus aethusifolius with cone droppings

On the left I’ve added a group of Aruncus aethusifolius (dwarf goatsbeard). With its delicate texture, this perennial looks good next to the large, solid textured Brunnera leaves. In this photo you can see the reddish colour of the newer stems, which is very attractive. The new small leaves in the middle are a light green, but the other leaves keep a fresh look. With these neat mounds of attractive foliage, this plant is looking good even before the cream coloured flower plumes decorate the top.

In the upper left corner of the dwarf goatsbeard picture you can see the recent cone scales that are getting dropped as a squirrel works its way through the cones. This squirrel frequently sits on a horizontal branch of the pine above when snacking. These ones are new since I planted the bed, so with enough of these leftover scales, this bed will be self mulching. :)

Epimedium 'Lilafee' nice red tinged foliage

Epimedium 'Lilafee' nice red tinged foliage

On the right I’ve enlarged the group of Epimedium grandiflorum ‘Lilafee’ (lilac fairy barrenwort). This perennial should do well in the drier section of this shade bed. The new leaves on ‘Lilafee’ are tinged with red, which looks especially nice with the other foliage plants.

Epimedium 'Lilafee' nice red tinged foliage 2

Epimedium 'Lilafee' nice red tinged foliage 2

As the leaves mature, they become a more solid green. Here they are a few days later, with the red tinge fading to the edges, and new red leaves emerging.  There are flashes of red on them off and on as they send up new growth.

Hosta 'Ginko Craig' nice foliage

Hosta 'Ginko Craig' nice foliage

To the right of the Epimedium, I’ve added some Hosta ‘Ginko Craig’. It was Shady Gardener who suggested this low growing Hosta for this garden bed, and I quite like the way it looks here. This Hosta has medium green foliage with a narrow white margin around each leaf. The little flashes of white add some spark to this extra shady side of the garden bed. This Hosta is similar to ‘Francee’ in colouring, but it is lower growing, with narrower leaves.

Hosta 'Ginko Craig' flowers

Hosta 'Ginko Craig' flowers

The flowers on ‘Ginko Craig’ are similar to ‘Francee’, except they are a light to medium purple, instead of lavender. They have faint stripes on the inside, which are only noticeable close up. I added this Hosta just for the leaves, but the flowers are actually pretty, and don’t detract from the foliage display of the plant. The flower stems of Ginko Craig are short enough to fit under the lower evergreen branches, so this perennial fits the space well.

I plan on planting more perennials in this shade bed, as the garden wraps around the trees. The section on the far left gets more sun, so I might add some Campanula (bellflower), which should do well in the part shade there. I’d like to add some Polygonatum (solomon’s seal) behind the Hosta, for its elegant shape and variegated leaves. The shade plantings are working out so far, and I’m looking forward to seeing how it looks next year. Here is a followup post, showing some more shade plantings under the conifers.