Goatsbeard makes a great hardy perennial for the shade garden. I grow the tall Aruncus dioicus (goatsbeard) and the short Aruncus aethusifolius (dwarf Korean goatsbeard) in my garden. Other than having similarly shaped cream coloured flower plumes, the plants are very different looking.
The tiny Aruncus aethusifolius grows about 30 cm (a foot) around. The attractive foliage is very finely cut, like a fern. This plant has a very neat mounding shape. These dwarf goatsbeard get small cream coloured plumes over top of the lacy foliage, which makes for an appealing package for the front of the garden bed.
These plants are new this year, but I used to grow this plant a few years ago. Through unfortunate timing, I moved the plants in summer, and then went away on vacation for a month. That’s a good recipe for unhappy plants, and the old plants never recovered. The little blue flower is from a Brunnera.
Here is an Aruncus aethusifolius in front of a Brunnera macrophylla. The more delicate foliage of the dwarf goatsbeard looks great with the large, heart-shaped Brunnera leaves, and both do fine in the shade garden.
Aruncus dioicus, the tall goatsbeard, makes a great plant for the back of the shady border, or a corner. Mine are about 2 metres (6 feet) tall and about 1.5 m (5 feet across). The tall flower plumes are the most striking feature of these plants. These light colours especially catch the eye in the shade of the garden. Although the flowers only last for 3 weeks or so, they make a good spectacle when they are blooming. For the rest of the season, the goatsbeard works as a green backdrop to other plants in the garden. The foliage is much coarser than the dwarf goatsbeard. The bottom leaves cover the ground well, and I don’t get any weeds trying to grow through them.
In spring, the new shoots of goatsbeard are particularly attractive as they emerge with bright red stems. It doesn’t take long for these to grow to their full height.
The plumes on this A. dioicus are fluffier than my other one. Since the goatsbeards have separate male and female plants (dioecious), these are the male flowers. These extra fluffy flowers are very similar to the astilbes which will soon be flowering. You can see more pictures of the male goatsbeard flowers in this article.
The above plant is the Aruncus dioicus that I accidentally turned into a bonsai. Neither tall, nor dwarf, it occupies a middle layer in the garden. This poor plant originally had a deep shade location, but it never grew more than 45 cm (1.5 feet), so I moved it to a medium shade area. Goatsbeard are not keen on being moved, and it sulked for the last 3 summers, not growing over 60 cm (2 feet). Although there are crosses that are midway in height, this one is a result of nurture, not nature. I think the combination of neglected childhood plus move has stunted this plant. This year at last, it has flowers for the first time. I wouldn’t advise moving a dioicus goatsbeard, since they don’t appreciate it, and if the roots are already established, you won’t either.
Here is a flowers spike of a tall goatsbeard at my garden gate, with a white flowering mockorange shrub further down the walkway behind. This garden area gets a couple hours of direct sun. Which seems to be enough for the Aruncus.This photo makes me laugh, since behind the mockorange, the garden seems to disappear into a black hole. It is not really that dark back there, just a little shady. :)
Both of these goatsbeards make great garden plants, and do well in medium shade. I appreciate the tall Aruncus dioicus for its dramatic flower sparklers, which tower at head height. I particularly like the dwarf Aruncus aethusifolius for its neat shape, beautiful leaves, and miniature flower wands.
More photos and information about goatsbeard perennials can be found in this post.